New Windsor union includes city's panhandlers and buskers

Panhandlers and buskers form the core of the Windsor's newest union. It's called the Street Labourers of Windsor.
Vaughn Caldwell is a member of the Street Labourers of Windsor. His dog, Lucky, is the union's mascot. (Andreanne Baribeau/Radio-Canada)

Windsor's newest union is mostly made up of people who don't have formal employment.

The members of the Street Labourers of Windsor — or SLOW — include panhandlers and buskers.

Richard Dalkieth, the union's spokesperson, said he became motivated to organize this group after finding that the atmosphere on the street was hostile to Windsor panhandlers.

Andrew Nellis (left), a tarot card reader, and Richard Dalkieth (right), a panhandler, are both members of the Street Labourers of Windsor. (Andreanne Baribeau/Radio-Canada)

"I started this two years ago because I figured, you know, I'd had enough of being pushed around when I've been panhandling," he told CBC News in an interview.

Dalkieth said passersby had told him to get a job, to get off the street and called him a "drunken bum."

But he said panhandling is the way that some people survive.

"I got really, really angry and I got really fed up," said Dalkieth.

Andrew Nellis, an organizer who previously served as a spokesperson for a similar group in Ottawa, said there is "nothing new" about what is happening with the formation of SLOW.

"We're a real union, we carry union cards, we pay union dues, just like any other union," Nellis said in an interview.

Nellis said that while many unions may be involved in collective bargaining and fighting for better pay, that's not the only things they do.

"A union is simply a group of workers, standing together for mutual aid and solidarity and protection and these are things that we do," he said.

"The union is here so that the members of SLOW can watch each other's backs when we're on the street and when we're off the street."

SLOW currently has 11 members. The membership fee varies, but each member must pay a minimum of $5 a month.

Nellis said that SLOW's membership includes panhandlers, buskers and security guards.

"As long as any part of their job involves being on the street, they're welcome to join the organization," he said.

No union, no meetings

Despite the group's aims, not everyone working on the street intends to join the union.

Ben Bryant is a longtime panhandler who prefers to stay independent.

Ben Bryant, a local panhandler, says he doesn't have anything against the Street Labourers of Windsor, but he doesn't plan to join the newly founded union. (CBC)

"I just like to do my own thing and not have to go to meetings every week and stuff, you know," he told CBC News in an interview on Friday.

"But I think it's OK, like, I haven't heard any complaints."

He said he's faced few problems panhandling in Windsor, including from police.

"Unless you're harassing people for money, cops don't bother you, so you really won't get arrested," said Bryant, who said police officers have even bought him coffee in the past.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said that if the newly founded union wants to take steps to make Windsor's downtown streets more inviting and safe, that's a plus.

But the mayor said that he is not in favour of aggressive panhandling on city streets.

When informed that the union is creating a code of conduct for its members, Dilkens appeared skeptical such a move would make much of a difference.

"[The union is] a loosely formed association and you know, I'm not sure what they would be able to do at the end of the day, except getting a few people to agree," Dilkens said.

"If those people agree and their behaviour actually changes and it makes a welcoming, safe environment in our downtown core, more power to them."

With files from Radio-Canada's Andreanne Baribeau and the CBC's Aadel Haleem


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