By Evan Johnston
Manitoba Safeway workers reach a tentative agreement
We begin this week with some good news! After weeks of mobilization, Safeway workers in Manitoba have reached a tentative agreement with their employer. UFCW 832 — which represents over 2,200 Safeway workers across the province — made the announcement last Saturday, the day that their contract was set to expire.
“This round of bargaining was unlike any other I’ve ever had in my years here at Local 832,” said local president Jeff Traeger. “I want to give thanks to our membership for giving us our 98% strike mandate which helped to move the company off of many of their major concessions, and the bargaining committee who did an amazing job of holding the line for the 2,200 Safeway workers in Manitoba.”
While details of the agreement have yet to be released, the union has indicated that the bargaining committee is recommending approval. Membership meetings to vote on the agreement will be held across the province on March 25.
Strikes continue at Ontario universities
The strikes at Carleton University in Ottawa and York University in Toronto continue into their third week, with no end yet in sight for either struggles.
At Carleton University, while negotiations have been ongoing, CUPE 2424 reports that the employer still refuses to negotiate in any meaningful way. The issue at the core of their negotiations is the pension plan, with the employer looking to erode language protecting their defined benefit plan in order to move toward a defined contribution plan.
On Tuesday, workers did receive a morale boost when NDP leader Jagmeet Singh visited their picket line and spoke at a rally in support of the strike.
“To support a bright future, we know that we need a robust post secondary education system,” Singh told the crowd. “To ensure that the future is bright for students, for our country, we have to make sure that the institution is robust. We need workers who are respected, who are treated with dignity.”
Meanwhile, at York University, the tensions continue to escalate. After a tense Senate meeting where campus security and members of the senior administration blocked the door to prevent students from entering, students in support of the strike launched an occupation in the Senate chambers. The students are demanding that the administration cancel all classes, return to the bargaining table (and retract all concessions), provide a tuition fee refund for the Winter term, and have President Rhonda Lenton account for $20,000 in personal expenses charged to the university.
As far as bargaining is concerned, the university broke off negotiations this week after CUPE 3903 rejected an ultimatum issued by the employer. The union characterized the ultimatum as one asking them to “capitulate on all important issues, or York walks away from the table”.
“In spite of the fact that our bargaining team had made significant moves to resolve the outstanding issues between the parties, and in spite of the fact that we had withdrawn several proposals and agreed to several others, York chose to deliver an ultimatum and walk away from the bargaining table. It’s incredibly disappointing,” said CUPE 3903 Chairperson Devin Lefebvre.
CUPE 3903 has also filed an unfair labour practices complaint against the university for misrepresenting both their own and the employer’s positions. Part of their complaint has to do with the employer buying the domain “cupe3903.com” and having it redirect to the employer’s own bargaining updates. The employer is certainly adding new levels of meaning to the expression “getting York’d.”
Nova Scotia healthcare unions call for strike vote
In Nova Scotia, health care workers are gearing up for a historic strike vote. The Nova Scotia Health Care Council of Unions — which represents over 6,500 workers from the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union (NSGEU), CUPE, Unifor, and the Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU) — has announced it will hold its first ever province-wide Health Care Bargaining Unit strike vote.
The strike vote comes as negotiations between the Council of Unions and the Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Health Centre have dragged on for over a year.
According to a joint news release issued by the Council, “The Council of Unions have tabled an entire collective agreement package, while the employers have only tabled individual proposals. The Council of Unions believes that the only way to get the NSHA [Nova Scotia Health Authority] and IWK to take health care bargaining seriously is to initiate a province-wide strike vote.”
The Council says that the details of the strike vote will be released in the coming days.
Fight for $15 and Fairness holds provincial strategy meeting
And finally, the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign in Ontario held its annual strategy meeting in Toronto this weekend. The two-day event filled with workshops and panels brought together approximately 300 organizers and supporters from across the province eager to strategize on the next steps for the movement — which took on a particular urgency with a June election just around the corner.
Session topics ranged from general lessons gained learned from the campaign’s victories and expanding its outreach efforts to the specific challenges and opportunities facing unions, migrant and non-status workers, and the fight for climate justice. Featured speakers such as Avi Lewis from The Leap drew important connections between between the fight for decent work and the fight for climate justice, and a message of solidarity was sent from conference participants to those protesting against the Kinder Morgan pipeline in British Columbia.
On Friday night, a special public forum — “The Fight for Decent Work: From Elections to Direct Action” — that explicitly addressed defending and extending the campaign’s gains after the June election featured Bhairavi Desai, founding member of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (a union representing approximately 18,000 taxi drivers in New York City), along with many other local leaders. You can watch the live stream of the event here.