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June 2019

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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BC Member First to Attend UN Conference on Women

Nicole Biernaczyk scored a first in a crowd of more than 10,000: she was the first Canadian IBEW member to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, one of the largest gatherings held by the esteemed international organization.

"I'm honored to be the first Canadian woman to attend this prestigious annual meeting," said the Vancouver, British Columbia, Local 258 assistant business manager. "It was an exhilarating experience."

The two-week-long meeting took place in March at the U.N. Headquarters in New York and was attended by women from across the globe. Biernaczyk, who attended in her capacity as a First District International Women's Committee representative, was among more than 70 members from the Canadian Labour Congress.

"The IBEW was very pleased to have Nicole attend on behalf of our sisters and our union," said First District Vice President Thomas Reid. "The conference presents a wonderful opportunity for her to learn and to bring that back to our women's committees."

The end result of the conference, which included panels, roundtables and events outside the headquarters, was the Agreed Conclusions adopted by member states that called for concrete measures to "bolster the voice, agency and leadership of women and girls as beneficiaries and users of social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure."

As for what that means in practice, Biernaczyk pointed to an example at provincial utility BC Hydro.

"Sometimes we can't get the correct fire-retardant gear for our female members," said the former occupational safety officer. "It's really about getting women what we need and getting the policies and infrastructure in place to make that happen."

Biernaczyk also pointed out that there are still incidents of sexual harassment and that, while things are getting better, there's still room for improvement.

"Every now and then a guy will half-joke about why there aren't 'men's committee' meetings and I just say, 'There are. They're called unit meetings,'" Biernaczyk said.

The global conference also formally recognized the importance of labor rights and protections.

"They get what we're saying, and that's empowering," Biernaczyk said.

She also noted that being around people from so many different countries opened her eyes to the challenges so many women face.

"It's not all about helping just ourselves. Comparatively, we've doing pretty good in Canada," Biernaczyk said. "But something's got to change, and if this is the way to get it done, then let's do it."

If given the chance to go a second time, Biernaczyk says she'd like to sit on a couple of panels.

"I don't like to just sit," the former outside construction worker said. "I like to contribute."


Vancouver, British Columbia, Local 258 Assistant Business Manager Nicole Biernaczyk was the first Canadian IBEW member to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York.

Illinois Bans Local Right-to-Work Zones as
Elected Leaders Hit the Gas on Pro-Worker Agenda

An IBEW member's bill to ban cities and counties in Illinois from passing local right-to-work ordinances has become law, two years after the state's previous governor vetoed the legislation.

Championed by fourth-term state Rep. Marty Moylan, a retired business representative for Chicago Local 134, the bill fell just one House vote short of overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto in 2017.

Voters ousted the virulently anti-union Rauner last November and bolstered what were already worker-friendly majorities in the House and Senate to veto-proof supermajorities. The right-to-work bill, called the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act, passed overwhelmingly in both chambers with bipartisan support.

"From the start, right-to-work was an idea cooked up to lower wages, slash benefits and hurt our working families," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in signing the bill April 12. "Right-to-work has always meant, 'right to work for less money,' and it's wrong for Illinois."

A similar bill became law this spring in New Mexico, where voters also elected a new pro-worker governor and strengthened Democratic majorities in the Statehouse.

Since late 2017, pressure campaigns bankrolled by out-of-state billionaires hostile to unions led nearly a dozen jurisdictions in New Mexico to enact right-to-work. The state law invalidates those ordinances and bans cities and counties from passing new ones.

In Illinois, Moylan and other legislators began fighting local right-to-work ordinances after Lincolnshire in suburban Chicago passed one in 2015.

A federal district court struck down the ordinance in 2017, a decision upheld last September by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The new state law, grounded in lower court rulings, should derail the village's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Pritzker said.

"The law as it is does not allow a state to hand this responsibility down to the local communities," the governor said, quoted by the Chicago Tribune. "This bill actually just establishes what is the law today, so I believe that would be moot, essentially, at the Supreme Court."

State Sen. Ram Villivalam, a freshman Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said it "makes it clear that the regulation of collective bargaining is the responsibility of state government.

"It is an honor to stand here as we declare once and for all that right-to-work has no place in the state of Illinois," he said at the signing ceremony.

The Collective Bargaining Freedom Act is on a growing list of gains for working people in Illinois since Pritzker took office in January. They include executive orders restoring project labor agreements and fighting wage theft, action to enforce prevailing wage, and a new law that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, benefiting more than a million workers.

"Elections have real-life consequences that can either harm working Americans or help them," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "Illinois is a powerful illustration of how much can change for the better when the 99 percent is at least as well represented in government as the 1 percent."

Pritzker gave special recognition to Stephenson and other labor leaders who hail from Illinois when he spoke earlier this month to the 2019 legislative conference for North America's Building Trades Unions.

Saying his predecessor, Rauner, had been "the most anti-union governor in the nation," Pritzker drew the sharpest possible contrast.

"I want to be clear," he said. "When it comes to fighting for Illinois workers, we are just getting started."


Surrounded by Illinois union representatives at the state Capitol in April, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the Collective Bargaining Freedom Act banning local jurisdictions from creating their own right-to-work zones.