Members of Hamilton, Ontario, Local 105 have a history of supporting a local women's shelter. And while they couldn't sport their usual pink high heels last year, they still raised a lot of money.
Local 105 Executive Board Member Brendan Smyth and his daughter built miniature picnic tables as part of the fundraiser, which were very popular.
"Our membership has always been very generous and supportive of our community," said Business Manager Steve Fox. "Although we are getting better, like a lot of building trades, our local is still mostly men, so this is a great way for us to show our commitment to our sisters in a visible and meaningful way."
Local 105 has supported Halton Women's Place for the last six years. The center provides emergency shelter and crisis services for abused women and their children, as well as counseling and other support programs, including education on breaking cycles of abuse. Each year in September, they put on their "Hope in High Heels" event to raise money by asking men to wear the iconic shoe and walk in solidarity. But last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event shifted to a week of wearing pink and encouraging participants to do walks from home.
"It was different this time, but the support poured in as usual," said Local 105 Executive Board Member Brendan Smyth, who also sits on the board of Halton Women's Place. "We have zero tolerance for discrimination."
Unfortunately, the coronavirus has created what the United Nations is calling a "shadow pandemic" of domestic abuse. The lockdown orders, intended to keep people safe from the deadly virus, have also locked up victims with their abusers, making the work of places like Halton Women's Place all the more important. Data from Statistics Canada found an increase in calls to police for domestic disturbances as the coronavirus was taking hold and forcing Canadians indoors.
"It's a horrific situation, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with help from the community," Smyth said.
In addition to the walks and wearing pink, Smyth and his daughters got creative and built miniature picnic tables — think just the right size for a hungry squirrel to catch a quick bite — to raise additional money.
"It was a welcome reprieve from everything going on to have this project to do with my daughters," Smyth said. "And they turned out to be really popular."
They were so popular that they got about 170 requests for the tiny tables, Smyth said, which were offered for a donation of any amount.
All told, Local 105 raised about CA$3,000 for the shelter, with around $2,000 coming from the tables and $1,000 from the local's philanthropy fund.
Local 105's commitment to women in its community includes support for other organizations including the Hamilton YWCA; Interval House Hamilton, another shelter; and the Sexual Assault Centre, Hamilton and Area.
"Supporting women both inside and outside of the trade is a priority for Local 105," Fox told the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario. "We take a lot of pride in helping these organizations provide the necessary supports. Everyone deserves to be safe, empowered and respected, whether in the workplace or the community. We want to be part of the solution."
The 1,150-member local is also working on setting up a women's committee and has applied for government funding to help increase its recruitment of women, Indigenous groups and veterans.
"True unionism means being invested in your community," Smyth said. "We'd like to see our membership better reflect the communities we come from."