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At its peak, the Hamilton branch of the United Steelworkers of America (Local 1005) had more than 14,000 members.  Their annual meetings filled Ivor Wynne Stadium. Today, the oldest union in Hamilton has just over 600 members.  For the Steelworkers of Hamilton, the past looks a lot more glorious than the future. And they are not alone amongst labour organizations. 

What is the future for labour in Canada? Do unions still matter in the 21st century?

Labour Pains Town Hall Replay

Union takes on new meaning for injured Hamilton woman

Union takes on new meaning for injured Hamilton woman

Posted: Apr 23, 2013 7:30 AM ET

This time last year, the union didn't mean much to Karen Weller. It was a few dollars off her pay cheque. It was the occasional newsletter or notice.

These days, she clings to that membership with all of her energy.

Weller, an east-end personal support worker, is in recovery. She's still reeling from a fatal head-on collision in New York State in February that killed one of her dearest friends and cost thousands in medical bills for her and her baby.

Her union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare, has stepped in to help. It's set up a trust fund to help pay for some of Weller's medical bills.

Now when Weller thinks of her union, she feels only gratitude.

“If it's even a dollar I receive, I'm grateful,” said the Jamaican-born mother of four. “I've depleted all the funds that I have. I'm going into money I'm supposed to be using to take care of the baby.

“When (the union) called me, it was like a light.”

Weller works part-time jobs at two Hamilton nursing homes — Grace Villa and Extendicare Hamilton — so she doesn't have health benefits. She used to pay for hospital insurance but cancelled it after years of not using it. She switched the coverage to life insurance instead.

Head-on crash killed her friend

Her nightmare began on Feb. 22. She packed her four-month-old son, Tajaye, into her friend Carol Dion's minivan and the two women set off for New York City. Dion had family there.

They were scheduled to leave Thursday and return Sunday. At about 1 a.m. on Friday, they were traveling down Interstate 87. They'd been on the road for about three and a half hours. Weller was driving.

Suddenly, another vehicle veered into Weller's lane. “Carol, that's a headlight,” she told Dion. Those were the last words they would ever speak.

The vehicle smashed into theirs. Dion's minivan rolled several times, came to a stop and caught fire. Dion's head was bent, and “it was just like she was sleeping,” Weller said. The collision threw Tajaye from the vehicle, and Weller could see him face down in his Dalmation-patterned snowsuit on the ground nearby. The driver of the other vehicle died in the crash.

Paramedics took Weller and her son to Albany Medical Centre, where Tajaye was treated for two broken legs, multiple skull fractures and near-fatal bleeding in the brain. The crash also broke Weller's foot, shattered her knee and injured her chest and back.

Thousands in medical bills

The nurses in Albany were outstanding, Weller said. Unfortunately, so were the bills.

Each night Tajaye stayed in the hospital, it cost about $10,000, Weller said. She's already gotten a bill for his first night in the emergency room. It's more than $9,000.

The ambulance cost thousands. Weller needed a cast for her broken foot but received a cheaper alternative because she didn't have insurance.

The expenses still mount. She requires physiotherapy, and Tajaye regularly visits McMaster Children's Hospital. Every trip requires cab fare.

SEIU Healthcare held an emergency meeting when it learned of Dion and Weller's collision, said Eulalee Robinson, a chief steward and member of the human rights committee. It's fundraising to help with Weller's medical costs. It also contributed to a fund to send Dion's remains back to her native Jamaica.

An injury to all

The notion of pulling together for a fellow member — even when it's outside of contracts and negotiations — is a union in its truest sense, Robinson said.

"An injury to one member is an injury to all," she said.

“We have to stand together in solidarity, and that's what a union is all about.”

Members have heeded the call, Robinson said. The union posted news of the trust fund for Weller on its website, and members have come forward, particularly staff who work in nursing homes.

“It's made the SEIU members feel good to see their union doing something like this,” she said.

'Changed my perspective'

For Weller, the struggle has just begun. She hobbles slowly around her home, unsure when she'll be able to return to her physically strenuous job where she lifts, turns and cares for other people. She's still on maternity leave with Tajaye and focusing on being mobile again.

Tajaye's progress is delayed because of the collision, Weller said. At six months, he's still on formula and only now able to sit up with help. And she misses her friend Carol Dion, a wife and mother who was “a godmother to everyone,” Weller said. “She spread herself so thinly. She was there for everybody.”

Weller is a union supporter now.

“You pay your small amount of union dues,” she said. “Half the time you don't even see it disappear from your pay cheque.”

The incident “has just refreshed whatever confidence I had that they are truly there for you when you need them,” she said.

“In the past, I thought 'oh, it's union dues. It's something you do.' But this has changed my perspective.”

About the fund

The public can donate to the fund by visiting any TD Bank, or by sending a cheque or giving online.

To donate in person at a TD Bank branch:

  • Account name: Sarah Lee Marie Correia and Eulalee Robinson in trust of Karen (Panton) Weller Family
  • Account #: 6335325
  • Branch #: 1482
  • Institution No: 004
  • Transit No: 14822

By cheque:

  • Made out to: Sarah Lee Marie Correia and Eulalee Robinson in trust of Karen (Panton) Weller Family
  • Mailing address: SEIU Healthcare, 125 Mural Street, Richmond Hill, Ont., L4B 1M4
  • Attn: Secretary/Treasurer
  • Online: seiuhealthcare.ca
Controversial U.S. 'right to work' laws could affect Hamilton, city says

Controversial U.S. 'right to work' laws could affect Hamilton, city says

Posted: Apr 22, 2013 7:14 AM ET

The city has a sneaking suspicion that right to work laws in the U.S. are going to start affecting Hamilton, according to the head of economic development.

“It hasn't had a pronounced affect on Hamilton yet, but my suspicion is that it will in the years ahead,” said Neil Everson, Hamilton's director of planning and economic development.

Right to work laws ban requirements that non-union employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. Supporters say they will give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labour by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management.

Indiana and Michigan became the latest states to pass right to work laws last year.

“When we look at traditional rust belt states where most of the manufacturing occurs, with Indiana and Michigan going, if Ohio and Pennsylvania follow suit, there is going to be a huge wage differential between Ontario and our neighbours to the south,” Everson said.

“It's going to be harder to compete for new manufacturing and harder to retain existing manufacturing.”

Energy prices are already lower stateside, and lower wages brought about by right to work laws give those states a considerable advantage, Everson says. According to the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis, factory jobs pay on average 7.4 per cent less in right to work states, and employer sponsored pensions are 4.8 per cent lower.

That said, manufacturing employment has grown 4.5 per cent in right to work states in the last three years compared to 3 per cent in non-right to work states.

Siemens was one of the biggest companies to move out of Hamilton in recent years back in 2011. The Siemens plant had been open for decades, but was lured to North Carolina — a right to work state — with an attractive incentive package by the state government.

“That was 550 well paying jobs right here in Hamilton that left. Very skilled labour,” Everson said.

He says there was more to that deal than just right to work and lower wages — the $157 million incentive package offered by the state government was one that Ontario just couldn't match.

“But business is the path of least resistance,” Everson said. “Obviously they're there to make money, and so they have to look at all of their costs, and wages are one of the factors.”

'Disappearing jobs'

Unions in Hamilton are wary of right to work legislation. Dave Reston, the president of the CAW 504 local, told CBC Hamilton it's a big worry.

“As a union, we're always concerned about right to work,” he said. But it's not just a Hamilton issue, he added. “Look at any city, and you'll see manufacturing jobs disappearing,” he said.

“The more states in the south that bring in right to work, and you'll see lesser standards.”

But John Mortimer, president of the non-profit Canadian LabourWatch Association, says right to work laws better reflect what workers really want. LabourWatch's mandate is to help employees make informed choices about unionization and be able to access Labour Board processes and forms when they don't wish to become or remain unionized.

“Time is on the side of worker choice,” Mortimer said. “Union leaders are out of touch with the rank and file.”

A divisive issue

Wayne Lewchuk, a McMaster University professor of labour studies, says the city is casting a cautious eye to right to work laws because it's a hot button issue — as are both sides of the debate.

“People that are against unions jump on that sort of thing,” he said.

Lewchuk says that it's “appropriate to be worried,” because some U.S. states have offered companies huge incentive packages like the one that was given to Siemens. “But it could easily be blown out of proportion,” he said.

He says that people should be aware that the decision to move a plant isn't a knee jerk one — and while right to work can be a factor, it certainly isn't the only one.

“Companies don't make billion dollar decisions just to go to a place without unions.”

10 of the best union songs of all time

10 of the best union songs of all time

Posted: Apr 19, 2013 6:59 AM ET

Unionists are often many things – steadfast, political … and surprisingly decent musicians. Union songs have been a part of the movement since the very beginning.

So in that spirit, here are 10 of the best songs written about workers or the union movement, in no particular order.

Factory: Bruce Springsteen

You’d be hard pressed to find a rock musician with more of a symbolic connection to blue collar workers than Bruce Springsteen. Though his catalogue is full of stories of the working class, Factory from 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town is one of the most poignant.

The song was supposedly written about Springsteen’s father. The two didn’t get on very well, and Factory is a somber representation of the struggles of the average worker.

Florence Reece: Which Side Are You On?

Reece never claimed to be a singer, but this song is one of the most important accounts of the union movement. Her father was a coal miner who was killed in the mines, and her husband, a union organizer in Kentucky, died slowly of the Black Lung.

Reece wrote the song after she and her children were accosted by a group of men said to be working for the owners of a mine during a strike in the ‘30s. Like a lot of folk songs, its melody came from a hymn – Lay the Lily Low.

Working Class Hero: John Lennon

Working Class Hero was featured on John Lennon's first post-Beatles solo album, 1970's John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and it’s one of his best.

Backed by an acoustic guitar and three chords, Lennon venomously plumes the difference between social classes. “A working class hero is something to be” remains one of his most memorable lines.

Billy Bragg: Power in a Union

There is Power in a Union was written by Joe Hill in 1913, but was popularized by Billy Bragg on his 1986 album Talking With the Taxman about Poetry. The song was first published in The Little Red Songbook in 1913.

Tom Morello: Union Town

You can’t have a list of songs celebrating rights and dissent without mentioning a member of Rage Against the Machine. Morello is an avowed unionist, and often shows up at rallies and events like the Occupy Movement with a guitar to celebrate worker’s rights.

This version of the song comes from 2011’s World Wide Rebel Songs, and was also featured on an EP of the same name that year. The Union Town EP also features covers of important union songs, like Solidarity Forever and Whose Side Are You On?

Johnny Paycheck: Take This Job and Shove It

Take This Job and Shove It was Ohio-born country singer Johnny Paycheck’s only number one hit. Paycheck sings about the trials and tribulations of 15 years working in a factory – but in true classic country music fashion, his “woman done left” him, too. No word on if his dog or his trucks are okay.

Judy Collins: Bread and Roses

Bread and Roses originated in a speech by U.S. labour leader Rose Schneiderman back in the early 20th century. The speech inspired a poem of the same name by James Oppenheim, which eventually lead to the song by Judy Collins, which is one of the more popular musical versions.

It’s often associated with a textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts from 1912, now referred to as the "Bread and Roses strike".

Pete Seeger: Solidarity Forever

Ralph Chaplin wrote the original version of Solidarity Forever back in 1915 but Pete Seeger’s version is one of the more popular modern versions.

The song often pops up at union events in Canada, the U.S. and Australia, and has been sung at NDP conferences over the years.

Woody Guthrie: Union Burying Ground

This tune was featured on Guthrie’s 1941 album Struggle, and was written to commemorate everyone who died in labour actions in the early 20th century.

According to The Patriot Ledger, the album was full of "raw, gut wrenching protest songs … His charismatic style gets back to the roots of folk and the voice of the people."

Greg MacPherson - Company Store

Winnipeg’s Greg MacPherson’s songs are full of stories about how the common man deals with oppression. Company Store, a longtime fan favourite, is no exception.

The song re-imagines a story his father told him about his own father. A coal miner in Glace Bay, N.S., MacPherson’s grandfather participated in the burning down of the town’s company store after the workers went weeks without pay.

Though the song is propelled by rage and places its sympathies in the miner’s camp, it also shines a critical light on the history of violence in Canadian labour struggles.

MacPherson once told his record label the song, “is my way of pointing out that we have a colourful and acrimonious history that should be remembered and learned from.”

Honourable Mention: The Power Plant Strike Song: The Simpsons

Okay, okay, this might not carry the weight of some of the other songs listed here – but The Power Plant Strike Song remains one of the most memorable tunes about a union ever written. And who could forget Homer’s adventures as a bumbling union leader?

“Lisa needs braces!”

Some suggestions from Twitter

Big Susie's brings fight for sex workers' rights to Hamilton

Big Susie's brings fight for sex workers' rights to Hamilton

Posted: Apr 17, 2013 8:06 AM ET

When it comes to workers' right groups in Hamilton, Big Susie's stands out.

It doesn't have an office, collect dues or broker negotiations between its members and their employer.

Its logo — a silhouette of a corseted woman in high-heeled boots, holding an umbrella with one arm and flexing her bicep with the other — doesn't have much in common with mainstream labour organizations.

And unlike unions that represent pipefitters, deli clerks or government workers, it advocates for people whose work is often regarded as illegitimate, and in some cases, illegal.

“Big Susie's is a working group by and for sex workers in Hamilton in its surrounding areas,” explains Mz. Scream, 30, who sits on the organization's board. Based in Toronto, she has “dungeons” in Hamilton and one in B.C.

(Citing privacy concerns, she asked that her professional pseudonym, and not her real name, be used for this article.)

Founded in 2009, the group, she says, aims to improve working conditions for men, women and transgendered people who work in all corners of the sex industry — exotic dancers, porn actors, webcam performers, phone sex operators, dominatrices and escorts.

“We try to be as inclusive as possible.”

'Criminalized'

At the moment, the group's main goals, is to lobby against laws and social misconceptions that, it says, discriminate against sex workers. These factors, Scream notes, are among the greatest threats to their wellbeing.

Mz. Scream, a Toronto-based dominatrix, sits on Big Susie's board of directors. (Courtesy of Mz. Scream)

“There isn't a minimum labour standard like there is with other jobs. Many other jobs have health and safety risks involved as well, but because sex work is criminalized we don't have access to danger pay, sick leave or workers' compensation.”

Sex work, including prostitution, is technically legal in Canada. However, federal laws prohibit common bawdy houses, establishments like brothels and dominatrices' dungeons, and the solicitation of sexual services.

Designed to outlaw exploitative pimping and human trafficking, another law on the books forbids one from “living on the avails of prostitution,” or, put more simply, profiting from another person's sex work.

In 2012, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the common-bawdy-house and living-on-the avails laws, deeming them “unconstitutional.”

The federal government promptly appealed the decision, pushing the issue to the Supreme Court, which is set to hear the case in mid-June. Until the top court makes it ruling, the laws will remain in effect.

These rules hurt sex workers more than they help, according to Nikki Thomas, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, an advocacy group that's spearheaded the court challenge.

The living-on-the-avails tenet renders it illegal for independent sex workers to hire security guards or receptionists, she says. And the ban on common bawdy houses has historically pushed prostitution outdoors or into sex workers' own homes, each scenario posing its own set of safety concerns.

Fear of law enforcement

The laws also discourage sex workers from calling police when they face violence or theft, says Scream.

“Many sex workers have to work secretively, or within isolated settings in order to prevent neighbourhood complaints and having to deal with police enforcement. So many people who are engaged in illegal activities — which sex work unfortunately falls under that category — they don't want to call the police for help if anything bad happens.”

The consequences can be tragic. Scream mentions the case of Robert Pickton, the B.C. pig farmer who is believed to have murdered dozens of women, many of them street-based sex workers based in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, over the course of about a half-decade.

Stigma harms sex workers in subtler, more insidious ways, too, says Cecilia Benoit, a University of Victoria sociologist who spearheading a nationwide study on the lives of sex workers.

“Even people who are doing quite well economically… they're dealing with this fear of being exposed, this fear of their work ruining their lives.”

And the stigma surrounding sex work may discourage some workers from seeking medical treatment, furthering the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Photo exhibition

Big Susie's formed in response to a 2009 exhibition by artist and curator Gary Santucci. The photo set, titled “The 'Hood, the Bad and the Ugly,” depicted street-level dealings in Lansdale, the central Hamilton neighbourhood where Santucci and his partner Barbara Milne live and work. It featured shots of sex workers negotiating with potential customers, the subjects apparently oblivious to the lens pointed in their direction.

“It put the women's safety at risk, outed them to anybody who saw it,” says Scream, who joined the group only months after it was founded.

Since then, Big Susie's, modeled after Maggie's, an organization in Toronto, has hosted discussion nights to raise awareness for its cause featuring panelists who've worked in different roles in the sex industry.

On an evening in late-March, the group held a book signing with Terri-Jean Bedford, the Toronto-area dominatrix and former escort who has been at the forefront in the legal challenge against the country's anti-prostitution laws. The fundraiser featured a drag show, “kink demos” and light snacks, and admission was pay-what-you-can.)

Dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford holds a whip as she leaves a news conference in Toronto on March 26, 2012, the day Ontario's top court ruled a ban on brothels puts prostitutes at risk and is therefore unconstitutional. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

Do-it-yourself fundraisers are Big Susie's primary source of income needed to offer the services it believes sex workers need and deserve.

“We have absolutely nothing,” Scream says. 'We don't even have an office. We're just a bunch of volunteers that meet up and throw events to do some fundraising. We have some money saved up, but not enough money to start providing services because, in order to do that…we'd need funding for a location and money to hire outreach workers.”

The dream, she adds, is for Big Susie's to “provide informal counseling and peer support, offer health and safety education for sex workers,” free condoms and maybe even a safe, monitored worker cooperative where street-based escorts could entertain “guests” in relative safety.

Future battles

In the meantime, Big Susie's and other sex worker advocacy groups across Canada are waiting with baited breath to see how the Supreme Court will rule on country's anti-prostitution laws.

Thomas is confident the top court will reaffirm the Ontario decision. That outcome, she predicts will bring about new battles with other levels of government. She expects municipalities will try to push sex workers to the fringes of town, or charge them exorbitant licensing fees to stay in business.

“The crux of the issue is that I, as an individual, free, Canadian citizen, can invite as many visitors to my home as I wish and engage in whatever behaviours or activities with them that we consent to,” Thomas says. “And yet, the moment that there's any exchange of goods or money or an exchange of one service for another, all of the sudden the government has a right to be involved?

“That doesn't make any sense to me at the most basic level.”

Track Ontario's labour history

The key moments in 100 years of labour struggles

Posted: Apr 16, 2013 11:11 AM ET

Two of the most significant events in Ontario's labour history took place in Hamilton 50 years apart.

In 1946, more than 2,000 employees at Hamilton's Stelco plant went on strike over work week hours, wages and the right to have a union. The company brought in replacement workers but strikers stopped the flow of supplies to the plant. It ended several weeks later when Stelco recognized the United Steelworkers union.

In 1996, Hamilton, because of its labour legacy, was chosen as the site of the province-wide Day of Action, a demonstration that filled downtown streets. Meanwhile, at the Sheraton Hotel premier Mike Harris met with Conservative party delegates.

Here's a look at some of the most important events in Ontario labour history from all around the province.

Hold down your mouse to drag the timeline from historic events, starting with the Workmen's Compensation Act in 1914 to last year's Putting Students First Act.

Click on the points on the timeline or on the map to read more and listen to or watch a news piece from the CBC archives.

Do unions still matter to young people?

Do unions still matter to young people?

Posted: Apr 15, 2013 7:11 AM ET

Unions haven't done a good job connecting with young workers and teaching them about their rights in the workplace, labour activist Pablo Godoy says — and that has lead to young people caring less about union activity compared to previous generations.

Now, union leadership must step up and connect with young people on their terms, so they can fully grasp their rights as workers and understand where those rights came from, he says. But some say even if they do, it won't matter —because young people are simply better off without union representation altogether.

“I think unions are extremely relevant — but I don't think they are too present or prevalent when it comes to young workers,” Godoy told CBC Hamilton. “It's not necessarily on their minds.”

Godoy is a national representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) — which at around 245,000 members is one of the largest in Canada. The latest UFCW estimate puts 35–40 per cent of its membership under the age of 30 — and at 27, Godoy is one of them. He wears many hats within the organization, but the majority of his job centres around young worker engagement.

He says that in large part, young people aren't as cognizant of the origins of worker's rights as compared to their parents.

“Employers didn't sit around and say 'we should give workers time off, and vacations, and pay for those vacations.' These things didn't arise naturally — they were fought for and were won by a faction of workers,” Godoy said. “Somewhere along the line, I think we lost the communication with young people when it came to informing them about where these things come from.”

“We started with a slate in which we had nothing and we had to gain these things. And if young people were more aware of that, I think they would be more active and participatory when it comes to protecting them.”

But do young people even equate things like benefits with a union? Kristina Michor, a 23-year-old medical administrator, told CBC Hamilton she doesn't. She says most young workers aren't as concerned with having union representation as their parents were.

“I know that growing up being in a union was a huge thing that my parents told me about, because for them it meant security, a pension, etcetera,” she said. “But for myself and most of my peers, a union is not an important thing to get. I value getting benefits from a job over being in a union.”

Michor has worked in both union and non-union hospitals, and been part of a union. Currently she's in a non-union job — and much happier because of it, she says.

“I actually get better perks for working in a non-union hospital — with better pay and frequent raises, better benefits, more vacation and sick time, and no union dues to pay so I am keeping even more of my salary,” Michor said. “I would also say I am happier at a non-union hospital because I was hired onto a job that in a union hospital I would have very little chance of getting into unless I had a lot of seniority behind me.”

“I also have more chances of advancement and moving around within the non-union hospital.”

'A pillar of the middle class'

But not all young people feel that way. Michael Borrelli, 31, lives in downtown Hamilton but works in Toronto. He says that after 16 years in the workforce, he would choose a union shop over a non-union gig every single time.

“Sixteen years as a worker with experience in both union and non-union environments have turned me into an avowed unionist,” Borrelli said.

“Broadly speaking, unions represent the last pillar holding up the diminishing middle class in the developed world. They bring together workers with common interests to fight to ensure that their members aren't abused or mistreated, are paid fairly and appropriately for what they do.”

“But personally, unions represented the possibility of attaining a modest lifestyle where I could buy a home, work a regular schedule that allows me to pursue my interests and raise a family, and the ability to, one day, retire.”

The debate around the place of unions in the 21st century has become more and more divisive. One needs to look little farther than the controversy that has erupted around right to work legislation in the U.S. to see that the sentiment towards unions is not all favourable.

Michigan became the 24th U.S. state to instigate right-to-work laws in December. Right-to-work laws ban requirements that non-union employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.

Supporters say the laws will give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labour by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management.

Workers as a threat

So why is the sentiment surrounding unions so divisive?

“Ideology, plain and simple,” Borelli said. “Workers who organize are a threat — mostly to profit — and educating workers of their legal rights is similarly threatening. The same people who want to stop workers from freely associating would cry bloody murder if they couldn't organize themselves.”

And organization is something Godoy says young people are making great strides towards in recent years. Even if it's not directly tied to unions, it signifies young people becoming more engaged in their communities, which in turn bodes well for the labour movement. He points to the Occupy movement and 2012's Quebec Student Strike as indicators that young people are increasingly more interested in standing up for their rights.

He says the most dangerous thing that union leadership or employers could do is assume that young people are just apathetic — that they don't care about their futures and will take whatever is given to them, just to keep a job.

“We haven't historically done the best job talking to young people because we make the assumption that they're apathetic,” Godoy said. “What we've learned as a union is that when you open opportunities for young people to get involved — not in the ways that we want them to, but in ways they'd like … then you are actually able to engage them a lot easier.”

Yes, that means social media campaigns — but more than anything, it means having young union representatives interacting with young workers, Godoy says.

“You really have to do young worker to worker engagement,” he said. “They see a young face, and they can relate to that.”

“Maybe it takes difficult circumstances for them to be pushed to a point where they realize, 'hey — unions are pretty much our best friends when it comes to fighting our rights in the workplace.'”

Labour Pains town hall panelists

Town Hall Panelists

John Mortimer

John Mortimer

John Mortimer is a leading expert in Canada on the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers regarding unionization, especially regarding where Canadian employees sit versus their counterparts in other countries. Upon graduating from university John began his career. From 1984 to present, John has worked in consulting firms, run his own consulting firm and worked in senior management roles with private and publicly held Canadian and international companies. When John was in senior management, he ran Human Resources and other departments for companies such as Future Shop, Wendy’s and Colorization in the high tech industry. Since 2000, John has served part-time as President of the non-profit Canadian LabourWatch Association. Its mandate is to help employees make informed choices about unionization and be able to access Labour Board processes and forms when they do not wish to become or remain unionized. In addition to continuing to run LabourWatch and his consulting firm, he currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and an advisory committee and board of CUE, a US-based positive employee relations training organization which encourages union-free work environments.

Pablo Godoy

Pablo Godoy

Pablo Godoy is a long-time labour activist. He became active in the social justice movement at the age of 12, working with Free the Children. He then became involved with the labour movement through the Ontario Federation of Labour’s SolidarityWorks Program at 15. Later that year he became an active member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) local 1000a through his employment at Loblaws. Over the next seven years, he was involved with various projects including provincial elections, stewardship, talking union programs and many others. Pablo is also a spoken word poet, arts educator and has an extensive background in community and youth engagement (working with 'at-risk' communities). He has an honours degree in Political Science and is currently the Vice-President at the OFL representing workers of colour. He is an executive board member of the Center for Spanish Speaking People in Toronto, a co-founder of the Latin American Trade Unionists Coalition and a National Representative for UFCW working within their Human Rights, Equity and Diversity program. He’s also involved with the Agricultural Workers Alliance department, where he coordinates “Students Against Migrant Exploitation” and The Retail Report. Both projects are focused on campus and community engagement.

Wayne Lewchuk

Wayne Lewchuk

Wayne Lewchuk is a professor in the School of Labour Studies and Department of Economics at McMaster University in Hamilton. In 2011, he completed a project examining the health effects of precarious employment. This was published by McGill Queens University Press in a volume titled Working Without Commitments: Precarious Employment and Health. He is currently the co-director of a five-year joint university community research program on Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO). This is a joint initiative of the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University and the United Way of Toronto. PEPSO recently released its first major report titled It's More Than Poverty: Precarious Employment and Household Wellbeing. The report can be downloaded at www.pepso.ca. He also contributed a chapter on precarious employment and health to a book titled Boom, Bust and Crisis: Labour, Corporate Power and Politics in Canada (2012) edited by John Peters. Lewchuk holds a BA and MA in economics from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D in economics from the University of Cambridge. He has lived in Hamilton for over 30 years and still remembers when there used to be traffic jams on Burlington Street at shift change.

Lisa Hammond

Lisa Hammond

Lisa Hammond is the President of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local (ETFO). This is her third term as President, and her 9th year working full time as a released officer of the local. Prior to that, she taught in elementary schools in Hamilton-Wentworth. Her 16 years in teaching were spent mostly in middle schools, and included 7 years in Special Education. In her youth, Lisa was a supporter of initiatives such as the Peace Coalition, and the Pro-Canada Network. She organized and protested around opposition to Mulroney’s Free Trade Agreement, and worked locally to support the struggle for liberation in Central America. As a union activist, she has a strong focus on social justice campaigns and issues of equity both inside and outside of her union. Her participation in the union became much stronger in the struggle against the Harris Tories, which eventually lead to her election as a full time Released Officer within her local. Lisa was raised in Hamilton, where she currently lives with her thirteen year old son.