Saturday thoughts in the winter that never ends…

this was actually written a couple of weeks ago, but never published. I have been too busy to write, or read much so I thought I could throw this one out. Have a great day!

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It’s Saturday morning. The sun isn’t even up and I’m driving around a 40,000 pound vehicle, totally empty. I would so much rather be home in my warm bed. It’s frigid with the windchill. I thought spring was here, but I was as mistaken as that damned groundhog. 2014 has the never ending winter. I feel like I’m living in an episode of “Game of Thrones”. Any moment a white walker will stroll out of the distance.

Let me clarify: I am not writing while driving. Bus routes are timed to pick people up. Any time that you aren’t stopping to pick up, you get ahead of schedule. If the bus arrives at the stop early, the passengers may not have made it out yet. “An early bus is no bus” as the employer says in discipline letters and other propaganda. So as I sit at a layover point, I write stuff that I think about.

I’m actually quite pissed today. A member of the supervisory staff divulged some private, personal information about me. The main reason I’m pissed is that the information was not factual. This guy tried to be a union guy and he wasn’t really smart enough so he switched teams. He couldn’t keep confidential information when he was on our side.

Life is a power struggle. You try to do well at your job. We all have relationships. When I say relationship, I’m not talking about couples. If you go to Starbucks to get a coffee several times a week and the “barista” or whatever they call them, makes small talk, you have created a relationship. It is not substantial, or significant, but they start to form an opinion of you. Through small talk you can learn about marital status, job, kids or not, pet lover and so much more. I learned a long time ago as a bus driver to guard what I say.

I had a regular, but sporadic passenger. One day he got on and the first thing he says, “How are your kids?” Let me backtrack; I know this guy lives in a halfway house. It is specifically geared to sex offenders. Sometime before I knew that, I must have told him, through small talk that I had kids. He remembered.

I am a leader in my workplace. I am generally well liked. I am also venomously despised. The people that hate, supported my opponent in the election, or I couldn’t reverse their discipline. Some think union folks just don’t want to work. They see the events I attend and are jealous. Meanwhile, I was the only one of 3 or 4 willing to attend.

I’m not sure where I’m trying to go with this. Just random shit from my head. I’m now home and going out with some very good friends. I just always try to be cognoscente of the impression I create in others. I’m still getting used to this more public role and it’s a far cry from other jobs I’ve had. If I joke around during a discipline meeting, I am judged. Sometimes it’s ok, but most times it’s not. I really want them all to like me, but I am accepting the fact that probably only 20 percent do, 60 percent are indifferent, 10 percent dislike and 10 percent more would destroy me if they could. Such is the price we pay for the choices we make. Life is political no matter how much you think differently.

Organization Drive – Toyota Cambridge and Woodstock Ontario

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As I have already posted in several previous blog posts, I am a union local executive member. Today I made the front page of the paper, much to my embarrassment: http://www.therecord.com/news-story/4444354-battle-of-words-in-toyota-union-drive-heats-up/  there was 600 other people there!

Our local is Unifor 4304 representing the transit operators, specialized transit operators, fleet support staff and specialized dispatchers at Grand River Transit in the Region of Waterloo. We are very active in our community as a whole. Not just union activities! We serve dinner to people in need at the Ray of Hope organization. We support the food bank of Waterloo Region with the Stuff a Bus campaign. We lobby the local, regional, provincial and federal governments on issues from Health and Safety to opposing bills such as C- 377 and 525.Image

We have been working to help the folks at the local Toyota plants experience the better working conditions that unions provide for well over a year. It is an initiative that started at the national executive level and has been embraced by our local union president Darlene Wilson. She is the most active person in our local, often campaigning in the dead cold of the winter that is just releasing it’s hold on Southern Ontario now. She is tireless in her efforts, some would even say relentless! I think she would prefer passionate.

We are firmly committed to showing our support to the union movement as a whole. We hope we have their support when it comes time to organize the LRT workers (Light Rail Transit) that will be coming to the region in the next 2 years. Our employer has provided an unprecedented contract for a private company to build, operate and maintain the LRT project. We are not talking about a trial program here. We are talking 30 years!! Transit is designed to fill a need, not to make money. This is why almost 100% of transit properties in Canada and much of the United States are public companies subsidized by tax payers. We want all transit to be on the same team in this region!

So the Toyota campaign, while really hoping to help bring better working conditions and job security at one of the largest auto manufacturers in Ontario, it is also a trial run for our people to learn what it takes to organize a large employer. I am very optimistic that LRT is going to fall under the transit umbrella. We are very excited to share better working conditions, wages and safety that Unifor 4304 will provide!

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No “I” in team

I know it’s kind of a cliche, but there really are no individual people on a truly united team. Our bargaining continues. We have set more dates to meet and they go into mid April now.

At first this bargaining was getting me down a little and I found it quite stressful. Now, I have a different attitude. We truly have a great team. We have good, solid people that have the membership’s best interests in mind. We are bargaining in the toughest economic climate in many years. The entire union movement is under attack across North America. What a time to bargain!

Before we sat down at the table with the employer, I spent over 2 months doing research. I’m sorry, the team spent over 2 months doing research. Don’t let anybody tell you that researching labour law, employment standards, arbitration decisions and reading other collective agreements from other workplaces is fun! There were times that I thought my eyes would bleed and my head would explode.

As we hammered out our positions we fought. We had some brawls! As the dust settled we emerged together and solid. There is no division now. There is one page and we are all on it.

Now as we continue to work toward an agreement, I am reaching a point where I do not really want it to end. Everyday that we bargain, I spend the day, and boy do we have some long ones, with the strongest and the smartest people I know. The camaraderie that has developed is what I will miss the most. Seeing each member and the passion that they bring to the table inspires me. Our president knows the law much better than I do and I have learned so much. I know more about the other departments now. It is like being on a sports team that has made it to the playoffs, so obviously, not the Toronto Maple Leafs most years. There is a chemistry that has developed and could never be duplicated. It is like an organic thing that has taken on a life of it’s own.

I have never worked in such close proximity with others in my life. My work history has some pretty individual effort jobs. I worked as a mechanic; you work on the car until you are done. Somebody may hold a wrench for you. I worked in a factory; it was piece work and every person for themselves. Whichever worker had the most done when the order was finished made the most money. I was a truck driver, the only person in a workplace of one. I did what I wanted and did not need to play well with others.

This is a different role, but one that I will miss. Each and every bargaining day we get locked in a little room. We work together to determine our positions. We form united positions and everybody has a say. Most of all, I will miss the working lunches. We always eat as a team. We laugh, joke and blow off steam. It is the very best part of the day. When we ratify the contract, it’s over. Any frustration I had with the delays has gone. Frustration leads to stress and high blood pressure. My blood pressure is optimal today. If only the other things in my life worked this well…

Sporadic Schedule

Today I had a shorter day. I attended a labour arbitration for one of our members. It kind of makes up for the 14-16 hour marathon bargaining sessions we are planning for Thursday and Monday. It doesn’t really make up for it, but I knew what I was running for when I got elected. Note to anybody looking to do union work: if you like a consistent schedule, don’t do it!

Arbitration occurs when a grievance goes to the final step and is still not settled to the satisfaction of the union or employer. In this particular case, while I cannot provide details, I can say that we felt this individual was disciplined far too harshly. Whenever you bring an outside person in to solve an issue both parties will walk away not totally pleased with the results. The best solution is the one that the parties can come to on their own.

So I have not blogged at all due to the long days and nights I have been working. I also have a personal life which needs attention or she will get angry. Yes I meant to say she! My spouse tells me that I do a fantastic job keeping work and home separate, but as the stress of bargaining (on top of other duties) increases, that becomes more difficult.

I have rules that I follow for my own personal balance. Unless it’s a dire emergency, I don’t answer the phone after 6pm. I do not do union work from home whenever possible. The exception would be replying to emails. I do not talk about what I am doing at work except for the broadest of strokes. I generally get home early because I start early, so I may do a little work before the family arrives, but only upstairs, away from the kids when they arrive home.

Work life balance is the most important thing that I cherish. I put work before my family in my first marriage and it failed miserably. We all make mistakes. I am now happier than I have ever been and I intend to stay this way. Work used to be my escape to happiness, now it’s the time I spend with my family, which includes 2 dogs.

Don’t let work, whatever work you do, take priority over the things you love and cherish. You will be a more balanced and happy person in the long run. It will give you the energy to fight for what is right.

Union Fundamentals

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Zoe got me thinking yesterday. That is why I like her so much. I wrote a post about what unions do. Unionism is an ideology. Religion and political affiliation can be as well.

Any ideology can be dangerous. One only needs to read the news to see the issues that religious and other ideologies can cause. Acts of terrorism, shootings at abortion clinics and burning of railway cars are all things that have happened and continue to happen in the name of god, or a political belief. Yes, even unions sometimes go too far, but somebody has to stand up for the ordinary worker. Unions teach workers to stand up for themselves.

I am not a union zealot, but I would like to speak for a moment about the history. I am going to stick to the Canadian history. Unions already had a foothold in parts of Europe and the United States before spreading to Canada.

In 1872 Toronto printers had a strike. The issues around this strike were primarily based on the length of the work day. They wanted a 9 hour maximum day. This became known as the “9 hour movement” and spread to other industries such as the railroads. It was Canada’s first mass labour movement and created the Toronto Typographical Union. In March 1872 they went on strike and there were many arrests. This led the Prime Minister at the time, John A. MacDonald to enact the Trade Union Act on April 18, 1872. The Act legalized and protected union activity. The purpose of this strike was better working hours for all. Sometimes you need to be a little radical to get what you need changed.

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The Winnipeg general strike of 1919 is another big moment in Canadian Labour.  The entire city of Winnipeg was reduced to a military occupation. Many people were injured and 2 were killed. Some of the leaders of the labour movement were imprisoned and deported. The strike was to fight the abysmal working conditions and wages from employers who had been made wealthy due to the profits from the First World War. They got some of their demands.

In 1974 Uranium miners in Elliot Lake Ontario, part of the United Steel Workers met with government officials regarding the high rate of cancers and other diseases caused by working in the mines. What was then the Workman’s Compensation Board totally ignored the workers concerns. It should be noted that they were pleading to be heard for over 16 years. Finally they staged a wildcat strike. This lasted 14 days and led to a Royal Commission, commonly known as The Ham Commission. The Ham Commission report had over 100 safety recommendations and was adapted to become the Ontario Health and Safety Act. Perhaps the biggest idea was that of an Internal Responsibility System in all workplaces. Positive change for all workers in Ontario where 377 people still died last year from occupational health issues.

There are so many other things that unions have fought for that benefit every Canadian worker that I would need to write much more. This is the unionism that I believe in. The worker is the underdog. By banding together, we can force change. This is what I try to do in some small way in my daily work as a union local Chairperson. Workers deserve to come home in the same condition that they arrived at work. Workers deserve a fair, living wage. Workers deserve to work in a harassment free workplace with equal treatment for all. This is why I got involved and am a union activist!

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Special thanks to the Worker’s Health and Safety Centre. Their printed materials in all the classes I attended, formed the basis for the facts in this posting. 

What does a union do for me?

I’ve been at my job for 10 years now. It is a public transit property in southern Ontario. In the last 3 years I have become heavily involved in the union. I believe in the purpose of unions.

What does the union do for me? This is a question that I am frequently asked by 1 of the 650 members we represent. They don’t understand the process. I’m going to shed a little light on what a union at the local level does.

When you get hired by an employer in a unionized facility in Ontario, you become a member of the union. You begin having union dues taken off your pay. In Ontario, this is called the Rand Formula. All workers must be members of the union, in good standing to work at a job in a union facility. You may hear the phrase “right to work” thrown around. You already have the right to work. Unions give you the right to work for better wages, conditions and safety.

The first thing you get in return for your dues, is a collective agreement. This is also known as a contract. The employer will pay wages and benefits; the union provides labour. The nice thing about a collective agreement is that you know what you will earn. You will know what your benefits are such as dental, or drug coverage. The collective agreement covers all workers in the bargaining unit so there are no side deals. Bob getting a raise because he’s a kiss ass should not happen.

Another benefit of the union is representation. Surprisingly, the employer and the union sometimes have differing opinions on the meaning of specific articles in the Agreement. To work out these issues, the union will grieve the issue. The grievance procedure is laid out in the collective agreement. Being in a union means that you always have a representative with you in any meeting which could lead to discipline. You never have to go alone. There is strength in numbers.

When the union is unable to solve a grievance through the grievance procedure, the case can be arbitrated. Sometimes they have provisions for mediation as well.

Seniority counts in a unionized environment. If a better shift becomes available, the most senior qualified person that wants to fill the shift is chosen. You don’t get the shift because you coach the supervisor’s kid in basketball. It is about fair and equal treatment for all workers.

Unions were born out of the need to stop the mistreating of workers and they continue to serve this role. If you think injustices have stopped occurring in the workplace, you are dead wrong. 377 people died at work in Ontario last year. This number is cut in half when you look at union employees only. It’s still too high, but we will continue the fight for better wages, working conditions and safety!

Aside

I left off the last post here with us having one slightly unusual stray canine in our house. You may wish to go back and read my previous post, or you can just dive right in and read this one. I am pretty easy going either way.

I was very resistant at the outset. I did not want another dog. The rest of the family was not resistant at all. I made a proposal that we could keep this little dog until we found the owner. Even that seemed like a big concession on my part. My big concern was that the family would grow attached and when we had to give her up, it would be a huge blow to my fragile step daughter.

So I spent 2 days off hanging out with this little timid dog. She had the most voracious appetite you could imagine. You could tell she had not eaten properly for some time. She also did not really seem to be socialized at all. She didn’t know how to pee right. She was submissive to any other dog around her. She was cold all the time and would borough under any blanket, or laundry pile she could find.

Despite these quirks, she was the sweetest and most gentle dog I had ever seen. We never heard a word from the humane society and daily we were starting to not want to. I get done fairly early in the day because I start at the crack of stupid; so early that my lunch is when most people are starting work. I almost bit my tongue when the doorbell rang and a uniformed by-law officer from the humane society was at the door. I opened the door and said, “I guess you’re here for the dog we found?” The officer said that she knew nothing about that, but if we still had a dog named Maple that we had forgotten to buy the dog license and could be fined. I wrote her a cheque!

Then came the new conversation. “Well I guess we have a little dog,” is kind of how it went. I agreed that we could keep her, but only if she was healthy. it was time for a real name. After heated debate, we settled on a name that we all liked and seemed to suit the personality: Maggie.

The little dog that we called Maggie started to gain weight really quickly. After a week and a bit, her belly was actually pretty distended. She was waddling a little. Come to think of it, all female dogs have nipples, but Maggie’s were starting to look like a latex glove blown up like a balloon. As the reality set in that the little dog was pregnant, we had decisions to make.

We were too attached. When we had her checked and it was certain that she was a mamma, my wife researched puppy development nutrition. She started making home made food! The damn dog was eating better than the kids and I! When the time came, she was there as midwife, breaking the little sacks open and helping Maggie.

We ended up with 5 puppies! We found the most wonderful homes that you could imagine. We still see most of them from time to time. My little step daughter saved the life of 6 dogs because of her stubborn determination and the fact that we are big softies! Here are some pictures of Guinness, Woozle, Heffalump, Millie and Sadie. Sadie was taken by my in-laws and visits very frequently!

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