Unifor National President Jerry Dias stressed a message of international solidarity in the battle for workers’ rights as he addressed the Constitutional Convention of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA).
Founded in 1940, the UWUA represents 50,000 members across the American energy sector, including the electric, gas, steam and nuclear industries. UWUA members gathered July 24-27 in Las Vegas, Nevada to set the direction of the union for the next four years while acknowledging the past with a theme of “Protecting our Legacy”.
“Protecting our legacy means building a modern labour movement, moving forward and evolving while never forgetting the struggles of the past,” said Dias. “In many ways unions on both sides of the border are being forced to re-fight for the same rights won nearly one hundred years ago.”
Dias spoke of the common struggle in a gig-economy to secure decent jobs, living wages, benefits and retirement security, and the fight to oppose anti-worker trade deals and legislation.
So-called ‘Right to Work’ (for less) laws in many U.S. states make it difficult for unions to organize while undercutting their financial stability, resulting in worker exploitation and lower wages. Just a few months ago, 200 Unifor members working at Tandus Carpets saw their 46-year old plant close and ship work to Georgia, a RTW state.
In light of the migration of jobs to Right to Work states from other across the U.S. and Canada, Unifor actively opposed ‘Right to Work’ laws as a trade-distorting practice during the renegotiation of NAFTA.
“This is your struggle but this is our struggle too. Canadian workers can’t wall themselves off from the bad practices of global employers,” Dias said. “When our American sisters and brothers are hurt, Canadian workers are hurt too. We stand together.”
Dias pointed out that workers are currently facing a Right to Work threat in Alberta, the heartland of Canada’s oil and gas industry and the heartland of Canada’s conservative movement.
Today, Canada’s energy workers are struggling and the Jason Kenney government is looking for scapegoats. The United Conservative Party unfairly blame the one-term New Democratic Party government, environmentalists and unions.
“The Kenney government is looking to bust the door down, introducing “agency fees” – to stop unions from doing the political work that needs to be done,” Dias said. “This is our battleground and this fight is underway. We look to unions like the UWUA for support and solidarity.”