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Fight for $15, from Chicago to Toronto

Paula Greenberg and Pam Frache

April 30, 2016

On April 1 the Chicago Teachers’ Union and the Fight for $15 launched joint strike action. Then on April 15, there was a national day of action for the fight for a $15 minimum wage, spanning 7 provinces and 30 cities.

In the city of Toronto, activists from the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign, union members, community groups and students gathered in front of the Ontario Ministry of Labour demanding their voices be heard. Over 1000 people attended the rally.

Shut down Chicago

Brynne Sinclair-Waters, a CUPE member and organizer of The Toronto Young Worker’s Network, spoke to about her experiences of the April 1 Teacher’s Union action in Chicago as well as the April 15 action.

In an extraordinary display of partnership and solidarity, teachers walked the lines with fast food workers and fast food workers marched with teachers. Chicago State University students and the Black Youth Project hosted teach-ins about the need to end racist violence and deliver economic justice, including decent work and high quality, free public education. Airport workers, bakery workers, young workers, and other community organizations mobilized in their thousands to #Fightfor15, #FightforFunding and #ShutDownChi.

From Brynne’s experience from the April 1st action, she remembers activist Roxanne Dubois telling the audience that movements like the Fight for $15 are like tools for activists to use and learn from. When asked about the objective of the April 15 day of action, Sinclair-Waters remarked that the action was to show power of a working class movement and to fight for decent work for all. She went on to say that since the preceding fight for $14, the government would try to contain the demands with subsequent reviews. This day of action was to show the Ontario Ministry of Labour that even small victories cannot subdue the movement, it raises expectations.

The Ontario we want

The government’s Changing Workplaces Review wrapped up its formal consultation process last fall and the initial report is expected to be issued shortly. The April 15 mobilization was well-timed to put elected representatives on notice that Ontarians want meaningful changes to the province’s labour standards.

"Ontarians have big expectations for this review," said Deena Ladd, Coordinator of the Workers’ Action Centre, one of the member organizations of the of the campaign. "Whether it's parents trying to make ends meet on poverty wages, recent graduates struggling to pay student debt on short-term contracts, temp workers with no guarantee of hours, workers losing their wages and benefits when contracts flip, or unfair exemptions that leave some workers with no protection at all - more and more Ontarians are saying: Enough! We need changes now!"

The Fight for $15 & Fairness is calling for sweeping reforms, including fair scheduling; further regulating temporary agencies; investing in pro-active, public enforcement of employment laws; imposing meaningful fines for labour law infractions; legislating seven paid sick days; an end to contract flipping; easier access to unions; and more. Central in the campaign is the demand for a $15 minimum wage for all workers, regardless of age, student status, job or area of work.

In Toronto, April 15 began early when dozens of frontline health workers gathered at 7:30 am outside the Dufferin Medical Centre to call for paid sick days and job-protected emergency leave for all workers. Nurses, clinicians, students and doctors leafleted, collected signatures on petitions, and handed out tissue packages adorned with Support Paid Sick Days stickers. Last November, the Decent Work and Health Network issued a public statement that was signed by about 1,000 frontline health workers across Ontario. If you are a frontline health worker or a student and want to sign the statement, click here. If you want to get involved in the Decent Work and Health Network, click here.

Later, young workers from a variety of unions and students’ unions gathered at Toronto’s College and University intersection at 11:45 am to participate in a feeder march that joined the central 12:30 pm rally outside the Ministry of Labour. The lively and sizeable contingent carried horizontal banners with chants of  “What’s outrageous? Contract wages! What’s outrageous? Poverty wages!” and “Hold the burger, hold the fries – Make our wages super-sized!” To connect with the Toronto Young Workers’ Network, click here.

At the same time, several hundred OPSEU members, in Toronto for their annual convention, joined the Fight for $15 & Fairness rally, carrying their own Fight for $15 & Fairness placards and chanting rhythmically to the beat of the Samba Squad. At the rally, OPSEU spokespersons Myles Magner and Elizabeth Ha emphasized the need for labour-community solidarity as a means of improving employment standards and winning labour law changes that will curb contracting out, end contract flipping, stop misclassification, and make it easier for workers to join unions.

About 1,000 workers from community organizations, student groups, and trade unions converged on the streets outside 400 University Avenue. There, the crowd reclaimed and renamed the Ministry of Labour: the Ministry of Decent Work.

A number of community and labour leaders addressed the crowd, including Estina, a member of the Workers’ Action Centre; Myles Magner and Elizabeth Ha from the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union; Rajean Hoilett, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario; Nadira Begam, a Community Organizer from Regent Park; Chris Buckley, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour and Abdullahi Barre, a non-union member of the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council.

Next steps

The next Fight for $15 & Fairness action in support of airport workers will take place on May 1 from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm at Terminal 1, Departures. To RSVP on Facebook, click here. The next steps of the group is to continue to build networks of activists and rank and file workers. The Fight for $15 and Fairness plans to have another day of action on October 7th, the International Day for Decent Work and have their objectives as an election issue in 2018.

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