Members from across Canada met in Ottawa on May 24 to lobby over 50 Members of Parliament (MPs). The 60 members working in a variety of sectors lobbied for a progressive national child care and pharmacare program, action on Just Transition, and to keep airports public.
“This is the largest lobbying effort by our union since we formed,” said Katha Fortier, Assistant to the National President. “It’s one part of the ongoing work of members to engage in political action and it helps influence public policy for tomorrow.”
Currently, there’s much more work to do to improve public services and make them truly accessible for all. Unifor’s research department assisted by detailing policy alternatives to help improve ailing systems. The resulting lobby documents about childcare, pharmacare, climate change and its effects on workers, and the growing privatization of institutions like airports grounded the meetings with MPs.
8.4 million working Canadians do not have any prescription drug coverage, leaving Canadians paying significantly more for prescription drugs than necessary.
“We’re advocating for a national pharmacare program that covers everyone,” said Jerry Dias, National President. “It’s the right thing to do. It saves everyone money. And it means we’re keeping people healthy.”
Increasingly, public assets are being sold off by governments desperate to raise money without raising progressive taxes. While Canada’s airports are currently not-for-profit, the federal government has been considering a study of airport privatization. “It appears that we’ve successfully moved the federal government off of airport privatization for now,” said Dias.
Keeping airports public is important to Anees Munshi, who works for Air Canada Jazz Aviation at Toronto Pearson International Airport, is a member of Local 2002, and is the local’s Health and Safety Coordinator. Also important to Munshi is the project of Just Transition. Airplanes are significant contributors to climate change but airports employ tens of thousands of people nation-wide. This raises the question of how to challenge climate change while securing a fair future for workers in carbon-intensive industries, like the resource sector. “We have to ensure that people who will be impacted by transitioning the economy can be re-trained for new, greener industries or be financially compensated,” said Munshi.
Kelly Bondy, who develops Unifor’s health and safety curriculum for members, was part of lobbying in Ottawa. Bondy is developing two courses on climate change in carbon-intensive sectors, creating an avenue for re-training and the creation of green jobs. The courses, “Environment - Community” and “Climate Change and Our Jobs”, continue the lobbying effort in Ottawa by keeping members informed about the changing ecological landscape and what the threats, as well as possibilities, are for workplaces.
Insufficient childcare rounded out the issues highlighted during lobbying. The 2017 federal budget set aside only $540 million for childcare—not nearly enough to address the crisis of affordability. Unifor, instead, advocates allocating $1 billion in the 2018 fiscal year and increase spending by $1 billion in each subsequent year until Canada reaches the international benchmark of 1% of GDP.
“Childcare is a workers issue because it means that more caregivers, disproportionately women, can go back to work knowing their children are in affordable and adequate childcare,” said Lisa Kelly, Director of Unifor’s Women’s Department.
“But all this research without mobilized and passionate people to bring it to elected leaders wouldn’t take us far,” said Dias. “Because our members are informed and activated we were able to reach and influence them.”
Some of the members who gathered in Ottawa are seasoned lobbyists while for others this was their first experience.
“We had an MP who said it was nice to hear our stories and how these issues affected real people,” said Munshi. “I wanted to be a part of it because I’ve never lobbied before. I wanted to learn about how to do it because these issues matter to me.”