Affordability and health care privatization key issues at NOLM

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A group of people holding their fists in the air.

Unifor members from 14 locals gathered in Thunder Bay, Ont. on May 13-14, 2024, for the Northern Ontario Leadership Meeting (NOLM) to identify specific issues of the region, including in the health care and forestry sectors, and Indigenous communities.

“A big reason why NOLM was created a decade ago was because it was sometimes challenging to send 125 Northern Ontario delegates to the Ontario Regional Council (ORC) all the time,” said Unifor Northern Area Director Stephen Boon.

“NOLM provides an opportunity for regional leaders to get together to focus on specific northern issues with that at-home feel.”

Two men posing together with badges.

Unifor Ontario Regional Director Samia Hashi described at NOLM how health care town halls revealed how harrowing it can be find a family doctor or face emergency room closures and how thinly stretched and burned-out health care workers are across the region.

“But what the town halls really showed me is how important it is to just bring people together as a community, in person, to talk about the issues,” she said.

“And it’s always surprising how when you get people together…you most often find there there’s so much more that unites us then there are things that divide us.”

A woman with braid and a blazer speaking at a podium.

Hashi said Northern Ontario faces unique challenges, such as higher unemployment and rural communities that need access to quality public services and good jobs — issues all levels of government need to support.

“We need every single political party to be on the same page here,” she said. “We need robust investment into key sectors, like tourism, forestry, transit, manufacturing, and mining to keep the jobs we have and bring more jobs up north.”

At the meeting, Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer Len Poirier set his sights on greedy and arrogant corporations like Bell that prefer to ramp up shareholders’ dividends than to keep its workforce employed, or Loblaws, which notoriously put profits over people.

“What we have is a crisis of wealth distribution,” Poirier told delegates. “There seems to be a real competition on who the worst CEO villain is in Canada…It’s just not fair for working people.”

A man speaking at the mic.

Poirier added the union is fighting for economic development that builds worker power, which all levels of government must invest in.

Kelly-Anne Orr, Unifor’s Assistant to the National Officers, highlighted proposed legislative changes to the Fixing Long-Term Care Act 2021 that would allow Ontario long-term care homes to hire individuals without meeting personal support workers educational requirements.

This new classification of workers in long-term care would require supervision of a nurse or a personal support worker. This amendment would create less qualified care and a cheaper workforce while putting more responsibility on the shoulders of our members to supervise this new classification when they are already stretched to the limit. 

“We know this is going to be a nightmare,” said Orr. “We know that a resident who goes to long-term care require the skills and knowledge of qualified professionals – PSWs, RPNs and RNs.”

A woman speaks at a mic.

Orr also noted that ambulance coverage in the province is critically low, putting the health and safety of Ontario residents at risk.

“Municipalities’ budget for policing and firefighting have received major increases, while budgets for paramedic services have failed to keep up with the needs of our local populations,” she said.

Tracey Ramsey, the union’s Women’s Director, shared the importance of a Women’s Advocate in the workplace, who helps women who are in a violent relationship by referring them to community resources.

Ramsey said Thunder Bay was the second-highest rate of intimate partner violence in Canada. Rural communities including Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins and Kapuskasing, also have high rates. Thunder Bay is in the top three places with the highest of intimate family violence rates in Canada.

A woman speaking at a podium

“In Oct. 2023, in Sault Ste. Marie, we lost Angela Sweeney, who was a Local 1359 member, where a 44-year-old male gunman shot and killed four people, including Angela and his three children he had with his ex-wife,” she said.

“He also shot his ex-wife, but she survived, and Angela’s daughter survived and a 16-year-old child. This murder-suicide has impacted an entire community, multiple families. Not only was Angela our member, but the ex-wife’s sister is a Unifor member. The ripples affect not only the community, but also in our Unifor family.”

A table full of people.

In his presentation, Thomas Ratz, the chief forester for Resolute in Ontario, said it when it comes to protecting woodland and mountain caribou populations, battling climate change and managing wildfires, it requires the forestry industry and the government to collaborate and receive input from unions for best practices for future sustainability.

People sitting at a table, one waving a flag.

Attendees listened to presentations on Unifor’s Health, Safety and Environment, Pensions and Benefits, International and Legal departments, as well as the Skilled Trades Council.

They played a game of “Union Jeopardy,” with the tables with most points winning Unifor swag.

A woman smiles at a microphone and podium.

The ORC donated $1,000 and the Unifor Thunder Bay Women’s Committee raised $674 during a 50/50 draw, which will be donated to Alpha Court for its local outreach work with encampments.

A woman wears a sign for a 50/50 draw.

Members also heard about the healing work of Dilico Anishinabek Family Care, which brings together a wide range of services and programs to support children, youth and Anishinabek families.

The ORC will also return as a platinum sponsor for Dilico’s Honouring our Children Reconciliation Run on Sept. 30, 2024. At NOLM, Local 229 announced that it would be donating $500 and have a cheering station along the race route, encouraging other area locals to also join in.

“The atmosphere of the run, just all around, hits you right in the heart strings,” said Kari Jefford, Unifor Local 229 President. “It’s pretty powerful.”

See the photos from NOLM

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