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November 2013

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New Campaigns Promote Canada's Unions

With a union density rate more than double that of the United States, Canada's labour movement looks to be in a pretty good position compared to its embattled neighbours to the south. But those numbers mask an increasingly hostile political and economic terrain for Canada's unions, which are the target of an aggressive campaign to rally citizens against organized labour.

"Our opponents have always tried to move the yardstick against us," said Matt Wayland, political action/media strategist for the First District. "But now instead of just one or two yards at a time, they are trying to move it 30 yards at a time."

Both federal and provincial conservative parties have taken sharp right turns on workers' rights in the last decade. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is pushing legislation — Bill C-377 — that creates onerous reporting requirements for labour unions, while exempting pro-corporate interest groups.

And in Ontario, Tim Hudak's Tories — looking to follow in the footsteps of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder across the Detroit River — have come out for the repeal of the Rand formula, opening the door for the introduction of American-style right-to-work legislation.

Corporate lobbying groups have also stepped up the heat on labour. The National Citizens Coalition, an anti-union think-tank formerly headed by Harper, has been running online ads falsely tying unions to Quebec separatists and student radicals.

In response, the Canadian Labour Congress has introduced an extensive outreach campaign — Together Fairness Works — intended to mobilize rank-and-file members to push back against negative stereotypes and enhance labour's image in the eyes of the public.

What the labour federation wants to tell Canadians, says President Ken Georgetti, is that the things unions have won uplift all working people.

"We believe in the old saying that what we desire for ourselves we wish for all. Many of the benefits first won by unions are enjoyed by all workers today, including fair wages, overtime pay, pensions, workplace safety standards, parental leave, vacation pay and protection from discrimination and harassment," he said in a Labour Day statement.

The campaign's starting point is building a national member-to-member network in the workplace to emphasize the good things collective bargaining brings.

"Sometimes the wages and benefits you get from being in a union are taken for granted," Wayland said. "They might have been here when you started working, but they were fought for by previous generations, and can be taken away by a stroke of a pen without a strong union backing them up."

The goal is to have one-on-one conversations with 3 million union members — from Newfoundland to British Columbia. "We're breaking it down to face-to-face discussion among co-workers, neighbors, people they know and trust," Wayland said.

To kick off the campaign, the CLC has been holding training sessions across Canada, working with local and national union leaders to develop a cohesive message and materials to get the word out.

The second part of the campaign is to go on the offense in the PR war — from mobilizing rank-and-file members to write letters to the editor and op-eds in their local newspaper to running ads on TV and radio showcasing the positive contribution unions make.

"It's about putting a face to labour," Wayland said. "We need to show real electricians, nurses, teachers etc. It's about them, not just unions as organizations."

The CLC is planning intensive media training for local spokespersons and creating a rapid response team to combat negative portrayals of organized labour in the media.

First District Vice President Bill Daniels says the efforts tie in closely with the IBEW's NextGen campaign to build itself among the newer generation of Canadian workers.

"Too many people entering the labour market have no direct experience with unions and often only have negative stereotypes to go on," he said. "We can't grow unless we get our side of the story out to them."

First District activists, from national leaders and business managers to NextGen members and political action committee organizers, are being encouraged to get involved.

Find out more about the "Together Fairness Works" campaign at


Canada's anti-union wave is striking hard in Ontario, where members of Toronto Local 636 joined with members of Local 353 in rallying against anti-worker Bill 115 last winter.