Operating Engineers in Canada must pay attention to what’s going on south of the border where labour is under attack.
That was the message Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher delivered to delegates at a special executive board meeting of the union in the OE Banquet Hall on Sept. 21.
“It’s important for us to pay attention to what’s happening in the U.S. and what’s been successful to turn it back,” he said.
Gallagher noted that both the federal Conservatives and Ontario Tories are intent on pursuing a similar agenda against unions and working families here in Canada.
He said the Operating Engineers may have to be more politically active as a provincial election gets closer.
In his remarks, Gallagher noted that he recently attended an AFL-CIO national convention in Los Angeles and it was a good feeling to be in a room with so many unionists.
At the convention, he said, IUOE general president James T. Callahan announced that Local 150 in Indiana took the government to court over the right-to-work legislation and won, prompting a standing ovation from the hundreds of union delegates in attendance.
“I certainly felt good to be there as an Operating Engineer when that transpired,” Gallagher said.
He noted that Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, both gave rousing speeches at the AFL-CIO convention.
Videos of the speeches were played for delegates at the special executive board meeting.
In her speech, Warren said unions are like a family in that “we’ve got each other’s backs.”
Throughout history, she said, powerful interests have tried to capture Washington but labour has always been there to fight on behalf of the American people.
She said labour enshrined into law the right to organize and created social security.
“Labour was there every step of the way. Our agenda was America’s agenda and we prevailed.”
Lately, she said, powerful interest groups in the U.S. have been attacking the very foundations that protect the middle class, but labour will prevail.
“The Washington insiders will fight us but the American people are on our side.”
Trumka, meanwhile, told delegates at the AFL-CIO convention that there can be no shared prosperity while 11 million Americans have no rights, while 20 million are looking for work and can’t find it, and while libraries and schools are closed in the poorest communities.
Shared prosperity, he said, is a reality when the rich and connected pay their share, when health care, retirement security and sick days are available to all people, and when there’s an end to trade deals that treat companies better than people.
“We build this country every single day and it is time for Americans to value the work of all workers in this country.”
After the videos were shown, Gallagher told delegates that what’s happening the U.S. is now happening in Canada.
“A similar thing is happening here, don’t kid yourselves,” he said.
Gallagher noted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is stacking the Supreme Court and provincial Tory leader Tim Hudak is intent on bringing in right-to-work legislation.
He said unions in Canada have to shed their complacency so Harper and Hudak or whoever else comes in aren’t able to do what’s been done to working families in the U.S.
Also at the meeting, Gallagher told delegates that Local 793 has left the Provincial Building Trades.
He said he recently wrote to Pat Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, informing him of the decision, and Local 793 business reps have been directed to stop attending building trades meetings in their areas.
Gallagher said there have been too many jurisdictional disputes filed by building trades against Local 793 at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) at a time when they should be working together.
When the 10th jurisdictional dispute reached his desk, he said, he decided to take action.
Gallagher said each jurisdictional dispute costs the union anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 to fight.
He said he didn’t feel it was a good idea to continue working with building trades that are filing jurisdictional disputes against Local 793.
“We’re going to send them a wake-up call,” he said.
Gallagher said he has told Dillon that Local 793 will prepare to rejoin the building trades when the other trades realize the damage they’re doing.
Labour relations manager Ken Lew reported at the meeting that the union is now facing 13 jurisdictional disputes involving six trades.
He said the labour relations department has been gathering information and intends to defend Local 793’s jurisdiction.
The union has done a great job over the last several years at laying the groundwork to win such disputes, he said.