July 9, 2020 - No. 48

Air Canada Discontinues Service on
30 Domestic Regional Routes

Unacceptable Closures Which
Sacrifice Regional Needs in
Favour of Private Interests

Alberta Retail Workers Defend Their Rights
Safeway Workers Vote in Favour of Strike Action
• Sobeys' Anti-Worker "Project Sunrise"
• Conditions of Retail Workers in Canada

In Defence of the Rights and Dignity of Hospitality Workers
BC Hospitality Workers Step Up Their Fight for Job Security - Brian Sproule

The Need to Fix Long-Term Care
Workers Demand Public Inquiry into Northwood Deaths

Air Canada Discontinues Service on 30 Domestic Regional Routes

Unacceptable Closures Which Sacrifice Regional Needs in Favour of Private Interests

Air Canada likes to claim that it is Canada's "national carrier." Canada's size, geography, climate, political, economic and social organization dictate definite needs. This is turn leads Canadians to identify the role they require from a national airline or airlines to meet those needs. The truth of the matter is that Air Canada does not meet those needs because to do so is not profitable to the narrow private interests which own and control it. This is a topic which is not up for discussion but the need of Canadians always clashes with the private aim and this is never far from people's minds.

With the June 30 announcement by the company that it was discontinuing service indefinitely on 30 domestic regional routes and closing eight stations in Canada, the destructive impact and nation-wrecking is further revealed. There is no mention in the press release of the impact this will have on the regions hit, which are already struggling to survive. There is no mention of how many workers will be affected by these actions. With those route suspensions it is obvious that there will be an effect on employment in the stations that aren't being closed as well. 

Of the 30 routes discontinued 14 are in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador, 12 are in Quebec and Ontario and four in Western Canada. The latter affect service between Regina, Winnipeg and Saskatoon and between the two Saskatchewan cities and the national capital.

The Quebec suspensions affect Baie Comeau, Mont Joli, Gaspé and les îles de la Madeleine, Quebec City, Sept-Iles, Val d'Or, Rouyn-Noranda and Montreal. In Ontario they affect Kingston, London, North Bay and Windsor.

The Atlantic suspensions affect Deer Lake, Goose Bay, St. John's, Fredericton, Halifax, Moncton, Charlottetown, Gander, Bathurst, and Wabush, as well as service from Frederiction and Moncton to the national capital.

Negating any responsibility toward the people affected, Air Canada simply presents these actions as part of "a range of structural changes including significant cost savings and liquidity measures" in order to reassure shareholders that everything is being done so that they can continue to profit from the airline's activities. Included in those "cost savings" is the recent layoff of 20,000 employees -- more than 50 per cent of its staff.

Workers and their unions are vehemently denouncing Air Canada's callous decision. On June 30, Serge St. Pierre, President of the Central Council for Gaspésie and the Magdalen Islands-CSN, wrote on the Council's Facebook page that:

"Air Canada, the main carrier in our region, has just left us stranded. It's time that all of us, citizens, elected officials, unionized and non-unionized workers alike, form a bloc in order that the government consider all the regions' inhabitants an integral part of society. They are entitled to the same services as all citizens. For this to actually happen, we must not rely on private companies for the provision of such a service, as they only have profit in mind. Air transportation services are essential for a region's social and economic development and must be provided by the government."

Mayors and councillors of the cities affected are furious about Air Canada's withdrawal. Chris Mayne, a North Bay city councillor, stated that the announcement was "grim news for small airports across the country," especially with Air Canada considering other service suspensions. He explained that Air Canada provided 80 per cent of the airport's revenue and that they may have to shut it down. The city has committed funding to cover salaries and operational costs until the end of December.

The mayor of Bathurst declared that "it is another blow" to northern New Brunswick following the loss of major employers in recent years. Air Canada was the airport's only carrier. The airport has to remain open because it hosts chartered flights, couriers, emergency services and other operations but it will have to reduce operations and lay off staff. It had recently invested $7 million in expanding its terminal and lengthening its runway. The airports in Moncton and Fredericton also reacted with concern about the financial hit from the suspensions, which effectively ended links between Halifax and the other Atlantic cities.

Prime Minister Trudeau expressed his disappointment, while Transport Minister Marc Garneau called the decision an "unfortunate development" and cried some crocodile tears for the residents and communities affected. The government continues "to work with Canadian airlines and airports during this challenging time," he insisted. All this reveals is that the government clearly has no solution to the problem and is on its knees because it agrees with Air Canada's mission to serve its private shareholders.

The government of Quebec has considered creating its own airline to serve the regions along with other possibilities, including paying the rich by offering subsidies to an airline company to take up the flights that Air Canada has abandoned. While justifying subsidies by declaring that having all the regions of Quebec served is "an essential service," Quebec Premier François Legault had nothing to say about why Air Canada was allowed to abandon that essential service.

Because of COVID-19, countries around the world have imposed travel restrictions as a measure to protect their citizens. Even where people are able to travel they hesitate to do so because of ongoing fear of the pandemic. 

Air Canada and the other Canadian airlines have been lobbying the government to remove travel restrictions so that they can return to profitability. Therein lies the problem. In our far-flung country, airlines are essential for business travel, to provide access to health care and other essential services, to connect families, and for leisure activities, as well as the transfer of goods and supplies, both domestically and internationally. Dependence on airlines whose only motive is profit is being proven to be unsustainable. 

We need a national airline that belongs to the people of Canada, run by the people who work for the airline, and organized to serve our needs. This is part of the new direction that is needed in the airline sector and in the economy as a whole. Only then will such attacks on the regions end and will people be looked after during times of crisis like the pandemic we are living through.

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Alberta Retail Workers Defend Their Rights

Safeway Workers Vote in Favour of Strike Action

Alberta Safeway workers have given a resounding rejection to the insulting last "offer" received from Safeway. Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401, voted 79 per cent in favour of strike action in a province-wide, government-supervised vote which took place on June 25-26.

As soon as the vote was announced, workers starting posting messages of Solidarity!, fist emojis, and their positive reactions to the results on the UFCW Local 401 page. "I can't be more happy to hear this result! Good job brothers and sisters!" one worker wrote. "We are worth far more than Sobeys [who owns Safeway, -WF Ed.] is willing to not give us....takeaway takeaway takeaway and we are supposed to be happy with that. Well we have just given a strong, NO to Sobeys, now we have the mandate to push the company hard for a fair deal!!!" another wrote. "Stand strong," said a postal worker, with workers from other sectors expressing their support and encouragement.

Safeway workers post photos from strike votes across the province on UFCW Local 401's facebook page.

Safeway workers' collective agreement expired in 2017. The Union issued a bargaining update on July 1 informing that Sobeys has now agreed, following the strike vote, to go back to the bargaining table. Bargaining sessions are now scheduled be held the week of July 13 with the assistance of a government appointed mediator. Clearly, Safeway employees are not looking for a fight but they are demanding fairness, the update said. Sobeys is also taking steps to be in a position to lock out the workers.

The pandemic is shining a light on the wages and working conditions of the workers who ensure our food supply and provide essential services to society. Empire Company Limited which owns Sobeys and Safeway, like the other giant corporations who control wholesale and retail grocery trade, were quick to praise the workers as "heroes" and made much of the fact that they were increasing their wages. While the pandemic is far from over, all the supermarket chains have withdrawn pandemic pay while the workers continue to put themselves and their families at risk to go to work and make sure Canadians have access to the food and groceries they need.

Many supermarket workers are among the lowest paid workers in Canada. The cartels have imposed two-tier wage systems, part-time and precarious work and constantly try to expand the number of people working part-time, at or just above minimum wage, and with few or no benefits. The opening of "discount stores" is one tactic, with Sobeys carrying out a five-year plan to convert about 20 per cent of its stores to FreshCo stores. The concept of a "discount store" includes driving down wages, cutting staff numbers to the bone, and providing customers with a bare minimum of service.

While boasting of its record profits during the pandemic, Sobeys has refused to engage in anything that could be called negotiations, and instead is demanding that the workers accept attacks on wages, job security, benefits, and working conditions. Sobey's proposals include terms of conversion to FreshCo stores which are designed to severely restrict or even eliminate full-time jobs and make precarious work with wages at or just above minimum wage the norm. For the remaining Safeway stores, Sobeys has tabled numerous union-busting proposals to remove workers from the union and use non-union workers in the Safeway stores to stock shelves and work at in-store kiosks. The company's demands also include cuts to health and dental benefits for part-time workers, introduction of a co-payment for health benefits for full-time workers, cuts to overtime pay, more arbitrary shift scheduling provisions, and cuts to the education and training fund.

UFCW Local 401 reports that workers at Safeway and Sobeys face a high level of stress and anxiety. "You're worried about your safety and getting sick. Measures to protect you vary from store to store and are often poorly communicated. Customers are stressed out and anxious and sometimes they're taking it out on you!"

"In the midst of all of this, Safeway workers have remained calm and composed. You remain focused on doing your job. You're supporting the public through this challenging time by ensuring the food they need gets to their tables..."

"In response, Sobeys is attacking benefits, wages and jobs at the bargaining table. While you are doing everything you can to make their stores successful, working long hours under incredible strain to support their skyrocketing sales, Sobeys is pushing to take work, hours, and pay away from you."

It is unconscionable and the workers have made it clear they will not stand for it. Workers' Forum calls on everyone to stand with the Safeway workers. They have been there for us and we must be there for them! Wear a mask with an "I support Safeway workers" message when you go shopping. Let the workers know you will be there on the picket line with them if they are forced to go on strike. Speak to your co-workers, families, and neighbours about how Sobeys boasts of record profits while it treats the workers with contempt. Our security lies in the fight for the rights of all!

(Photos: UFCW Local 401)

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Sobeys' Anti-Worker "Project Sunrise" 

Even before the pandemic, Sobeys was making record profits as it has continued its anti-worker offensive named "Project Sunrise." Reporting on fourth quarter earnings on June 18, Sobeys reported earnings per share were up from $0.45 to $0.66, and annual dividends up 8.3 per cent, with Project Sunrise exceeding its targets for 2020.

Sobeys parent company, Empire Company Limited, announced an increase of 43.2 per cent in adjusted net earnings (profits) from $126.5 million to $181.2 million for the fourth quarter ended May 2, 2020. In the same period store sales increased by 18 per cent.

Company President Michael Medline says the company "still has a long way to go" in its "cost-cutting" plan. Empire is planning to expand in Ontario where it has recently acquired the Farm Boy stores. Empire already has 100 FreshCo stores across Canada, and expanding its "discount" FreshCo banner in western Canada by converting Safeway stores is a key part of this operation.

Medline speaks about the "team," suggesting that success of the rich in growing their empires and amassing ever greater fortunes means success for all. But the reality is revealed as he boasts about the company's "cost cutting" measures, which have included the loss of hundreds of jobs and the conversion of Safeway stores into FreshCos, with significant concessions imposed on the workers.

"This is one of our proudest quarters in Empire's 113 year history," said Michael Medline, President and CEO, Empire. "Our 127,000 teammates across the country gave their all to keep our customers safe and healthy and our grocery shelves stocked during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. Due to their herculean efforts, our Company saw significant market share increases. Our team has also surpassed our Project Sunrise turnaround targets. This three-year transformation is one of the most significant turnarounds in Canadian retail history."

Precarious work, casualization and involuntary part-time work, with lack of rights such as paid sick leave, health benefits, and security in retirement are the consequences of the "success" of the filthy rich who control the wholesale and retail food trade, their greed, empire building and ruthless competition. The Weston family, for example has a net worth of $8 billion, the Walton family who control Walmart a net worth over $US190 billion. Costco had an annual revenue of $152 billion in 2019.

The pandemic has shown even more starkly that the prosperity of narrow private interests does not lead to the prosperity of all, and the necessity for the workers and people to take control of the decisions which affect them and their society. A new direction for the economy is needed to provide food security for Canadians and uphold the rights of workers who produce, process and distribute food.

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Conditions of Retail Workers in Canada

According to Statistics Canada's data[1], in 1998, 5.2 per cent of all Canadian workers had minimum wage jobs. Twenty years later in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, that percentage doubled to 10.4 per cent. In 2017-2018, the share of minimum wage workers rose from 6.4 per cent to 10.4 per cent. The increase was in part due to increases in the minimum wage in recent years, which had remained virtually unchanged in constant dollars for decades. This shows the large number of workers who were earning close to minimum wage before the increases.

In the early 2000s, retail trade surpassed accommodation and food services as the largest employment sector for minimum wage workers and has remained the largest ever since. In 2018, 32.7 per cent of all minimum wage workers were employed in retail trade, for a total of 720,000 workers. By 2018, the proportion of employees earning minimum wage in the retail trade was close to 2.5 times what it was in 2006. Twenty-six per cent of minimum wage workers worked in accommodation and food services.

Women make up over 60 per cent of all workers earning minimum wage, and workers who have immigrated to Canada are also over-represented. The proportion of employees earning minimum wage increased at a faster pace among large firms compared with medium and small firms between 1998 and 2018.

These statistics show the real impact of neo-liberal globalization and the anti-social offensive. Food retail and processing have traditionally seen the highest rate of unionization of retail trade, and the oligarchs who control this sector have carried out continuous union-busting and assaults on the wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions of workers.


1. Statistics Canada, Labour Statistics: Research Papers, Maximum insights on minimum wage workers: 20 years of data.

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In Defence of the Rights and Dignity of Hospitality Workers

BC Hospitality Workers Step Up
Their Fight for Job Security

Hotel workers protest outside BC legislature, July 7, 2020 demanding the government protect their job security.

At least one BC hotel is using conditions created by the pandemic as an excuse to terminate the jobs of workers without severance pay. The owners of the Four Points by Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel are claiming that the pandemic means they do not have to provide severance pay to terminated employees and have notified 20 to 30 workers that they were terminated and will not receive severance. The BC Employment Standards Act requires that an employer pay severance to workers who are laid off at the end of a certain period when the layoff is deemed to have become a termination, and that period, at the request of employers' organizations, has been extended under the emergency powers declared to deal with the pandemic. If the actions of the hotel are allowed to stand, hundreds of thousands of working people laid off during the pandemic, who have not yet returned to work, would be in danger of being denied severance pay if their layoffs become terminations.

Four Points by Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel is independently owned but the Sheraton name and some services are franchised from Marriott International Inc. whose net worth is nearly $41 billion Canadian. The hotel's general manager, Vijaay Kanna, wrote to employees in May claiming that the drop in business during the pandemic had made terminations necessary. Kanna wrote "While the government wage subsidy allowed us to continue to provide you some work in hopes of the situation turning around there is no longer a reasonable prospect of us continuing to need your services."

The workers are not represented by a union. The terminated workers have to file individual complaints with the provincial Labour Standards Branch. Shannon Leung, a front desk employee for the last seven years who is one of the fired workers, says she is concerned that older workers will have an especially hard time finding new jobs. "I think everyone should have a choice whether they get to stay or not. I feel like they're getting rid of us just because they can." Leung added that the hotel pays slightly better than the minimum wage but she fears the hotel may want to hire new workers at lower pay.

UNITE HERE Local 40 which represents thousands of unionized hotel, food service and airport industry workers throughout B.C. is speaking out not only on behalf of its own members, nearly all of whom have been laid off, but also on behalf of workers who do not have defence organizations.

On June 25, the Horgan government announced an extension of the layoff period before employers would have to pay severance. From the 13 weeks in the legislation, the period is now extended to 24 weeks. This provision expires August 30. On the same day, Local 40 held a rally and press conference outside the Rosewood Hotel Georgia demanding "Where is Our Right to Return to Work?" President Zailda Chen stated "We are incredibly disappointed by the Government's decision today to extend temporary layoffs and delay severance to help the business community without any protection for workers. The government had to put 50,000 hotel workers out of work, but without any legal rights to get their jobs back. Hotel workers are already being permanently terminated as a result of this pandemic. A wave of terminations may come in September. This decision falls far short of what laid-off workers need to stay connected to their jobs. The B.C. government needs to act and protect workers-not just businesses."

BC Federation of Labour President Laird Cronk said, in a news release issued June 25, "If employers are getting more time to get their business back on its feet, it's only fair that workers have the right to return to their jobs when that period ends.... Employers argued an extension would help them bring their employees back -- so let's make sure they do."

Hospitality workers are demanding that the government take action to protect their jobs, no matter how long the layoffs last, whether they have a union or not, something that can be done under the emergency powers. 

Workers who are members of UNITE HERE Local 40 negotiated the right to return to their jobs following a layoff of up to six months in the contract that ended their strike in the fall of 2019. They are concerned that as soon as that six month period expires the employer will terminate all the workers so they can hire new workers at lower wages, eliminate the negotiated contract and the union as well.

James Milling who worked as a doorman at the Hotel Georgia for nine years stated "Our contribution to BC's hotel industry is significant. I hope the Province does not let workers with years of experience go by the wayside. The provincial Government should make sure that hotel workers who have built this industry are guaranteed to get our jobs back as the industry recovers."

At the onset of the pandemic the financial oligarchy through its political representatives claimed over and over that "We are all in this together." However it is clear that the rich are only interested in resolving the crisis in a manner that favours them while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. Hospitality workers and their allies are stepping up the fight for recognition of their right to job security.

(Photos: UNITE HERE 40, Retail Action Network)

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The Need to Fix Long-Term Care

Workers Demand Public Inquiry
into Northwood Deaths

At the end of June, the Nova Scotia government announced it is conducting a review of the COVID-19 death toll at the Northwood Manor long-term care facility for seniors in Halifax.

Northwood Manor is a huge facility, with close to 600 residents and 400 workers caring for them, where 53 residents died this spring of COVID-19. Hundreds of residents and workers were also infected. At the end of April the government of Nova Scotia issued a ministerial order redeploying members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) to Northwood Manor. NSGEU denounced the use of the ministerial order to force redeployment, a violation of the collective agreement according to which redeployment to another employer must be done on a voluntary basis. The union reported that the NSGEU members who went to Northwood said that the situation there was like a war zone. It was marked, among other things, by a lack of infection control measures to protect vulnerable seniors and frontline workers, and a lack of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The government has announced that it is not going to hold a public inquiry on the death toll and the whole situation in long-term care facilities in the province, but has ordered a review to be done by a Quality-Improvement Committee comprised of two appointed members. This committee is supposed to deliver recommendations to the Minister by the end of September after consulting with staff and physicians, administrators, families and others. 

There is also going to be an internal government review of broader infection prevention and control within the long-term care sector. The activity of the Quality-Improvement Committee is covered by the Quality-Improvement Information Protection Act which gives the Minister the authority to limit what information from the review is released via the Freedom of Information and Protection and Privacy Act. This means that the province will publicly release only the recommendations that come out of the panel's investigation, not the details of the investigation itself. In order to justify its refusal to hold a public inquiry and to instead use the process approved by the Quality-Improvement Information Protection Act, the government of Nova Scotia gave the spurious argument that it has chosen the best approach to get the investigators to work as soon as possible so that the recommendations can be made public as quickly as possible.

Workers reject this argument. They see it as a way to prevent the workers, the patients and their families, and Nova Scotians at large from speaking out and being heard publicly so that their input is there and their solutions are also made public.

Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union

"NSGEU writes in its press release dated July 2:

"Government should have initiated a public inquiry immediately, rather than waiting until the first wave had concluded. We know that a variety of factors, such as double-bunking and inadequate staffing ratios, contributed to the spread of COVID-19 at Northwood Manor. Government needs to take action now to address these known and acknowledged issues.

"'Fifty-three people died at this facility, and their families deserve to know what really happened,' said Jason MacLean, President of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE).

"'They deserve to know how staffing issues and inadequate infection control made a bad situation worse. These families and all Nova Scotians deserve to know the answer to a very important question: Was this avoidable? We need to know what could have been done to prevent these deaths, so we can ensure the staff and residents at all long-term care facilities are better protected in the event of a second wave.'

"The situation calls for a comprehensive public inquiry that includes an opportunity for everyone -- residents, family members, staff and unions -- to provide their first-hand accounts of what happened, and what they think could be done better."

Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour is also demanding a full, transparent public inquiry into long-term care. President Danny Cavanagh wrote a letter to Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey on July 6, which states, in part;

"[...] the method announced recently by the Liberal government -- a review struck under the Quality-improvement Information Protection Act -- allows the review to happen behind closed doors.

"All those involved -- including Northwood staff and management, government and Nova Scotia Health Authority officials, family members and others -- must feel free to speak openly, without fear of legal repercussions, and all findings must be released to the public.

"Issues in long-term care didn't start in March -- the system was broken long before the Pandemic. We now see that the COVID-19 crisis has drawn attention to inconsistent regulations, low standards of care, and poor working conditions in long-term care facilities. Now is the time to take the opportunity to learn from what went wrong and build a clear plan to fix the system.

"Any review of long-term care must involve the unions who are on the front line every day and the review must be of the entire system, including Northwood. Before the Pandemic, any frontline worker would have told you that our long-term care homes have been in crisis for years. In fact, many unions commissioned reports to government about the crisis.

"Workers will tell you that the arrival of COVID-19 has added enormous stress to a system that was already broken. Any report cannot be about blame but must focus on making long-term care a better system of care. A review must also look at the funding provided to the system over the last 20 years. Should the system fall under the Canada Health Act and [be] built on a minimum of national standards?

"The report must be made public to avoid the government not sharing information on its findings. A second wave of COVID-19 is around the corner and we know that a variety of factors, such as double-bunking and inadequate staffing ratios, contributed to the spread of COVID-19 at Northwood Manor. Government needs to take action now to address these known and acknowledged issues."

Nova Scotia Health Coalition

The Nova Scotia Health Coalition is calling for the Minister of Health and Wellness to commit to releasing the full report of the Quality-Improvement Committee to the public and is also calling for a full independent inquiry into the long-term care system. In its press release dated July 2, it states:

"The committee, announced today and due to finish its review in September, will report directly to the Minister Delorey, who will then decide how much information will be released to the public. Since the two person committee will presumably be investigating the role of the Minister and other elected officials in pandemic planning, this creates an inherent conflict of interest.

"'53 people died at Northwood and the public deserves to know the uncensored truth about what happened. Lives are at stake,' said Chris Parsons, Provincial Coordinator for the Nova Scotia Health Coalition and a former frontline worker at Northwood Manor. 'It should not be up to the Minister or the Premier's office to determine what the public can and cannot know about this tragedy.'

"'The terms of reference focus too heavily on the actions of staff and leadership at Northwood. Given the imminent second wave of COVID-19 and the broader failings of our long-term care system that the disease has revealed, it's clear that we need a review of the system as a whole, to find out what worked and what did not work throughout the province. These problems did not start in March,' Parsons added.

"While quick answers are needed to ensure mistakes are not repeated, the Coalition also is calling for a full and independent public inquiry under the Public Inquiries Act. Such an inquiry would allow for full independence from the Minister and provide the necessary investigative resources and legal powers needed to understand the tragedy at Northwood and the broader failures of Nova Scotia's long-term care system."

(Photoe: SIEU, L. Smith)

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