Over 150 members from across northern Ontario met in Thunder Bay on February 9-10 to participate in the annual Unifor Northern Ontario Leadership meeting.
During the two days leadership shared political activism updates, discussed the many issues concerning northern Ontario locals, and had an opportunity to lobby federal politicians.
A meeting of the Young Workers Caucus kicked off the meetings on Friday morning. The group, many of whom attended the caucus for the first time, were eager to learn and share ideas on how to reach other young workers, what tools the union had available to support activism and to work with other community partners to advance the union’s goals.
An engaged Young Workers Caucus is where you will find our future leaders,” said Samia Hashi a member of the Ontario Young Workers Standing Committee. “It is important that we provide them with the knowledge and tools they will need to be active in their Locals and in their communities,” she added
Candace Lavalley, Vice Chairperson of the Ontario Regional Council opened the plenary by introducing Marilyn Netemegesic, who performed a traditional Aboriginal smudging ceremony. The remainder of the day unfolded with a succession of presentations, the first on political activism and the upcoming Ontario election. Director of Political Action and Member Mobilization, Rolly Kiehne and Unifor’s Economist Jordan Brennan spoke about why this election will be key to maintain the gains made for working people over the last year.
Katha Fortier, Assistant to the National President addressed the delegates providing an update on hospital bargaining, the staffing crises in the long-term care sector and Unifor’s response to it. Fortier also encouraged Locals to support the union’s universal pharmacare campaign by presenting the union’s joint letter to employers and to petition municipal councils for support. She then held an open floor to talk with members about the union’s recent decision to disaffiliate from the CLC.
“Although the decision to withdraw was a difficult one, the National Executive Board unanimously voted to stand up for union democracy and the rights of workers that the CLC failed to address,” she said.
Several local presidents ended day one with verbal reports and shared challenges in bargaining, successes and political engagement of members and the local in surrounding communities.
Day two began with remarks by the Honourable Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Patricia Hajdu, MP who talked about the social benefits of a strong labour movement and confirmed that a “Pay equity announcement is coming very soon”. Other sessions included Anthony Dale, Director of the Legal Department discussed Ontario’s new labour laws now that Bill 148 has passed. Delegates also heard from local MP Don Rusnak, who spoke about the need for ongoing commitment to advocate for social causes and the General Manager of Resolute Forest Products, which employees over 450 Unifor members spoke about Species at Risk, before a final round of reports from Local Presidents ended the meeting. At the end of the day the Women’s Caucus met separately to discuss issues and concerns including how to continue the fight for fairness, equality and equity within the community and the union.
In their closing remarks, Andy Savela, Director of Health Care and Gary Bragnalo, a National Staff Representative in northern Ontario thanked all the members for their leadership, activism and ongoing support over the years to keep the union strong.