As it’s my 60th birthday today I’m feeling a bit nostalgic.
First, thank you to all the members and staff sending me birthday wishes!
Also, happy ‘co-birthday’ wishes to former business manager, brother Joe Kennedy who is 95 today! Joe hired me when I was a 26-year-old idealistic young man and gave me a chance. Thanks Joe!
It’s also brother Brad Sisler’s birthday from Sarnia who is the local’s conductor. Have a great day Brad!
On staff in our communications department, we have Danny Celia. Happy birthday to Danny. Thanks for your dedication and hard work.
To members and your families, I want to just thank you for your support of the local and your support of me. We may disagree with each other from time to time but, as in any family, the ties that bind us together keep our faith in one another. I promise you I have never taken your support for me and my team for granted. We have been through a lot together and have grown stronger perhaps not in spite of our challenges but because of them. We have forged together an indestructible solid organization that at its core puts the welfare of our membership first. We must never lose this core value no matter what’s thrown at us!
When I started my career with Local 793 as a young man, I believed that we were without a shadow of a doubt, “the best damn trade union in the world!” Now the world is a much bigger place but nothing over my 34 years on staff has led me to change my mind on this belief. We must bring passion and unbendable will to our struggle as part of a broader labour community seeking justice and prosperity for working families. In the words of the founder of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, in 1893 he answered the question of what labour unions want: “We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more constant work and less crime; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright…”
Even when we have had crises, we never faltered or divided against one another. We have stood united and faced every obstacle. For example, we overcame all the difficult times under International supervision in the mid 90s, and succeeded in all of our three major provincial strikes when some employers mistakenly thought that a divide and conquer strategy against members on issues like seniority and hours of work/overtime would work – they were wrong and completely underestimated the solidarity of our membership.
Instead, we survived and indeed grew in numbers and strength through organizing the non-union and focusing on skills training, especially during the anti-union government years of PC Premier Mike Harris. Local 793 made a significant commitment to defeating the Tory government – in dollars, time and effort. Former Local 793 president Gary O’Neill showed his leadership and chaired the Working Families Coalition, a union-backed campaign to keep the Progressive Conservatives out of power in Ontario. In the end, the Working Families Coalition was victorious. The Tories lost the election and Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals gained power.
We were confronted severely when a pension reduction became necessary in January 2006. I asked you then to trust us to fix and strengthen the pension plan and we delivered. In 2012, I marched in the Sarnia Labour Day Parade. At the picnic at the Sarnia Hall, I got a plate of food and was sitting on my own and the late Johnny Johnson came over and sat beside me. He was at the mic a lot during the marathon pension hearing we had. Brother Johnny Johnson, noting that the pension plan had recovered and we had reversed the reduction, told me I had kept my word to the members that evening. I was certainly grateful for the compliment. Perhaps there is a lesson in that for today. At the foundation, we are proud members of a great union. As in any family we have our disagreements, but we must see beyond those differences.
In all our challenges, we still moved onward together. We organized and brought in new members to add to our power, strengthened our training abilities, improved our benefit plan, built a new head office in Oakville, fought to improve our work jurisdiction and gained respect of other trades who saw that we would not roll over.
We expanded our territory into Nunavut and had our charter amended and began to organize in the mining sector. As a result, a few short years ago we welcomed over 900 new members from Baffinland’s iron ore mine on Baffin Island, Nunavut. We welcomed these brothers and sisters, many of whom are Inuit from the northern communities, into our 793 family and pledged to fight alongside them to improve their lives and those of their families.
As a Union, we have faced many struggles. Now as a nation, we face a moment of truth following the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada. Monday marked the beginning of Truth and Reconciliation Week, and Thursday is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new federal statutory holiday. To mark the occasion, the Canadian and Union flags at our head office are being flown at half-mast this week.
Unfortunately, the Ford government has failed to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This means that all Ontarians won’t get the day off tomorrow to have the full opportunity to reflect, to respect, and to learn on the meaning of this day. This is shameful.
Nunavut will recognize the day as a statutory holiday beginning in 2022.
We pledge to do our best in the upcoming round of negotiations to include language in all of our collective agreements so that all new federal and provincial holidays are automatically recognized as a day off for members.
It was recently announced that Canada’s Roman Catholic bishops will provide funding of $30 million to address the trauma caused by residential schools. The move comes after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops apologized to Indigenous people for the suffering they endured in Canada’s residential schools – most of which were run by the Catholic Church. This is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.
Now together, we face perhaps our biggest challenge yet – the COVID-19 pandemic. It is ongoing but we must face up to it with the same internal fortitude and solidarity that we met all our other problems with throughout our history.
Lately, I’m making some tough decisions due to misinformation on the internet and social media regarding COVID-19 that is, in my view, poisoning some of our members’ trust of medical science.
It’s unsettling to see how divisive and politicized the simple protection of wearing a mask and getting a vaccine shot has become. We will continue to do our best to educate members to do the right thing and follow public health advice, while keeping in place necessary measures to ensure staff and student safety at our facilities. When this pandemic is finally over we will put our differences aside and extend our hands in friendship and solidarity once again.
We will persevere through this pandemic together and become stronger than ever! We will continue to improve the lives of members and their families and pave the way for the next generation of Local 793 members.
So today, at age 60, I’m reflective of our past and optimistic about the future. But more, I’m grateful to be alongside of all of you in the best damn trade union in the world.