June 25, 2020 - No. 44

Lockout Ends at Regina Co-Op Refinery

Vigorous Defence of Co-op Workers' Dignity and Unity

The Right to Housing During the Pandemic
End the Criminalization of Vancouver's Homeless! - Brian Sproule and
Barbara Biley

Union of BC Indian Chiefs' Statement on Police Raid of Namegan/CRAB Park
Tent City

Just Demands of Hospitality Workers for Job Protection
Hospitality Workers Must Be at the Centre of Any Sectoral Relief Package
Vancouver Hotel Workers Demand Protection of Their Jobs - Joseph Theriault

Defending the Rights of Unemployed Workers
Demand for Improved Access to Employment Insurance

Lockout Ends at Regina Co-Op Refinery

Vigorous Defence of Co-op Workers'
Dignity and Unity

Photo posted to Unifor Local 594's Facebook page following the settlement, thanking all those who stood with them during the lockout.

Congratulation to the workers of the Co-op refinery in Regina! After more than six months the lockout has ended. Throughout this long and difficult struggle the 730 locked-out workers stood united against a brutal combined assault on their rights by their employer, Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), the Regina Police Service and the Saskatchewan government. Workers stood together when they were thrown onto the streets, and they stood together when they went back to work after six months of resistance to this brutal assault and of mobilizing workers in various parts of the country as well as communities in Saskatchewan to support their just cause. It was clear that the aim was to break the unity of the workers and in this the company utterly failed. The Saskatchewan government did not defend the workers against the attacks of the company and the police, claiming that these are 'private matters.' Workers' Forum supports the stand of the workers that a "different Saskatchewan" is needed in which the voices of the workers are heard and the rights of workers upheld.

An agreement was reached between the company and the negotiating committee of Unifor Local 594 and was announced at a rally at the legislature on June 18 where the workers had been demonstrating daily since it re-opened on June 15. On June 22 the workers voted 89 per cent in favour of the proposed settlement and this brought an end to the lockout which started on December 5, 2019. Details of the agreement have not been made public.

June 5 marked six months since the workers at the Co-op Refinery in Regina were locked out by Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), two days after a strike vote and after the company had, over several months, made extensive preparations to hire and house scabs who, together with management, have been operating the refinery for the past six months.

Over the course of the lockout and before, the 730 members of Unifor Local 594 made every effort to negotiate a collective agreement, including accepting the recommendations of mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers which included concessions demanded by FCL. In spite of the workers' acceptance of the mediators' proposals, the company rejected them and introduced demands for new concessions plus an unacceptable Return-to-Work protocol according to which FCL would have the ability to terminate anyone they choose whenever they want.

Throughout the prolonged battle that the Co-op workers waged in defence of their rights they had broad support from Unifor members from across the country, from members of other unions locally and nationally, from the National Farmers' Union and local organizations and communities throughout the province and as far west as British Columbia in the boycott of Co-op retail outlets.

Addressing the workers gathered at the legislature on June 18,  Unifor Local 594 president Kevin Bittman expressed his disappointment in the actions of the company and the government against the workers. Speaking of the courageous fight that the workers waged throughout the lockout, and the broad support of the labour movement and communities he said that the workers would continue to fight for changes to rules on collective bargaining and to create "a different Saskatchewan." The workers have faced court injunctions which rendered picketing ineffectual, the use of scabs, police harassment and arrests, the mobilization of all the police powers of the state against them. Bittman said, "This was about union busting, it wasn't about collective bargaining.... Right now for us, Saskatchewan is a pretty disappointing place to live." He emphasized that the aim of the company, as evidenced by its endless demands for concessions, was to break the union and that in this they had completely failed. In the course of the lockout not a single worker had crossed the picket line and the 730 workers who had been locked out in December would return to their jobs with their heads held high. 

While unable to negotiate a Return to Work protocol that protected everyone from discipline, including terminations, the local was able to negotiate an expedited process to fight and resolve any retributions by the company against individual workers. Bittman also made the point that while the agreement signals the end of the lockout it does not signal the end of the fight of the Co-op workers and workers throughout Saskatchewan for anti-scab legislation and other measures that restrict the ability of employers to act with impunity in violation of workers' rights.

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The Right to Housing During the Pandemic

End the Criminalization of Vancouver's Homeless!

In spite of the efforts of advocates for the homeless and people who are inadequately housed, dozens of people in Vancouver continue to live in tent encampments and continue to be under constant threat of eviction from the authorities. On May 8 the largest of these, at Oppenheimer Park, was cleared and those who did not receive housing set up a new camp on Crab Park on property of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, a federal body. On June 10, the Port Authority applied for an injunction to remove the campers which was enforced on June 16, after the campers had already tried to comply with the injunction by moving from the park to a nearby parking lot.

In the early hours of June 16 Vancouver Police enforced the court injunction, arresting 46 people who refused to leave and charging them with civil contempt. Police seized their tents and possessions. More than 100 campers, many of whom are Indigenous people and many who have serious health issues, were forced to relocate everything for the third time in less than two months. The camp has now been re-established at Strathcona Park in East Vancouver.

Campers told CBC News they were given no direction from police or other officials as to where they were expected to go next. One stated "We've got nowhere to go, so we'll find a place to go and go there. We're homeless but we're not helpless."

At the camp people are able to look after one another, have organized food services and medical support, and are safer than in some of the shelters and other temporary housing in which people may be isolated and have to live in unsanitary conditions. Those who are still living in camps are those for whom no adequate housing has been provided.

On the day of the eviction, CBC interviewed Elizabeth Ramsden, a nurse working in the community, about what had happened. She said "This is, I think, abhorrent. I'm speechless that, during a pandemic, this is the response that people want to demonstrate. We have medics [here], we have food services around the clock, and you want to tear that down with no warning, no housing, no plan?" She explained that she herself had left her job to come and provide health care to the people at the camp "because people need health care. It's really important for people to have outreach and no one is outreaching here because it's been determined to be a dangerous space. This is a community organized space." She also made the point that there was no warning before the early-morning raid and no support on site to help people with finding a place to live.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) issued a statement the same day denouncing the police action. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president, said the police raid "created a dangerous situation. During a pandemic in which the province committed to preventing evictions, the VPD (Vancouver Police Department) seized this opportunity to evict some of the most vulnerable residents of the Downtown Eastside, many of whom are survivors of ongoing Indigenous genocide. Residents were given a sheet of paper with a few phone numbers to call for housing, but the outstanding issue is that we understand no housing is available at this time. Where are they supposed to go?"

Parks Board Commissioner John Irwin told CBC Early Edition host Stephen Quinn that "We're just moving people around when really they should be housed. We have to grapple with the problem." He said that there are lots of empty hotel rooms because of the COVID-19 crisis and the City has the power to compel the hotels to provide more temporary housing but has not done so. Shane Simpson, provincial minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, told Early Edition that "Some don't want to move into temporary housing." Fionna Yorke of the Carnegie Action Committee explained that people often feel more secure in tent communities than in shelters where they have to share washrooms, are not allowed to have guests or live with their partners, can't have pets and are isolated.

Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart is calling on the federal government to "step up" and support plans already in place to build housing for the homeless and under-housed. "The only way to end homelessness is by building housing, not evicting homeless residents without a plan for where they go next. If Ottawa came to the table, we could drastically increase the amount of housing we're able to provide." A meeting between Stewart, BC Housing Minister Selina Robinson and federal Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen has been scheduled for the week of June 22.

The housing crisis in BC predates the pandemic. The April 9 letter from four BC organizations that advocate on behalf of people who are homeless outlines concrete measures that must be taken to provide housing in these conditions.[1] Governments at all levels, social agencies and the police forces are all acutely aware of the increased danger to the homeless and the communities because of the conditions that foster the rapid spread of the virus, not to mention other consequences of the pandemic and the shutdown, including a massive increase in overdose deaths in BC in May.

In the conditions where a crisis of homelessness and precarious living conditions is worsened by the pandemic one could expect every politician to agree that housing is a right. While the politicians point fingers and pass the buck working people like the nurse quoted above selflessly come forward to serve others. The block to progress is the economy controlled by narrow private interests with governments at all levels recognizing the claims of the rich, including developers and land speculators. A new pro-social direction of the economy is needed with working people as the decision-makers.


1. see "Call for Immediate Action to House All Unhoused BC Residents." Workers' Forum, April 17, 2020.

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Union of BC Indian Chiefs' Statement on Police
Raid of Namegan/CRAB Park Tent City

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) stands in solidarity and shared outrage with the residents of Namegan/CRAB Park Tent City who were forcefully displaced this morning. The Province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver have continued their pattern of prioritizing corporate interests and colonial property over the lives and safety of unhoused community members.

"By raiding a peaceful encampment at dawn with dozens of armed Vancouver Police and no presence from or coordination with housing providers, danger was created, not prevented," stated Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. "During a pandemic in which the Province committed to preventing evictions, the VPD seized this opportunity to evict some of the most vulnerable residents of the Downtown Eastside, many of whom are survivors of ongoing Indigenous genocide. Once again, dangerous state sanctioned violence was needlessly perpetrated against poor and homeless Indigenous peoples. This conduct is absolutely deplorable. Residents were given a sheet of paper with a few phone numbers to call for housing, but the outstanding issue is that we understand no housing is available at this time. Where are they supposed to go? We call on the City of Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia to commit to providing more permanent housing options immediately, and to completely overhaul the processes that allow for such violent displacements to continue."

(June 16, 2020)

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Just Demands of Hospitality Workers for Job Protection

Hospitality Workers Must Be at the Centre of
Any Sectoral Relief Package

Unite Here Local 40 in British Columbia organized a lively car rally in downtown Vancouver on June 3, calling on the public, including workers from all sectors, to participate in cars and on foot to support the just demands of hospitality workers for protection of their jobs. Hundreds of people participated in cars adorned with their union flags, placards and banners in support of the hotel workers. The caravan passed, honking, in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Vancouver where Unite Here members with T-shirts and placards were demonstrating.

Most of the members of Unite Here Local 40 work in restaurants and hotels and the union reports that 90 per cent of their members have been out of work since airports, hotels and restaurants were shut down in mid-March. The majority of the workers affected are women and national minorities, and many have worked in the industry for decades. Having waged a long and courageous fight for improved working conditions the workers are determined not to lose what they have gained by employers using the justification of the pandemic to not re-hire them.

In an article published in The Hill Times on May 7, the presidents of Unite Here Local 40 in British Columbia, Zailda Chan,and Local 75 in the Greater Toronto area, Guled Warsame, explained the situation and demands of their members who have been impacted by the shutdown of tourism and air travel in the conditions of the pandemic:

"Canada's hospitality and travel industries face unprecedented economic devastation. As leaders of hospitality unions based in Toronto and Vancouver, two of Canada's top hospitality markets, we understand that airlines, airports, and hotels are potential sites of mass viral transmission. That means hospitality workers will return to the job slowly as public health authorities struggle to understand how we can hold meetings and conventions safely. It may be at least a year or 18 months before we are back to work full time.

"Desperate to stay afloat, hospitality and airline industries and aviation authorities are asking for sectoral relief, such as forgivable loans, rent and fee waivers, tax deferrals and relaxed regulations. While government should consider the unique impact the pandemic has on our sectors, we believe the industry's workers must be at the centre of any sectoral relief package....

"In the face of long-term uncertainty, hospitality workers need to stay connected to their jobs or risk falling through the cracks. That means business, government, and labour need to work together to ensure workers have adequate income replacement, maintain benefits over a period of long unemployment or underemployment, and the right to come back to their jobs. The new Canada Employment Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is central to this effort. CEWS allows workers to maintain 75 to 100 per cent of their income whether they work or not, and unlike CERB or employment insurance, reimburses health benefit costs and keeps a crucial connection to a job in a seasonal industry."

The same demands were presented in a letter sent April 16 to Finance Minister Morneau from Ian Robb, President/Administrator of Unite Here Local 47 in Alberta, in which he also pointed out that workers in high COVID-19 risk worksites must have government certified health and safety training, full PPE and appropriate hazard pay.

The local presidents report that most employers in the sector have not expressed an interest in re-hiring laid off staff through the CEWS, but that employers are asking the government for more financial relief. The unions are asking for a commitment from government that such relief, including relief for rent, mortgage or other loan payments, should be conditional on employers committing to keep workers on their payrolls. They are asking that governments at all levels ensure that workers' right to be recalled to their jobs be extended to 24 months and point out that recall rights in collective agreements, where the workers are organized and where there are such provisions, are varied. Workers who are not union members have no such protections. The unions point out that this protection must extend to all workers, including the many hospitality workers who are not directly employed by hotels or airlines, but work for subcontractors. They give the example of airport concession workers and demand that there must be a commitment to protect the current workforce even if the airport changes subcontractors.

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Vancouver Hotel Workers Demand
Protection of Their Jobs

On June 3 hundreds of hospitality workers and their supporters took to Burrard Street near the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver on foot and in cars, trucks, bicycles, motor cycles and scooters with signs and flags and banners to press the government and their employers for better job security following mass layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zailda Chan, Unite Here Local 40 president, said the demonstrations were "a powerful message to our employers and our government that tourism workers are not disposable."

Most of the workers in B.C.'s hospitality industry were laid off in mid-March after the pandemic shuttered the tourism industry. Unite Here Local 40 said in the span of two weeks, 90 per cent of their 60,000 members lost their jobs.

While many of the workers were able to get employment insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), their recall rights -- the right of a laid-off employee to be called back to work by their employer -- could soon expire.

This situation is especially painful given the militant strike action the union took in 2019, which resulted in raises of up to 25 per cent, new standards for workplace safety, protection against sexual harassment and improved job security.

Premier John Horgan addressed their concerns at a press conference the day of the rally. A CBC news report quotes him as saying "We're calling on employers to do the right thing and make sure they're keeping their workforce intact to the greatest extent possible, we expect that to happen, if we need to take steps using the legislature to protect workers, we'll do that. But our concern now is how do we get businesses up and running."

He did not commit to ensuring the right to recall for the hotel workers. Instead he is asking that they rely on the employers "doing the right thing."

Michelle Travis of Unite Here Local 40 says there's concern that laid-off employees will be replaced with new hires who will be paid less.

"We figured it's going to be summer 2021 before the industry really recovers and we want to make sure that workers who have spent years doing these jobs and are professionals at their work have a shot of getting their job back and be first in line to go back." Travis told Global News.

Zailda Chan said "We know that the tourism industry will take years to recover and what we're asking for is a 24-month guarantee that people will have their jobs. That will give hospitality workers enough time to go back to work."

Support the just demands of hospitality workers to be recalled to their former positions without loss of seniority rights or former pay levels!

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Defending the Rights of Unemployed Workers

Demand for Improved Access to
Employment Insurance

On June 9, at the initiative of Action-Chômage Côte-Nord, more than 60 organizations sent an open letter to the Canadian government asking for immediate measures to improve access to the Employment Insurance system for all Canadian workers, with a particular urgency for seasonal workers. Among the organizations that signed the letter are defence organizations of unemployed and vulnerable workers from different regions of Quebec, two from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Aboriginal communities on the North Shore, regional county municipalities in the region, workers' unions and businesses.

Workers' Forum thinks this is an excellent initiative of Action-Chômage Côte-Nord which mobilized all these organizations in the midst of a pandemic when people are much harder to reach. Workers' Forum is proud to be among the signatories and to continue to offer its pages to the fight to build the employment insurance system as a social program that defends the economic dignity and security of all workers who find themselves unemployed.

The letter appeared in several newspapers in Quebec. It can also be found on the committee's website here and on its Facebook page. Action-Chômage Côte-Nord calls upon all individuals and organizations who support this important struggle to share the open letter.

Below is the text of the letter.

Open Letter to the Government of Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the federal government to put in place measures to assist workers and businesses. These measures, while important, will not be sufficient for the seasonal industry.

Considering that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will not provide long-term financial support, that the paid training pilot project ended in March 2020, and that the pilot project providing five additional weeks of benefits to seasonal industry workers ended on May 30, 2020, workers in the seasonal industry will need new measures to access employment insurance to deal with the impact of the pandemic.

To this end, we are asking the federal government to eliminate the reference to the regional unemployment rate and to put in place a universal standard that will allow all Canadian workers who need it to benefit from employment insurance.

Universal standard:

- 420 hours of work or 12 weeks;
- a benefit rate of at least 70% based on the best 12 weeks;
- 35 weeks of benefits;
- 5 weeks of additional benefits for workers in seasonal industries.

Catering, lodging, cruises, agri-food production, fisheries and cultural industries, to name a few, will suffer from the impact of COVID-19. Many employers will have to lay off their employees or, in the worst case scenario, close their doors due to a lack of customers. Under the current employment insurance criteria, hundreds of workers will not be able to accumulate the hours needed to qualify for benefits. By adopting the proposed measures, Canada will kill two birds with one stone: it will allow workers to qualify for employment insurance and employers to better plan their season based on the number of insurable hours required.

The impact of the coronavirus on the economy and the workplace is very real and, without government intervention, it will have a devastating effect on many families and communities that rely on the seasonal industry. Not all workers will be able to look to Canada's fields to compensate for the loss of their jobs. We cannot condemn thousands of Canadians to the black hole because there is a lack of work when simple and realistic solutions exist to help them. A special measure for workers who will not have access to their regular jobs because of COVID-19 must also be proposed by the Government of Canada.

(Open Letter translated from original French by WF.)

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