Union activism moved online as the first virtual Atlantic Regional Council engaged members in the fight to Build Back Better and make lasting change for workers post-pandemic.
“The number of campaigns that have taken place through the pandemic clearly shows that it did not stop your union from being active one little bit, if anything we ramped up due to the need,” Unifor Atlantic Regional Director Linda MacNeil told delegates from locals across the four Atlantic provinces, who gathered virtually via Zoom June 4-5, 2021.
“One word to describe all of you is resilient because no matter what you were faced with over the last year, all of you fought for your members in your workplaces and your communities.”
In her report to council MacNeil highlighted examples of the strength of the union and of the locals, citing the courage of striking Dominion members who took on billionaire Galen Westin in Newfoundland and praising long-term care workers at Northwood Halifax Campus, where 81 members tested positive for COVID-19. MacNeil also addressed difficulties faced by workers in hard-hit sectors including aerospace, airlines, hospitality, offshore oil and gas, and the fisheries.
MacNeil commended member activism during two COVID-era provincial elections in New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador and in the current fight to reject “Big Reset” austerity measures by Premier Furey’s government as she outlined ongoing political initiatives across the region.
“Positive changes for workers would not have happened if it wasn’t relentless pressure from our union. Campaigns like the need for Personal Protective Equipment, Building Back Better, anti-scab legislation, paid sick leave, paid vaccination time and so many more, could not and cannot happen without your support because all of you is what makes the strength of our union.”
Tragedies that members faced since they last met in person were recognized as MacNeil paid tribute to New Brunswick member Luc Belanger who died of COVID-19 and the loss of eight members from the Unifor FFAW family.
Health and Safety featured prominently on day one of ARC as locals shared examples of COVID-19 protocols swiftly enacted to protect workers.
Health and safety training also played a key role in saving 28 members after the Atlantic Destiny caught fire off the coast of Nova Scotia earlier this year, with fellow Local 1944 members on the Maude Adams fishing vessel and Local 2182 Coast Guard members assisting in the rescue. Members shared details of the frightening incident during a panel and credited the successful evacuation before the vessel sank to the skill and training of the crew. Watch the video here.
Unifor National President Jerry Dias continued the theme of fighting back and union activism in an emotional speech that focused on working together through COVID-19, the lives of Unifor members lost to the virus, and the severe impact of the pandemic on workers in many industries, such as retail, manufacturing and airlines.
“We’re not going to allow a pandemic to interfere with the important work we have to do. We’re not going to let a pandemic stop us from showing each other the incredible love and solidarity that we have,” Dias told delegates.
Dias outlined how Unifor pushed the government to implement COVID income supports to put money in people’s pockets including the CERB and CRSB and stressed that the union is continuing to advocate for policies to Build Back Better.
Day two of Council began with a presentation by Lavona Staples, President of Unifor Local 4619 and Co-chair of the Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society. The Local and nearby communities were directly affected by the horrific events of April 20, 2020 when 22 people were killed in Canada’s worst mass shooting near Portapique, N.S.
“In the hours and the days that followed the shootings it was our union brothers and sisters that reached out to me immediately and continue to offer support,” said Staples. "This tragedy will not define us as a community."
Earlier this year, Unifor donated $17,500 dollars to the Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society to support grief and trauma counselling, a community development fund, and education funds that will provide direct support for children of the victims, bursaries directed by the families, and a bursary for women.
Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne expanded on the union’s work to organize for systemic changes that tackle inequality, sexism, workplace harassment and violence against women.
“As working class people we understand that we share a common struggle in this country – and around the world – the fight for human rights for all, the fight to end oppression, racism and exploitation, the fight against an economic system that delivers the vast majority of the wealth to the privileged few,” said Payne. “It is through our solidarity, understanding and action that we will build a better world.”
Payne's remarks also called for political action to enact paid sick leave and anti-scab legislation. Delegates then watched a video featuring members replaced by scab workers during an extended lock out at D-J Composites in Newfoundland and Labrador.
A recommendation to support anti-scab legislation passed along with recommendations to lobby provincial governments for anti-racism plans and develop campaigns to pressure for strong pay equity legislation. Delegates passed resolutions to call for political measures to Build Back Better from the pandemic and to encourage locals to support active reconciliation initiatives with Indigenous peoples and communities. An emergency resolution was added to express solidarity for a full investigation by the federal government into residential school sites.
Delegates took immediate action on Indigenous rights as they conducted a Twitter storm linking to a petition to demand the federal government fully implement the Truth & Reconciliation Commission's 94 recommendations.
As Council concluded, a unity slate of standing committee members were elected with Matt Blois as Atlantic Regional Council Chair, Tammy Moore as Vice-Chair and Adele Jackman as Secretary-Treasurer. View the complete Atlantic Regional Council Executive Board here.
All videos from the 2021 ARC can be found in this playlist on Facebook.