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May 31, 2018 - Vol. 7 No. 7

June 1, Ontario Injured Workers' Day

Justice for Injured Workers!
Compensation for Injured Workers
Is a Right!



June 1, Ontario Injured Workers' Day
Justice for Injured Workers! Compensation for Injured Workers Is a Right!

Standing Up for Injured Workers in Northern Ontario
Four Successful Days of Action in Support of the Rights of Injured Workers
Sudbury Injured Workers' Group First Meeting a Success! - Christine Nugent and Dianne Baddeley

Coming Events

June 1, Ontario Injured Workers' Day

Justice for Injured Workers!
Compensation for Injured Workers Is a Right!

Injured workers across Ontario are in action to defend their rights and the rights of all and to make their voice heard during the provincial election and at Injured Workers' Day actions on June 1. An inspiring series of events took place in Northern Ontario in recent days for this year's Justice Bike Ride in the lead-up to the annual June 1 rally at Queen's Park, which are reported on in this issue of Ontario Political Forum.

The Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) began the campaign "Workers' Comp Is a Right" last fall to ensure this important fight for rights is on the agenda in the election. The problem of compensation for injured workers is not a problem just for injured workers and their families. It is a problem which concerns the society itself. Taking up this fight not only defends the rights of injured workers but the right of all Ontarians to compensation that permits them to live in dignity if they fall ill or are injured due to work.

After years of austerity and cuts, the compensation system is broken. The ONIWG campaign is demanding that the original agreement set out in 1914, with the establishment of the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) be restored and honoured. In 1914, injured workers gave up their rights to sue their employer when they were injured or killed on the job in return for a promise that they would be adequately compensated by the WCB, now known as the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). For years, the government and the WSIB have been cutting benefits for injured workers using various pretexts under the hoax that the WSIB has an "unfunded liability" to pay down. Employers' WSIB premiums have gone unchanged while the cost of care is being downloaded onto municipalities and injured workers themselves.

The key campaign demands for a compensation system that protects everyone are:

 1. No cuts based on phantom jobs (known as "deeming");

 2. Listen to injured workers' treating healthcare professionals;

 3. Stop cutting benefits based on pre-existing conditions.

The marginalization of injured workers by the Ontario government and the WSIB, where they are forced to fend for themselves to get treatment and the compensation they need, is not acceptable. The unjust denial of benefits and impoverishment of injured workers by the WSIB must be rejected. So too must all the WSIB schemes to let employers off the hook when it comes to paying the necessary premiums to fund the system.

Join injured workers for the 35th annual Injured Workers' Day actions at Queen's Park on June 1, or at other local actions around the province.

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Standing Up for Injured Workers in Northern Ontario

Four Successful Days of Action in Support of the Rights of Injured Workers

Northeastern Ontario was the scene of four days of vigorous activities in support of the rights of injured workers from May 25 to 28. The activities were organized by the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) and the McIntyre Powder Project (MPP).

On the afternoon of May 25, a seminar was held in Elliot Lake to provide information on the effects of McIntyre Powder. That evening, a reception was held to inaugurate the fourth annual Justice Bike Ride. This year it was called the Jim Hobbs Memorial Ride, with the first leg of the ride going from Elliot Lake to Jim Hobbs' hometown of Massey for a reception. The riders biked to Sudbury the next day where they were met with a reception and BBQ at the Steel Hall. On May 28, the inaugural meeting of the Sudbury Injured Workers' Group was successfully held. "We must take our compensation system back!" was the spirit that imbued the four days of events in Northern Ontario.

Elliot Lake McIntyre Powder Project Seminar

Janice Hobbs Martell (front centre) with Justice Bike Riders in Elliot Lake, May 25, 2018.

McIntyre Powder is a mixture of aluminum and aluminum oxide. In the middle part of the last century, miners in Ontario's gold and uranium mines were forced to inhale it at the start of each shift on the basis that it allegedly protected them from contracting silicosis. It has been connected with serious neurological disorders, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

On May 25, eighty people, almost one per cent of Elliot Lake's population, attended the MPP seminar (see video). Janice Hobbs Martell (Jim's daughter) presented information on the history of McIntyre Powder in Ontario mines and the results of her research. Martell was followed by Dave Wilken, Chief Operating Officer for the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW), and their lead on the McIntyre Powder-exposed worker group. Dave provided updates on OHCOW's efforts to assist the almost 500 mine workers who have registered with OHCOW at McIntyre Powder Intake Clinics that were held in Timmins and Sudbury.

Seminar on Occupational Disease in Mining and McIntyre Powder Research in Elliot Lake,
May 25, 2018

A team of three from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine at Laurentian University then presented their research into potential synergistic effects of combined exposures to McIntyre Powder and radon (radon is a radioactive gas released when uranium in soil and rocks breaks down). The team consisted of Dr. Douglas Boreham (an Elliot Lake native who lost his own father to mining related lung disease), Andrew Zarnke (a PhD candidate studying radon and McIntyre Powder, who has had McIntyre Powder analyzed in a specialized lab in France), and Dr. Christopher Thome (who is involved with the work that Zarnke is doing at SnoLab in Sudbury). Dr. Paul Demers, an epidemiologist with the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC), reviewed carcinogens found in mining environments and occupational disease rates in mine workers. He also discussed the initial phases of OCRC's planned epidemiological study of neurological disorders in Ontario miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder.

An evening reception in Elliot Lake welcomed the participants in ONIWG's 2018 Justice Bike Ride and focused on their "Workers' Comp Is a Right" campaign (see article above).

First Day of Jim Hobbs Memorial Ride from Elliot Lake to Massey

Jim Hobbs Memorial ride from Miners Monument in Elliot Lake to Massey, May 26, 2018.

On Saturday, May 26, the Jim Hobbs Memorial Ride kicked off at 7:00 am at the Elliot Lake Miners' Memorial. Three cyclists from ONIWG (Nicole Simpson, Allen Jones and Peter Page) were joined by two representatives of OHCOW (Dr. Kevin Hedges, an Occupational Hygienist, and Cheryl Baker, who is a Client Service Coordinator at OHCOW). Both are working with the McIntyre Powder-exposed worker group at OHCOW. Cheryl cycled the Highway 108 leg (see video) and the remaining four cyclists continued on to the Massey Arena where they were greeted by the Hobbs family and OHCOW staff. The Ride provided a sense of connection, kinship, and solidarity, showing that injured workers are united in their efforts to overhaul the WSIB system and ensure fairness for workers and their families.

The Justice Bike Ride passed through lands that have seen more than their share of death and suffering from occupational death, injury and disease. The uranium mines of Elliot Lake, established to provide a cheap and secure source of uranium for U.S. Cold War efforts, caused the premature deaths of hundreds if not thousands of miners from silicosis and exposure to radiation and industrial chemicals. The situation was such that it gave rise to the Ham Commission which eventually led to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the limited rights of Ontario workers to refuse unsafe work. Uranium tailings and industrial chemicals severely polluted the Serpent River affecting the health of members of the Serpent River First Nation through whose traditional territory the bike riders also passed.

Massey Reception Honours Memory of Jim Hobbs

Greeting the Justice Bike Ride in Massey

The riders greatly appreciated the Hobbs family, many of whom travelled from as far away as Marathon and Thunder Bay, to feed, accommodate and support the riders and to commemorate the first anniversary of Jim Hobbs' passing. The cyclists and the Hobbs family were joined by members of the Manitoulin & Northshore Injured Workers' Group and Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes for an afternoon luncheon and celebration. Hughes spoke about the need to address deficits in the WSIB system to ensure fairness for injured workers and those workers who suffer (or die) from occupational diseases. The participants were entertained by Peter Page who sang a rendition of the WSIB Prison Blues.

Bike riders at luncheon in Massey with members of Manitoulin & Northshore Injured
Workers' Group. On the table is a pair of commemorative miners' coveralls that is being
signed by mine workers who have suffered from occupational disease.

Second Day of Justice Bike Ride from Massey to Sudbury

Left: Espanola, with Domtar paper mill in background. Right: approaching Sudbury.

On Sunday morning, the Justice Bike Ride continued. Crossing the Spanish River, the cyclists took Lee Valley Road to Espanola, home to a Domtar paper mill. They continued along Highway 17 towards Sudbury. Highway 17 is a narrow, windy, two-lane highway, passing through many small towns. There have been numerous tractor trailer collisions on this highway. Genessee & Wyoming Canada Inc., a U.S. rail monopoly, is threatening to close the Huron Central Railway unless the federal and provincial governments hand over tens of millions of dollars in subsidies. This will put 13,000 rail cars of freight on Highway 17, greatly increasing the risk to life and limb from travelling this highway.

The riders passed through Nairn Centre, home to an EACOM sawmill, past some old mines and as they entered Sudbury, the Copper Cliff Smelter complex of Brazil-based monopoly Vale (formerly Inco). Sudbury mine workers have suffered many deaths and injuries on the job and have felt the ravages of many industrial diseases. The struggle of Sudbury workers against deaths, injuries and sickness on the job gave rise to both Workers' Memorial Day (June 20) and the Day of Mourning (April 28) which have become internationally recognized days of commemoration.

Sudbury Walk to the Steel Hall

Justice Bike Ride arrives in Sudbury, May 27, 2018.

The cyclists were joined by supporters at the Princess Anne Public School at 3:30 pm. They were greeted by Jamie West, President of the Sudbury & District Labour Council, United Steelworkers health and safety rep at Vale, and the NDP candidate in Sudbury in the provincial election. Carrying banners proclaiming "Workers' Comp Is A Right" and the McIntyre Powder Project, the group walked the last kilometre to the Steel Hall with the cyclists where they were greeted by more supporters.

Sudbury Reception to Welcome Justice Bike Riders

More than 50 people attended the reception organized by the Sudbury & District Labour Council to welcome the cyclists and recognize mine workers who have died of occupational diseases. The front of the hall was decorated with 65 silhouetted hardhats representing the 65 USW Local 6500 members who have died from occupational diseases in recent years. The McIntyre Powder Project, ONIWG and OHCOW had literature tables and displays to provide information about occupational disease and the danger it poses.

The event was hosted by J.P. Morchuk, USW Local 6500 Compensation Rep. Deputy Mayor Al Sizer read a proclamation of the City of Greater Sudbury recognizing June 1 as Injured Workers' Day. Janice Hobbs Martell addressed the gathering. Members of ONIWG and the Justice Bike Riders, including ONIWG President Willy Noiles, Peter Page, Nicole Simpson, and others spoke. A moving presentation was made by Sarah (Sally) Toivonen (also known by her Anishinaabe name of Little Fox) whose husband died last year as a result of occupational disease. Messages of support were given by Jamie West and France Gelinas, NDP candidates in Sudbury and Nickel Belt respectively. Local 6500 provided a BBQ.

Founding of Sudbury Injured Workers' Group

Monday, May 28 was dedicated to organizing injured workers in Sudbury so as to end the marginalization of the many workers injured or made ill on the job in the region, particularly miners suffering from occupational diseases (see report below).

Mourn for the Dead

The demand for safe and healthy working conditions is an ongoing struggle. During the Justice Bike Ride and organizing activities, two workers in northeastern Ontario were killed on the job. On May 25, William Pye, an employee of the Rayonier Advanced Materials sawmill in Chapleau died while on the job. The circumstances surrounding the incident have not yet been disclosed. The Ontario Ministry of Labour is investigating.

On May 28, another person died in a multi-vehicle incident involving a tractor trailer at the intersection of Highways 17 and 144 in Lively. This section of Highway 17 is a four-lane limited access highway but the westbound lanes are closed for maintenance, essentially leaving it as a two-lane highway. Traffic was detoured along Regional Road 55 (old Highway 17), the route which the Justice Bike Riders took Sunday.

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Sudbury Injured Workers' Group
First Meeting a Success!

On Monday, May 28, a spirited organizing meeting that culminated in the launch of the new Sudbury Injured Workers' Group was held at the United Steelworkers Local 6500 Union Hall. The meeting brought together a force of organizers determined to end the marginalization of the many injured workers and their families in the region.

Of concern in the Sudbury and surrounding region is the many miners suffering from the effects of occupational diseases and the non-unionized workers that are left to fend for themselves. They and the unionized injured workers are facing a tsunami of benefit denials from the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB) due to its draconian treatment of workers: denying claims due to pre-existing conditions, "deeming" whereby benefits are cut based on jobs injured workers might be able to do, but that they do no actually have, and an ongoing refusal to listen to the injured workers' medical practitioners favouring instead the WSIB's own "paper doctors" who are paid to deny, deny, deny.

Those present included J.P. Mrochek, WSIB worker representative from USW Local 6500 and Mélodie Bérubé, the Outreach and Campaign Organizer for the Sudbury Workers and Education Advocacy Centre.

Representing the legal community were Catherine Boivin-Girard, Northern Regional Injured Workers' Lawyer, Timmins Temiskaming Community Legal Clinic (TTCLC); Laura Lunansky of the Injured Workers Clinic (IWC); and Rachel Weiner, Staff Lawyer at the Industrial Accident Victims' Group of Ontario Community Legal Aid Clinic in Toronto.

Also in attendance were were Nicole Ayotte, Director of Labour Community Services for the United Way for Algoma District; Cochrane District; Manitoulin District; Nipissing District; Sudbury District; Timiskaming District, and Pat Striewe, Worker Health and Safety Centre representative.

Several organizers from the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG) took part as well, including Willy Noiles, President; Christine Nugent, Outreach Committee; Dianne Baddeley, Vice-President Central Ontario; and Gary Hrytsak, President of the Manitoulin & Northshore Injured Workers' Group.

Given the closeness to the provincial election there was discussion of the need for a new government and confirmation that the governments of the past 20 years are responsible for the demise of the compensation system.

Those with legal expertise outlined for the group the important processes workers need to follow when injured or made ill on the job. People discussed the many ways that the WSIB frustrates those processes, leading to mental stress for these workers on top of their injuries.

Willy Noiles outlined his struggles as an injured worker and encouraged the participants to take a political stand by joining the Workers' Comp Is a Right Campaign. This led many others to also share their experience of dealing with the compensation board and being denied their rights. This was a testimony to the supportive atmosphere and the overall success of the meetings.

The next meeting will be held June 19 with monthly meetings to follow.

For more information contact: Sudbury Workers' Education and Advocacy Centre at sweacoutreach@gmail.com

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Coming Events

North Bay
Rally for Rail -- Move People Not Just Freight
Thursday, May 31 -- 7:00 pm
West Ferris Arena Auditorium, 42 Gertrude St.
For information: neorn.ca, captrain.ca or gorailnorth.ca

All-Candidates Meeting on Labour Issues
Thursday, May 31 -- 6:00-8:00 pm
577 McDonnel St.
Organized by: Peterborough & District Labour Council, CUPE 3908
and Trent University Faculty Assn.

Affordable Housing Forum with MPP Candidates
Thursday, May 31 -- 6:00-7:30 pm
  The Mississauga Food Bank, 3121 Universal Dr. Mississauga
For Information click here

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