April 30, 2020
the Rights of Workers -- Defend the Rights of All!
of Hospital Unions Calls for Government Action to Save Lives
• Unacceptable Conditions Put Workers and
Society at Risk at Poultry Plants - Brian Sproule
• Railway Workers Demand
that All Workers' Rights Be Strengthened
During the Pandemic
• Support the Foodster
United Courier Workers!
Workers in United States
Demands Presidential Order to Keep Meatpacking Plants Open Must
Strengthen Safety Measures for Workers
Defend the Rights of Workers
-- Defend the Rights of All!
On April 24, the
Ontario government announced that Canadian Armed Forces personnel would
be deployed to five long-term care (LTC) homes hardest hit by the
COVID-19 pandemic. Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said the
five homes that were chosen for military support have serious staffing
Orchard Villa long-term care and retirement home
in Pickering, where, as of April 29, 49 residents have died and 131 of
the 233 residents tested positive, is one of the homes. Altamount Care
Community in Scarborough, Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke,
Hawthorne Place in North York and Holland Christian Homes' Grace Manor
in Brampton are the other facilities.
The LTC Minister's "solution" still amounts to a
COVID-19 death sentence for many residents living in long-term care
homes. And going forward, it does nothing to address the staff shortage
in LTC facilities that is the result of the neo-liberal anti-social
agenda of successive Ontario governments, including his own.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
Ontario, which represents many of the LTC front line health care
workers in Ontario, responded to the government announcement to deploy
the military the day it was made. "Once an outbreak takes hold, all the
other residents are extremely vulnerable to this virus. The
requirements that staff move from room to room wearing the same mask
and gown for their entire shift also creates a glaring weakness in the
infection control strategy," says Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer
of CUPE Ontario. "The solution is not to pour loaned military and
hospital staff into long-term care to treat the COVID-19 positive
residents, it is to remove residents, so that the virus does not spread
within the home."
also calls for aggressive testing of all residents and staff in
long-term care facilities, something CUPE has consistently called for.
"This is a key element in turning the dire situation in care homes
across Ontario around," says Michael Hurley, the President of CUPE's
Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. "We need to test, identify and
relocate. Our hospitals have the capacity now to receive these
residents and can offer a higher level of infection control, nursing
care and access to a wide range of medical specialties."
As of April 23, Ontario hospitals are operating at
below 70 per cent capacity; 516 Ontario long-term care residents have
died of COVID-19 and there were 2,191 cases in 135 homes. "Only a
stubborn resistance to providing long-term care residents with access
to hospitalization is standing in the way," Hurley said.
Health Authorities have ordered two chicken
processing plants in Metro Vancouver to temporarily close following
outbreaks of COVID-19 at the workplaces. On April 20 Vancouver Coastal
Health ordered United Poultry, located in Vancouver's Downtown
Eastside, to close down operations after 28 workers tested positive for
COVID-19. Public health officials tested all 71 workers on shift after
one worker, who had been working while symptomatic, tested positive. BC
provincial health officers announced that contacts of the affected
workers would also be tested. Dr. Patricia Daly with Vancouver Coastal
Health said that while there was evidence that employees did have
access to gloves and "some" plastic face coverings, that the plans that
were in place were inadequate or not properly executed. Other workers
were home sick on the day of the testing and will be tested.
On April 24 the Fraser Health Authority ordered
the closure of Superior Poultry Processors in Coquitlam after two
workers tested positive for the virus. On April 27 the Health Authority
reported that 25 workers had tested positive and that 236 workers at
the plant have been tested, as well as 73 of their close contacts.
Although the two facilities are managed
separately, media reports refer to them as "sister plants." Clifford
Pollon is listed in corporate records as a director of both these
poultry processing operations, as well as another in Vancouver and one
in Langley. Several workers hold down jobs at both the affected plants.
It is believed that an infected worker transmitted the virus from one
plant to the other.
President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518, stated that
workers at United Poultry are not unionized. Provincial labour
standards legislation prohibits companies from firing workers who book
off sick but there is no law providing for paid sick leave. Large
processors such as Lilydale and Sunrise Farms, which are unionized, are
bound by collective agreements to pay sick leave. Provincial
HealthOofficer Bonnie Henry has urged workers to stay home if feeling
ill, even for minor colds. However Novak stated that workers without
guaranteed paid leave sometimes report for work sick because they are
fearful that losing wages will leave them unable to pay living expenses
for themselves and their families. There is also tremendous pressure on
workers who fear losing their jobs if they fail to report for work,
even when ill.
The treatment of workers during the COVID-19
pandemic highlights that companies large and small consider workers
expendable. They are driven solely to maximize profits. Despite
shedding crocodile tears to the contrary, neo-liberal governments are
unwilling to enact legislation which protects the health and safety of
Premier John Horgan was quoted by CTV News on
April 22 as saying that "Workers were coming to work because they were
fearful that they would lose wages and not be able to meet their
expenses [...] It's irresponsible." This is a shameless attack on the
workers and beneath contempt. The remarks of Chief Health Officer
Bonnie Henry, quoted in the same report, that "Let me be 100 per cent
clear [...] stay home, stay away from others, and immediately contact
[health authorities] [...] We do not penalize employees for staying
home if they are ill during this pandemic," show how out of touch
authorities are with the lived reality of workers who subsist from
paycheque to paycheque, can't pay rent or buy food if they are off work
without pay, and live in fear of losing their jobs.
It is not the workers who are irresponsible. It is
employers who dictate working conditions without regard to the health
and safety of workers, their families and the society, and governments
which fail to enforce any health and safety standards to protect
workers and society. In the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a
bare minimum, governments should ensure that workers who are feeling
unwell can self-isolate with full pay and full job protection.
Workers need to
establish their defence organizations with health and safety committees
at every work place. Workers in unorganized workplaces do not have the
collective strength and support to say No! to unsafe and
unhealthy working conditions. Since the COVID-19 crisis has emerged the
unionized processing plants have increased social distancing between
workers on the job and have increased sanitary practices. But there is
still a problem, that even unionized workers face harassment and
threats of dismissal when they affirm their rights, such as the right
to paid sick leave.
As long as working people lack decision-making
power and are told to wait until the next election and vote for a party
that makes promises to improve their conditions, this problem will
persist. Regardless of which of the cartel parties comes to power,
working people will remain on the receiving end of the anti-social
offensive. The current crisis shows even more that workers have to
fight in a manner that empowers them. If not, the crisis will continue
to be sorted out on their backs. It is important for the organized
working class to speak out for the unorganized workers and for workers'
forums to smash the silence on their treatment, living and working
conditions. This much can be achieved and must be achieved in the
conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC)
issued a press release on April 23 in which it clearly stated that
workers' rights must be strengthened during the pandemic, not weakened.
"We owe it to all
workers to make sure they have the protections and supports to work
safely. COVID-19 doesn't mean we weaken those rights -- it means we
strengthen them," the TCRC said.
"Workers know that if we wait until the science is
certain before implementing protections, many workers will pay the
price. That's why unions fight for the precautionary principle, which
maintains that the absence of scientific certainty should not prevent
prudent actions that may reduce risk.
"As the world has faced this new and unknown
contagion called COVID-19, governments and employers should be
outfitting workers with all available protections, until the source of
transmission is determined -- not the other way around," the press
On the occasion of the Day of Mourning, the TCRC
is asking workers that in addition to remembrance, workers must all
take this opportunity to renew their commitment to health and safety
and continue the fight to end these senseless tragedies.
The communiqué notes that the global
COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people live and
work. It adds that while everyone is affected by the crisis, workers
are on the front line. Many are doing critical work without the
protection they need to keep themselves safe. Many workers, including
railway workers, have been deemed essential and go to work every day so
that others can stay home, as people do everything they can to stop the
The TCRC demands
that basic rights at work, that are officially protected in health and
safety statutes in every jurisdiction in Canada, be defended:
"Those three basic rights are:
"1. Right to know about the hazards in their
workplace and receive the training they need to be able to do their
"2. Right to participate in decisions that could
affect their health and safety.
"3. Right to refuse work that could endanger their
health and safety or that of others. The right to refuse is not the
first step to protect workers. This is a serious, sometimes necessary,
step that no worker takes lightly."
The communiqué ends by pointing out
that although the law stipulates that employers must provide protection
from danger and hazards arising out of, linked with or occurring in the
course of employment, railway workers need to ensure their personal
safety is protected by considering the potential consequences in every
action and decision they make both on the job and at home.
Foodora workers, fighting for their right to organize, participate in
2019 Labour Day parade
On April 27, Foodora, one of the main restaurant
delivery operators in Toronto, abruptly announced it was closing up
operations Canada wide effective May 11, on two weeks' notice. The
announcement came two months after a precedent-setting decision by the
Ontario Labour Relations Board which recognized that the delivery
service's couriers had the right to unionize. Foodora's exit from
Canada has only one objective, to smash the unionizing efforts of the
couriers. Monopolies should not be able to cut and run without any
obligation to their employees or Canadian society. Workers'
Forum condemns the Foodora decision. It is an affront and
assault by international finance capital on the rights of all Canadian
workers, calling themselves Foodsters United, fought long and hard to
exercise their right to unionize. They were organizing to be recognized
as a Local of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers: Foodsters United,
CUPW Courier Local 104. A year ago, on May 1, 2019, they marched to the
Foodora office demanding respect, safety and fair pay. They have
rallied to help each other survive this pandemic by setting up a
hardship fund, distributing personal protective equipment, making sure
workers collect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and checking in
to make sure they're safe. Now, with this announcement, the delivery
workers continue to support one another to help find solutions
Foodora is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delivery
Hero, a Europe-based global monopoly which projects revenues of EUR 2.4
billion to EUR 2.6 billion for 2020 and a year- over-year growth rate
of about 70 per cent. It delivers for 500,000 restaurants globally.
Delivery Hero is also in the process of acquiring TakeAway, the parent
company of a number of Foodora's competitors such as Just Eat, for
approximately U.S. $700 million.
In Canada, Foodora operated in about six cities.
Restaurants pay Foodora up to 30 per cent of the order total. The
customer pays a delivery fee of $4.50 while Foodora pays its couriers
$1/km for the drop-off of the food. That is how Foodora and its parent
company Delivery Hero are making a killing!
Foodora classified its couriers as independent
contractors to avoid its legal obligation to pay for basic benefits
such as Employment Insurance and to exempt itself from recognizing any
basic rights of the workers, such as the right to organize. Foodora's
abuse of the 'independent contractor' classification put all the
financial and physical risks on the couriers, while Foodora kept the
majority of the rewards.
On hearing of Foodora's abrupt withdrawal of
business operations in Canada, Foodsters United, CUPW Courier Local 104
called on the company to reverse its decision and fulfill its
responsibilities to the delivery couriers and to Canadian society.
"These are not the sort of jobs that support our economy," Local 104
said. The couriers are among the most vulnerable workers. "Delivery
Hero is a giant multinational corporation that can more than afford to
continue operations at this time."
Workers' Forum fully supports
the struggle of the Foodsters United couriers. Their struggle is but
one more reason for Canadian workers to step up their efforts to
organize and empower themselves to be the decision makers, in terms of
setting wages and working conditions acceptable to themselves, but also
in setting a new direction for the Canadian economy, one that
guarantees the well-being of the working people and Canadian society
removing them from the clutches of global monopolies like
Food Workers in United States
President Trump on April 28 signed an executive
order for meat processing plants to stay open to avoid food shortages,
invoking the Defense Production Act to classify
these plants as essential infrastructure that must remain open. The
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on this occasion reiterated
previous demands that the security of the food supply necessarily means
providing the necessary and enforceable protections that provide for
the health and safety of the workers in those plants. In an April 28
press release, the UFCW called on President Trump to take immediate
action to increase safety measures for workers as part of the order.
The UFCW reported
on April 28 that already, it has "confirmed 20 worker deaths in
meatpacking and food processing. In addition, at least 5,000
meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been
directly impacted by the virus. Those directly impacted include
individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, missed work due to
self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized,
and/or are symptomatic.
"UFCW announced today that new estimates show 22
meatpacking plants have closed -- including union and non-union plants
-- at some point in the past two months. These closures have resulted
in over 35,000 workers impacted and a 25 per cent reduction in pork
slaughter capacity as well as a 10 per cent reduction in beef slaughter
UFCW International President Marc Perrone on April
23 wrote a letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in his capacity as
head of White House Coronavirus Task Force, prioritizing the
protections that meatpacking workers require from their employers and
the government, including demands that the union reiterated on April 28:
1) increased worker testing, available on a daily
2) priority access to personal protective equipment, at the highest
level available from the federal stockpile;
3) halting line speed waivers (the exceptions granted to speed limits
on processing lines);
4) mandating social distancing; and
5) isolating workers with symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19,
and providing these workers with full paid sick leave.
UFCW's April 28 press release further states that
"Additionally, to protect the food supply and ensure these safety
standards for workers are enforced, these plants must be constantly
monitored by federal inspectors and workers must have access to
representation to ensure their rights are not violated."
The UFCW is the largest private sector union in
the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their
families in health care, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing,
retail shops and other industries. Its members serve communities in all
50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico.
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