Hydro One Professional Workers Resist Wage Discrimination
NoMoreTiers interviews, a picket captain (we'll call him Jason) during the recent Hydro One strike for a rank and file, on the spot, viewpoint.
John... Hi Jason. How did you learn about nomoretiers.org?
Jason... I recently read your article about civil rights and the two-tier system and about what is going on in Canada at the Molson brewery. At Hydro One in Ontario we have been on strike primarily on the issue of the two-tier system that Hydro One is trying to push on us. Hydro One is a crown corporation that is owned by the government of Ontario. Unfortunately our own government is standing behind Hydro One's discriminatory demands.
Our strike had been going on for just over 100 days with no end in sight. Our members voted 95% to strike and remain strong. We will be working very hard to see this evil two-tier system defeated.
John... I appreciate you getting in touch Jason; it's always good to get feedback.
I wrote the civil rights article before I discovered that two-tier wages are a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 23(2). These schemes are really a contravention of international law and an assault on our human rights.
I recently sent a letter of solidarity and support to your Union office, suggesting that the two-tier issue be considered a non-negotiable point, because the company is breaching Human Rights by asking for such a concession, and the Union would be breaching the Human Rights of its membership by accepting it. It's also clear that the Government should not be approving of discrimination against recent hires.
Jason... Well your support is appreciated John. You are one in a million and I likewise wish you the best in your struggle with Molson's.
Most of us had never even heard of two-tiers when it came up in bargaining. But when we heard what CEO Tom Parkinson was proposing, we soundly rejected it by a vote of 95%. That wasn't enough for CEO Tom to get the message, he called for a labour board vote and we then rejected two-tiers by 97%.
John... 97% rejection of a two tier contract proposal certainly shows a great deal of solidarity. And though I have no desire to dampen enthusiasm, it is just as well to have a realistic outlook of the possibilities.
One of the first things to consider is that the arbitrator is probably not likely to look beyond provincial labour law. Which more than likely prevents discrimination only amongst specifically identified groups (such as those based on race, sex etc.). This of course is at variance with the UDHR 23(2) which protects wage equality for the same work for everyone, without any discrimination.
On the other hand if the Union is vocal about UDHR 23(2) and make it an issue, then I suppose that it might be something that the arbitrator could choose to take into consideration. That was a purpose of my letter to your Union officers, to bring the possibility to their attention, because if they don't know about UDHR 23(2) then they are not going to do anything about it anyway.
It is also important to realize that I am not a lawyer and that my opinion is based on the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights appears to be very clear on the issue (at least in the English version). I think the important thing to remember here is that what is eventually realized in fact, is largely what people demand. We already have equal pay for equal work written into international law, but in order for it to be implemented, people are going to have to point to it and ask over and over again "why is this not being implemented?" and to bring the matter up at Union meetings and Company crew meetings and talk about it and if necessary shout about it at every opportunity at every venue.
This is how the Black Civil Rights movement made changes and this is how women's suffrage was won. It certainly wasn't done by people keeping quite while some judge passed down a decision. So while I don't want to discourage optimism, I do want to encourage people to 'talk the issue up' with fellow workers and bring the matter up at union meetings if they feel comfortable about that.
Jason... Yes, as a matter of fact the Declaration of Human Rights is one of the things that we have been using in our argument. And I agree we have to keep the pressure on and push the discrimination argument.
This is the kind of thing that government is very sensitive to. One of the things that forced the Ontario Government off of the fence was our campaign in a Liberal riding that is coming up for a by-election in Scarborough that has a large population of non-white Canadians. Our CEO Tom Parkinson fired all of the new graduates that were hired this year and hadn't started work before the strike began. Most of these new engineers in training were non-white. This is just the reality of the demographics in Toronto. The argument is that by discriminating against new hires in Ontario you are in effect discriminating against the immigrant population. This is no different than when the Irish came over to North America and faced similar discrimination from employers.
Today we can't say employers are directly discriminating based on race but nonetheless the connection can be made. When I look at a lot of the contract staff that are being hired by Hydro for such things as janitorial, courier, grass cutting etc. these workers are almost always from places such as Honduras, Somali or Indo China. These were once high paying union jobs but now these people are forced to work for a contractor at minimum wage. It's all about greed, Hydro is saving money and the contractor is making money from the labour of some poor worker. We have in a way already slipped down the two-tier road. Bit by bit the unions have been giving up jobs because they don't want to stand up and fight for a minority of their workers and sacrifice these positions as existing workers retire or are reassigned to other jobs.
These unions have to wake up and make a stand for their future members, or the unions will not survive in the long term.
Maybe it is time for white collar unions to lead the way and shame the blue collar leaders into standing up for what they instinctively know is right. The Society of Energy Professional's has led the way with a 105-day strike. WE JUST SAID NO to our greedy employer, we will not sacrifice our young, we will not betray the next generation of engineers. When we are old and retired and on pension we know that they will not betray us when the employer wants to cut our benefits.
By the way if you are following the CBC strike, there struggle has many parallels to ours. The CBC management wants to be able to bring in unlimited contract staff, which of course will be at a lower wage and benefit scale. They already have 30% contract staff but that is not enough they won't be happy until everyone is on the second rate tier.
We have just learned that the Government has recommended arbitration and our union has accepted. We will find out in 90 days whether the judge will decide (as we know it is) that two-tiers is discrimination plain and simple.
John... I find particularly interesting your mention of the largely non-white demographics of the new engineering graduates. This certainly adds to the strength of the argument, nevertheless I truly believe that even if every victim of a two-tier system were by chance white males, (an unlikely scenario), then they would still be victims of discrimination in the full scope and meaning of UDHR 23(2). The reason for this is that they would still be victims of economic discrimination based on arbitrary rules that exist only for the purpose of creating a class of people that can be discriminated against.
What are the lessons to be learned from this strike?
Jason... Until the strike many of us were not that interested in the union. But when it came time to fight we rose to the occasion and just kept on going like the Duracell bunny. Most of us will never be trusting of management again, nor willing to put in that extra effort, or work a minute of overtime without pay. Now, what management in their right mind would take its most loyal, creative and dedicated workers and turn them into hard line unionists? The answer is Hydro One and CEO Tom Parkinson.
Perhaps Tom wanted to be the first to bring the two-tier system to Hydro to justify his being the highest paid civil servant in Ontario. But if he thought our union was weak he has made a grave miscalculation.
To learn more about this action conducted by The Society of Energy Professionals, check out http://www.fairnessforh1professionals.ca/
Also be sure to visit their News page http://www.fairnessforh1professionals.ca/news/ to view the informative video, No Two Tiers:
- QuickTime - low-res (4 MB)
- QuickTime - high-res (15 MB)
- Windows Media Player - low-res (5 MB)
- Windows Media Player - high-res (9 MB)
QuickTime or Windows Media Player are required to view the video and can be downloaded for free.
Hydro One Update:
In Nov. 2005 the results of the arbitration were handed down.
A three year contract with a 3% increase each of the three years. No two tiers with regards to wages and benefits with the exception of a two tier pension plan for new employees. This result can be viewed as a substantial victory for the Union considering where things might have gone had the workers not struck and demonstrated in such an active and dedicated manner as they did.
Hydro One management is probably delighted to get what they no doubt consider to be the thin end of the wedge inserted. But one way to look at this is that itís a three-year contract. That's three years in which to cultivate a campaign for getting rid of this two-tier discrimination that has been imposed upon the workers against their will. Three years to fan the flames of discontent. And three years for workers to write letters or other action that will make the boss and the government know that workers are not only disappointed but downright pissed off and angry about the situation.
Your comments, questions, ideas and opinions are important!