Several main streets in Toronto’s downtown core were unrecognizable on Wednesday afternoon, brimming with over a thousand union activists on their way to rally for decent work at Queen’s Park.
Chants and whistles ricocheted off buildings while union flags and placards bobbed as the stream of delegates, observers and guests of the Ontario Federation of Labour’s (OFL) 14th biennial convention headed towards the legislature. They were gathering to demonstrate their commitment to advocating for the province’s working class.
Once they arrived, rally participants were greeted with news that the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, known as Bill 148, had just passed. The bill will raise the province’s minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour as of January 1st, 2018, and includes other hard-fought gains and protections.
“Today is a very important day for workers in this province,” said OFL president Chris Buckley to deafening cheers. “It’s very appropriate that we are here at Queen’s Park standing up for fairness for workers in Ontario. We must power on to make this the Ontario we want.” Buckley acknowledged the bill doesn’t go far enough and pledged to continue to advocate for further rights and protections.
Malka Paracha, UNITE HERE Local 75 member, told the rally that today’s win symbolizes her own transformation into a strong advocate for herself, and for others like her.
“I was a regular worker,” said Paracha. “The more the employer stepped on me, took away my rights, the stronger I became. My union supported me.”
Students have played a key role in the struggle for decent work and this will continue, promised Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Ontario. “We vigorously push for equal pay for equal work, we push for respect in the workplace,” she said.
Alideeb criticized the government of Ontario for, this week, ordering college teachers and staff back to work before they had negotiated fair contracts. “That is not okay,” she said to loud shouts of “Shame!”.
Despite setbacks, the successful passage of the new bill will be an inspiration to non-unionized workers who may consider joining or creating their own unions, said Pam Frache, coordinator of the Fight for $15 & Fairness campaign.
“When ordinary workers stand up now and say we want a union, are we going to organize them?” asked Frache. “Yes!” responded the crowd.