Mental health, reproductive justice, and support for 2SLGBTQIA+ community big themes at ARC
June 7, 2023
“I think Atlantic Regional Council was about changing the narrative,” said Jennifer Murray, Atlantic Regional Director.
Atlantic Regional Council (ARC) gathered more than 230 Unifor members, leaders, and staff in Moncton, New Brunswick, to discuss and debate priority issues for the union.
Workers united against divisive politics
“Members spoke with great passion about the need for us to push back against divisive politics and greedy CEOs and I think we are all reinvigorated for the battles ahead,” said Jennifer Murray, Atlantic Regional Director. “Conservative governments across the region, and across Canada, have shown they’re more interested in attacking vulnerable queer and trans people or in restricting access to sexual and reproductive health care than addressing any of the other urgent crises at their doorsteps.”
A woman speaking at podium
“Unifor family magic” raises $20,000 for The Humanity Project
Guest speaker Charlie Burrell gave a powerful presentation on the work he leads through The Humanity Project. Charlie supports individuals who are unhoused in the Moncton area and has created a community free from judgement where those struggling with mental illness and addiction can find support and love.
The room was so moved by his presentation and the power of his work that the Atlantic Regional Council donated $5,000, which was then matched by the national union.
“And then, that’s where the Atlantic Unifor family magic happened,” said Murray. “Local President after Local President stood at the microphone to offer $500, $1,000 – on and on until we had reached a beautiful $20,000 donation for The Humanity Project.”
Union launches national reproductive rights campaign
Unifor also marked the launch of a national campaign to protect and strengthen sexual and reproductive rights.
“This campaign we are launching today is a first step to ensuring that we fight to protect and expand reproductive care,” said Tracey Ramsey, Unifor Women’s Director. “Reproductive rights means many things including abortion services and access, free contraception, and accessible child care in our provinces, territories and country.”
The initiative targets provincial, territorial, and federal governments to demand improvements in how people access sexual and reproductive care. It also aims to avoid situations many people are facing across the United States after the Supreme Court reversed the landmark Roe v. Wade decision last year.
Removal of fundamental rights in the U.S. sends chilling message to Canadians: “human rights are under attack”
“Roe v. Wade being overturned is just the beginning of the agenda in the U.S. to roll back and remove the rights of queer and trans people and even revisit interracial marriage,” said Ramsey. “It’s a shot across the bow that all of our rights are precarious and human rights are under attack.”
Members shared concerns for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, particularly for those in New Brunswick who now feel threatened by the Premier’s review of Policy 713.
“Policy 713 sets bare minimum standards for safety and respect in New Brunswick’s schools,” said Murray. “Premier Blaine Higgs looking to revise a policy designed by experts to protect children, staff and teachers shows that his priorities do not reflect what is important to New Brunswickers.”
Unifor members learned of a rally planned during the ARC weekend and members and leaders agreed it was an opportunity to show the union’s commitment to supporting and protecting human rights.
Unifor members bolster rally to protect queer and trans rights
“We showed up as a sea of red ponchos on a very rainy day and I think there was nowhere else we wanted to be than beside our sisters, brothers and siblings who are under attack right now,” said Matt Blois, Atlantic Regional Council Chair. “Being a union member means looking out for the health and safety of every person – no matter who they are. Standing up for queer and trans rights and reproductive rights is part of how Unifor pushes to protect all workers and their families.”
Unifor National President Lana Payne summed up this support in her address to delegates.
“What do we mean by worker power?” asked Payne. “We mean building solidarity by overcoming differences and challenges. We mean building democracy and strengthening local unions. We mean collective bargaining that is transformative rather than transactional.”
Members act to support wildfire relief
The ARC and national union also donated $50,000 to the Canadian Red Cross Nova Scotia and Atlantic Wildfire Relief Fund.
“Members and their families were evacuated and some lost their homes, workplaces shut down, and Unifor members working in long-term care facilitated the move of hundreds of residents so they would be safe from the out-of-control fires,” said Murray. “We are a community and when tragedy strikes, we band together to help each other out.”
A panel of workers at different stages in their working lives discussed how building inter-generational solidarity can improve the outlook for all workers. High school student Oona Johnstone-Laurette, Unifor member Japna Sidhu-Brar, and retired staff representative Garry Murray bridged the gaps and found common ground needed to face bargaining together.
“We have thousands of members in bargaining this year and we are coming to the table with the determination to win more for workers,” said Murray.
ARC adjourned with a renewed focus on preventing health care privatization, supporting mental health awareness and support initiatives, and using the moment of increased worker power to make gains.
Unifor members are ready.