Day one of Unifor’s Ontario Regional Council began with strong calls for the union to continue working to improve the lives of all working people, and to build on the successes of 2016. It was a theme that remained throughout the day as delegates discussed a wide variety of issues.
In her inaugural address at Ontario Regional Director, Naureen Rizvi said Unifor members in Ontario have done great work to build stronger communities and improve conditions for working people across the province, including the successful Detroit Three auto talks.
Rizvi pointed to several victories, including unionizing the first Sobeys grocery store in the province, groundbreaking improvements for school bus drivers, and Unifor’s leading role in the Ontario government’s workplace review.
“Unifor does not and will not accept the argument that full-time jobs with decent pay are a thing of the past,” Rizvi said. “We do not accept the race to the bottom mentality.”
Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley credited Unifor with saving the auto industry in Canada thanks to the $1.5 billion in investments secured during auto bargaining with Detroit Three.
In his address after lunch, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said the union has been and will continue to be active on many fronts, from boosting the number of women in politics, to being active in elections and advocating for a $15 minimum wage, to working hard at the bargaining table on behalf of Unifor members.
Dias recounted a meeting just a few hours earlier with Postmedia Chief Executive Officer Paul Godfrey after top executives at the company gave themselves $2.3 million in bonuses while slashing staff at its newspapers and gutting newsrooms.
“If there’s $2.3 million for the top three executives, there needs to be something for our members,” he said.
Following an emotional video about Unifor’s efforts to help Syrian refugee families, newcomer Tareq Hadhad told his family’s story of losing everything in Damascus and rebuilding their lives in Nova Scotia, including restarting their chocolate business, Peace by Chocolate, after coming to Canada last January.
“In other countries, refugees from Syria are turned away at the border,” Hadhad said. “In Canada, officers said ‘Welcome to Canada’ as we walked through the airport.”
When the family’s small chocolate operation in Antigonish began to show its first profit in May, the Hadhads donated the money to help families in Fort McMurray escape forest fires.
A project to encourage more women to run for political office, Daughters of the Vote, was outlined by spokesperson Nancy Peckford and a participant in the program, Antu Hossain. Hossain will be one of 338 women representing their communities in Parliament next March 8, International Women’s Day.
Closing off the day was a special social justice announcement. A donation of $250,000, a joint contribution for Unifor and CN coming out of contract talks last year, was presented to Indspire, which helps Indigenous youth pursue their educational goals. The federal government provided a contribution of $230,000 towards the project.