Lifting Everyone Up

“It’s a story of sadness. It’s a story of tragedy,” says Raj Chouhan of the working conditions on British Columbia farms in the 1970s and 1980s. Now a Member of the Legislative Assembly for Burnaby-Edmonds, Chouhan was born in Punjab, India. He emigrated to Canada as a young man after answering a newspaper advertisement for farmworkers in the Fraser Valley. What he saw when he arrived shocked him: workers housed in cattle barns with no toilets or running water, daily exposure to pesticides, and unguarded equipment. Wages were low, hours were long and safety regulations and inspections were non-existent.

“At the same time, it’s a story of success because people were willing to stand up,” continues Chouhan, who went on to found the Canadian Farm Workers Union, the first agricultural union in the country’s history. Between 2008 and 2010, after a long and difficult organizing effort, UFCW 1518 unionized migrant farmworkers at three greenhouses in Surrey, Abbotsford and Mission. But despite some inroads gained by unions, working conditions in British Columbia’s agricultural sector have not improved much over the decades. International Migrants Day, marked each year on December 18, acknowledges that much more needs to be done to improve the plight of migrants. The United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers describes migration as a global phenomenon, highlighting the demand for migrant workers to perform low wage, low skill work in developed countries and sets a moral standard for the promotion of migrant rights.

In Canada, migrant workers from Latin America began arriving in 2004 under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), and more recently under the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program. “Migrant workers who come to Canada on temporary work permits are supposed to be treated the same as any other Canadian, with the same labour protections and access to health care. But the reality is they’re not,” says UFCW Canada’s Felix Martinez.

Martinez knows firsthand what he is talking about: he is the whistleblower who exposed the Mexican Consulate in BC for blacklisting migrant workers suspected of being “union sympathizers.” “Migrant workers are some of the most precarious workers. They have no autonomy from their employer, no connection to the community outside the farm, and little access to transportation, health care or legal assistance,” Martinez explains. “And if they challenge the boss or make any waves, their employer can send them back to their home country.” In 2014, the BC Labour Relations Board ruled against Mexico.

[pull-quote]Migrant workers are some of the most precarious workers. They have no autonomy from their employer, no connection to the community outside the farm, and little access to transportation, health care or legal assistance.[/pull-quote]

UFCW 1518 and UFCW Canada continue to be leaders in the fight for fairness for migrant workers, most recently participating in a multi-stakeholder pilot project called the Migrant Workers Support Network, led by the federal government. Its goal is to find ways to improve working conditions, workplace health and safety, access to health care and improved housing; if successful, it will be implemented across the country. “Part of our advocacy on this project is to push for open work permits and an easier path to residency,” says Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson, noting that under the current TFW program, a migrant worker’s employment is tied to one employer. If they are fired or mistreated, they cannot seek employment elsewhere in Canada. This situation is ripe for abuse, as the case of the Mexican Consulate clearly shows. “Migrant workers leave their families and their lives behind and come to Canada to work grueling jobs no one else wants. Why would our government deny them residency and the chance at a better life?”

UFCW is supporting migrant workers in other ways, including through the collective bargaining process. In Alberta, UFCW 401 negotiated collective agreement language that requires employers who hire temporary foreign workers to help them apply to become permanent citizens. Employers are also required to help temporary foreign workers meet residency requirements, including teaching them English. Many of the union’s 32,000 members are migrant workers who have become permanent residents or are in the process.

[pull-quote]The advocacy of UFCW at the local and national level has enhanced the rights of these vulnerable workers who give up so much to come work in our country, and contribute so much through their labour.[/pull-quote]

The United Latinos of UFCW supports locals in their efforts to organize and communicate with Latinx members in the United States. It also provides financial support for UFCW members who have applied for US citizenship through its New American Citizenship Fund. They hosted their executive meeting in Calgary last August, where President Kim Novak was a featured speaker. UFCW Canada offers the Migrant Workers Scholarship, which awards 20 scholarships of $500 each to those working in Canada under the TFW program, including seasonal agricultural workers, and their families.

“It’s critically important that we support migrant workers in their efforts to be treated with fairness and respect, to become permanent residents of Canada, and to join a union,” says President Kim Novak. “The advocacy of UFCW at the local and national level has enhanced the rights of these vulnerable workers who give up so much to come work in our country, and contribute so much through their labour.”

Talking to Politicians

Safeway closures are bad for families and communities. That’s what UFCW 1518 members told their Member of the Legislative Assembly in meetings scheduled across the province this summer and fall.

Members, leadership and union representatives met MLAs to discuss the future of Safeway, which is converting to FreshCo in many communities. The discount banner of parent company Sobeys, FreshCo is a franchise that pays lower wages, offers fewer benefits and hires almost no full time employees. “Political action is a key component of the union’s advocacy,” Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson says. “In addition to representing our members in the workplace and fighting for fairness at the bargaining table, we lobby government for progressive legislative and policy changes.”

Since 2018, Sobeys has targeted 20 Safeway stores for closure across BC, 14 of which are slated to open as FreshCo, including in Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, 100 Mile House and Williams Lake. “This will be devastating for smaller communities where there is only one Safeway that provides not only groceries but employment, and in turn supports the local economy,” explains Johnson. “Converting to FreshCo will bring the loss of secure, full time jobs with good benefits in favour of precarious, part time employment. Our members, their families and the community will lose.”

[pull-quote]Converting to FreshCo will bring the loss of secure, full time jobs with good benefits in favour of precarious, part time employment. Our members, their families and the community will lose.[/pull-quote]

During UFCW 1518’s second annual Lobby Day, held last May in Victoria, members were trained in the fine art of political lobbying and then put into practice their new skills, meeting with MLAs and ministers in the governing NDP. President Kim Novak and Secretary-Treasurer Johnson also met with Premier John Horgan and conveyed to him the serious repercussions of not enforcing common employer language in the BC Labour Relations Code. “Arbitrator Vince Ready imposed a collective agreement for FreshCo that clearly treats Sobeys as the common employer, despite the fact that those stores are franchises,” Secretary-Treasurer Johnson continues. “Now Sobeys thinks that each FreshCo operator will bargain individual collective agreements. That’s a union busting tactic if ever I saw one. That’s why we filed a complaint with the Labour Relations Board.”
Building on the union’s Lobby Day success, it was time to take the issue directly to MLAs in their home constituencies. In total the union met with nine MLAs, most of whom agreed to send letters to Sobeys CEO Michael Medline in support of maintaining good jobs under the FreshCo banner. Toni Caruso, a former Safeway cashier and 43-year member, met with her MLA in Quesnel. “I heard about stores closing in 100 Mile House and Williams Lake, all the way down the Okanagan, and even Powell River,” she comments. “Our Safeway in downtown Quesnel hasn’t been impacted yet, but I couldn’t wait for it to be destroyed. I worked hard for that store.”

According to President Kim Novak, the union will continue raising concerns about FreshCo conversions with local leaders and pressing for political action. “MLAs are bound to represent all constituents, and we expect them to fight on behalf of workers, regardless of political stripe or conviction.”

Union Pride

“What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.” That’s what Sussanne Skidmore’s t-shirt read at this year’s Vancouver Pride Parade. For the Secretary-Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour, the message was more than fitting. In fact, the famous quote from JS Woodsworth, a labour activist and founder of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, signals the moral foundation of the Canadian labour movement.

“It’s a message of inclusion that underpins the work of the BC Fed, and it’s as important today as when JS Woodsworth uttered those words almost a century ago,” explains Skidmore. Marching next to her was Laird Cronk, president of the Federation, dressed for the occasion in a rainbow-coloured tutu. Together, Skidmore and Cronk led the multi-union Pride delegation, including more than 50 UFCW members and staff.

Skidmore is the first openly queer senior executive in the history of the province’s largest labour organization. “Representation matters,” she asserts. “To achieve this recognition at the BC Fed together with a great listener and ally like Laird is a great honour. As a queer woman, it is important to have a seat at the table.”

[pull-quote]Affordable child care, pay equity, same-sex marriage— these are intrinsically about fighting for what is right. Unions couldn’t be true to their mission without being strong allies to the LGBTQ2SI movement.[/pull-quote]

Historically, unions have fought to give voice to the voiceless and a seat to those who are not invited to the table. That’s why queer rights are workers’ rights. “Fighting for fairness means advocating for higher wages, better benefits and greater job security for our members, but it also means taking on those larger social justices struggles that affect our communities,” says President Kim Novak. “Affordable child care, pay equity, same-sex marriage— these are intrinsically about fighting for what is right. Unions couldn’t be true to their mission without being strong allies to the LGBTQ2SI movement.”

Although the social justice mission of the labour movement is inherently aligned with the struggle for justice by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, two-spirit and intersex (LGBTQ2I) communities, the workplace has not always been safe for these workers. But the fight for workers’ rights and LGBTQ2SI rights are nevertheless intertwined and in recent years, a strong alliance has emerged.


Around the world, the queer community has faced open and often violent discrimination in the last century. Until 1969, homosexual acts between consenting adults were illegal in Canada and persecution of queer people by law enforcement was widespread. That year marked the birth of the gay liberation movement with the Stonewall Riots in New York City. After violent police raids on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, the queer community turned to direct action to combat discrimination and the modern fight for LGBTQ2SI rights in North America began.

In Canada, the nascent gay liberation movement connected with trade unions early on, embracing the strategies of unions and other equity-seeking groups. According to Ken Popert, a founding member of Gay Alliance Towards Equality (GATE) in the early 1970s, there was a significant overlap between the gay liberation movement and other social movements, including “women’s lib” and the labour movement. Many gay activists, he writes, learned to organize from trade unionists and left wing political parties.

Another early example of queer activists connecting with unions in common struggle was the 1973 fight to include sexual orientation in the City of Toronto’s anti-discrimination policy. After council rejected their appeal, GATE turned to the city’s unions for support. CUPE locals 79 and 43 wrote a letter in favour of their cause—a radical move at the time: “The workers, like gay men, knew what it meant to be engaged in ceaseless struggle against powerful and antagonistic forces,” Popert writes. “Like gays, they were constantly being shat on by the powers that control the media and most other institutions.”


By 1981, Canada had a Stonewall of its own after Toronto police raided four bathhouses and arrested 268 gay men. The incident marked one of the largest mass arrests in the country and resulted in intensified LGBTQ2SI advocacy. A few years later, after pressure from queer union members, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) amended its constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. More progress was made in 1989, when the Hospital Employees Union in British Columbia gained recognition for same-sex benefits in its collective agreement with health employers. Other unions soon began negotiating similar language, motivated by a CLC resolution calling on affiliated unions to make this a bargaining priority.

By the early 1990s, the focus of the queer movement turned to constitutional recognition of LGBTQ2SI rights, including benefits coverage for same-sex couples. The labour movement was a key ally in this fight. Many court battles were fought, often with help from unions, over pension eligibility and extended health and life insurance benefits; other cases focused on immigration, adoption and hate crime. Finally, in 1995 the Supreme Court of Canada recognized sexual orientation as a ground for protection from discrimination under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A decade later, Canada legalized same-sex marriage, becoming the fourth country in the world to do so.

Since then, Canada has evolved into one of the most queer-friendly countries, with 74 percent of Canadians asserting they know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and five percent identifying as queer. “Our members have lives and identities that extend beyond the workplace: they are mothers, immigrants, people of colour, queer,” comments President Novak. “We have a historic alliance with the LGBTQ2SI movement in that we share common goals for fairness and justice. While the labour movement has certainly been an ally in many victories, we haven’t always been there for queer workers, and there is always more we can do to address homophobia and ensure that unions are inclusive and welcoming to all.”

[pull-quote]Our members have lives and identities that extend beyond the workplace: they are mothers, immigrants, people of colour, queer.[/pull-quote]


“At some places I have worked at it’s been hard,” comments Raven Morningstar, a queer shop steward at Save-On-Foods in Whitehorse. “You don’t really want to say anything to anyone about who you are because you can be discriminated against. At my last job, there was a gay person who came out and he ended up losing his job.” Although discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, it still happens, both at the workplace and elsewhere. That’s when belonging to a union can really make a difference.

“Working at Save-On-Foods you can be who you are. I’m more open here and I’m not looked at any different. That’s thanks to the union,” explains Morningstar. In August, she joined 50 UFCW members—queer workers and allies—who marched alongside other unions in the Vancouver Pride parade. For Pride this year, UFCW 1518 also hosted OUTreach, a committee dedicated to building mutual support between UFCW locals across North America and the queer community. At their annual meeting, held at the union office in New Westminster, the group highlighted intersex and two-spirit issues as well as the campaign to end the stigma of HIV.

“It is part of our mandate to support our queer workers and community,” explains Emmanuelle Lopez, UFCW Canada national representative and founding member of OUTreach. “We know a certain percentage of our membership identifies as LGBTQ2SI and that workers have multifaceted lives and struggles. That’s why intersectionality is essential to the work of the union.” Since 2010, OUTreach has been collaborating with Egale, a legal non-profit that helped pass Bill C-16, which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2016. Under their guidance, UFCW OUTreach has created educational and advocacy programming and resources for union members with a focus on advancing transgender rights and passing legislation to protect queer workers.

“Working at the national level we have the ability to address legislative barriers,” adds Lopez. Indeed, additions to the Human Rights Act extend to discrimination in the workplace, providing leverage for unions during negotiations. “On my very first day at this store, I was called a fag,” recounts Taylor Wilson, a member from Save-On-Foods in Campbell River. “It was said jokingly and not as a derogatory term so I decided not to file a grievance. But my union representative was very supportive and encouraged me to say something. It was powerful to know that I could say something.” During the last round of bargaining with Save-On-Foods, gender identity and gender expression were added to the no-discrimination language in the collective agreement. Many other 1518 collective agreements now contain similar no-discrimination clauses.

Advocating for the rights of LGBTQ2SI members and demonstrating solidarity is an important way for unions to support queer members. “It sends a message that you are going to be accepted,” Wilson says. “As a union, that’s something positive to stand up for, that no matter who I am I know they accept me.”

In the 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, LGBTQ2SI communities have won many victories—victories that would not have been possible without the organizing and financial assistance of the labour movement. Anti-discrimination legislation, including pay equity and employment equity; same-sex benefits in collective agreements for partners and families; the right to harassment-free workplaces; and legal recognition of same-sex marriage are just some of the battles that were collectively won. But there is still more work to be done.

That’s why the BC Federation of Labour has made a formal commitment to diversity and inclusion, supporting a range of LGBTQ2SI advocacy initiatives. “Our focus now is on those in the LGBTQ community who are not yet free to express themselves,” says Skidmore. “The trans community in particular continues to face discrimination at work and in the community.” One important initiative is the BC Fed’s campaign to reverse the ban on donating blood, bone marrow and organs imposed on men and trans women who have had sex with men. The ban is discriminatory, Skidmore explains, because the criteria are based on sexual orientation rather than high-risk behaviors, perpetuating the stigma towards these marginalized groups.

[pull-quote]At the end of the day, it comes down to being consistent with our values: the equal treatment we wish for ourselves, we fight for every day, for all workers.[/pull-quote]

With the rise of hate groups and extreme right wing politics around the world, the labour movement has an important role to play when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBTQ2SI communities. “As a social justice organization we have a responsibility to build workplaces and communities that are inclusive, supportive and safe for our LGBTQ2SI members, so we are not leaving anyone behind,” asserts President Novak. “At the end of the day, it comes down to being consistent with our values: the equal treatment we wish for ourselves, we fight for every day, for all workers.”

Workers at Mountain Equipment Co-op – Victoria vote YES to join UFCW 1518!

Great news! Workers at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) in Victoria voted overwhelmingly “Yes” today in favour of joining UFCW 1518.  They join the workers at the Vancouver flagship store on West Broadway who joined UFCW 1518 in April of this year.

“In fighting for fairness, we organize workers because everyone deserves safe and respectful working conditions, higher wages, better benefits, job security and fair treatment,” said UFCW 1518 President, Kim Novak. “We welcome our newest members from MEC, and look forward to providing them with the highest level of representation and will work hard to engage them in the important tasks ahead to help build a strong foundation for new working conditions.”

UFCW 1518 has a strong history of working productively with co-ops to ensure they are successful in the communities in which they operate while also providing effective representation for workers.

Workers are their strongest when they stand together to fight for fairness, and that is the power that a union can bring. We look forward to building a collaborative working relationship with the employer and negotiating a strong first contract for workers. Welcome to your union!

Non-stop organizing! Cineplex workers join UFCW 1518

About 200 workers employed at Cineplex Coquitlam voted to join UFCW 1518 last week.

“We are so excited to welcome the staff at Cineplex to our union!” said President Kim Novak. “This group are a dynamic, energetic group of workers who experience challenges in a high turnover environment. Our role going forward is to support them to take on these challenges by hearing from them on what we need to negotiate into a contract that will improve their quality of work life.”

President Novak said she looks forward to building a collaborative working relationship with the employer and negotiating a strong first contract for workers. “We are regularly contacted by young workers employed in highly precarious jobs in the retail, entertainment and service industries. They often express to us that they want to have a strong voice in their workplace to advocate for a better work environment. We are proud to represent Cineplex workers and provide them the representation to give them that strong voice to better workplace.”

Union leadership and representatives will be meeting with members this weekend. “Our ongoing focus is to provide the highest level of representation to our members as well to bring the rights and benefits of the union to non-unionized workers across British Columbia, and the way we best provide that representation is by talking directly to our members about what they need to make their workplace a better place to work,” President Novak said.


Workers at Victoria Event Centre join UFCW 1518!

Workers at the Victoria Event Centre (VEC) voted overwhelmingly last night in favour of joining UFCW 1518, marking the first worker-led union certification in Victoria’s hospitality sector in decades. Lack of workplace standards, poor working conditions and sexual harassment were just some of the reasons VEC workers unionized, suggesting a shift in complacency about worker abuse in restaurants and bars.

“The service industry has been changing rapidly while owners and managers have been slow to adopt better workplace protections to keep guests and employees safe,” said Shelby Gerrath, bartender and front of house supervisor. “While the VEC does better than many employers to promote a safe and harassment free workplace, we voted to join the union to keep the standards we have and continue to build for the future. It’s also a great example to other workers that they too can form a union to make the hospitality industry better for workers.”

“We welcome the energy and ideas of the VEC workers,” said Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson. “Their overwhelming support to unionize demonstrates the increasing precarious nature of work in Victoria and across BC. We regularly receive calls from retail and hospitality sector workers who are struggling with low pay and high risk in sector that is long overdue for the kind of workplace protection the union provides.”

The Victoria Event Centre is operated by the Victoria-Multicultural Society, a non- profit organization that promotes diversity, arts and community through performance and celebration. The venue is a standout in the city’s growing downtown night scene, showcasing experimental and emerging artists along with epic dance parties and festivals for the past 16 years.

Organizing for the win!

Dangerous Homes

One day in 2014 was a day like any other for community health worker Corrie. She was scheduled to visit a new “low-risk” client. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. “He was a fellow that was extremely strong, even though he was elderly,” Corrie recalls. She was washing lunch dishes in the kitchen when it happened. Her client came up from behind, grabbed hold of the kitchen sink on either side of Corrie’s waist and started pressing himself against her. In the four hours that Corrie remained in her client’s home, working, he was able to sexually assault her for a second time. “I finished the visit,” says Corrie matter-of-factly. “He was an elder. How could I leave him alone?”

In her almost 25 years as a community health worker, Corrie has seen it all, from loaded guns to drugs – even snakes – in the home. She has been verbally abused, hit by her clients and attacked by their pets. And she’s not alone. Rene, a younger community health worker, says she has also experienced verbal abuse and sexual harassment in less than a year working in the field. “It is an extremely unsafe job,” she says. “A lot of the times we don’t know what we are walking into. We get a name, we get an address and off we go.”

There are around 8,000 community health workers in British Columbia. Unlike most employed in the public health care system, they work in people’s homes, caring for clients who have been discharged from the hospital but need support to live on their own. And unlike hospitals or long term care facilities, the home is an unpredictable – and at times, dangerous – workplace. According to WorkSafeBC’s 2015 annual report, the overall injury rate of community health workers is double the provincial average. The data also show that workplace injuries in the health care sector are not just commonplace but too often linked with violence. Of all time-loss claims due to acts of violence or force reported in 2015 in BC, 63 percent came from the health care sector. “Our job is a risky job”, affirms Corrie. “We go into people’s home, their environment, and we don’t always know how that’s going to look like. We are by ourselves.”

There’s no doubt community health workers are an essential part of our public health care system; the role they play is proven to extend quality and length of life for the clients they serve. They care for some of our society’s most vulnerable members, yet through their work they can be made as vulnerable as those they help. The threat of violence is an everyday reality for these workers but health authorities and employers have yet to ensure adequate protections for professional care givers working in the home. What are the challenges of fighting violence in homecare work and how can we move toward a safer workplace for community health workers?

[pull-quote]Our job is a risky job. We go into people’s home, their environment, and we don’t always know how that’s going to look like. We are by ourselves.[/pull-quote]



WorkSafeBC defines workplace violence as “the attempted or actual exercise by a person, other than a worker, of any physical force so as to cause injury to a worker, and includes any threatening statement or behaviour.” For community health workers, violence is as versatile as its definition; it is can happen anytime, anywhere and from anyone in the course of their daily work.

“It could be from animals. It could be from family members. And there’s the psychological side of it: there’s dementia, there’s aggression. It could come from any angle,” says union representative Ashley Campbell. The nature of the work environment, the home, puts these workers at risk under conditions that are hard to predict: one day the threat could be a client’s pet, another day, the neighbourhood, and yet another, the client.

The isolation of community health work complicates the ability to address violence when it happens, since CHWs lack the immediate support of managers, co-workers and witnesses. “When you go into someone’s private home, there are no checks put into place,” explains director Monica Staff. “When you work in a grocery store and a customer becomes aggressive and starts yelling at you, you can call a manager and have them come take over. If you are a community health worker, you are there by yourself and you have to deal with it on your own.”

Uncertain or unknown threats in the home combined with the dangers of working alone make it hard for employers to ensure their employees will never experience unsafe working conditions. According to Campbell, this is one of the biggest challenges in holding health care employers accountable. “They have to at least commit that they have strong policies and procedures in place. That they have strong training. That they tell people their rights and how to refuse unsafe work.” But the regular experiences of violence at work for CHWs indicate that the employer could do better in keeping them safe.



Corrie’s “low-risk” assailant was not a new client. She eventually discovered that other community health workers had also been assaulted by him. But nobody had filed a report. “I think a part of it is that people are ashamed that this stuff is happening. And part of it is we are health care workers and a lot of us have this mentality that this is part of the job,” Corrie says.

The notion of community health work as a caring profession feeds this mentality. “Our community health members chose their profession because they are caring people. They care so much about their clients that they feel guilty,” Campbell adds. There is a level of emotional attachment and commitment that community health workers develop toward their clients, particularly those they care for over time. But it is this very commitment that can cause them to put themselves at risk. Research shows that violence in the health care sector is underreported by as much as 70 percent, according to a 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For community health workers, invoking their right to refuse unsafe work, a regulation in the Workers Compensation Act, might very well mean their client gets no care that day. And that’s unthinkable for most. “In our meetings when we are talking about safety, I see this dangerous mentality in our members. I hear it in their responses. They say: ‘But what about the clients? I don’t want to say no because I feel guilty that person is going to go without care,’” says Campbell.



Despite the uncertainty of working in the home, not all risks are unpredictable and health care employers are required by provincial law to do everything in their power to minimize the risk of violence. In reality, however, not all employers are diligent in meeting this requirement. Information about a client’s health conditions and potential risks, for example, is a crucial resource for community health workers in preventing violence. But CHWs often receive client care plans that are incomplete, or worse: they don’t receive them at all. This has happened to Rene on many occasions. She has also been scheduled to visit clients who haven’t even undergone a risk assessment. On one occasion, Rene visited a client who had mental health issues that she was not informed of, and for whom there was no care plan on file. He locked her in his home for 45 minutes before letting her go. What’s worse, when Rene requested not to see this client again, her employer dismissed her concerns. “They told me I had to go again, because it wasn’t a good enough reason. I was terrified.”

Like Rene, Linda feels her safety isn’t a priority for her managers. She says she and her coworkers often get pressured into doing things they are not comfortable doing. “The managers downplay it. They say ‘oh no, it’s okay. You can do it. It’s not a big deal.’” When Linda recently refused to visit a home known to be infested with bed bugs, her manager minimized her concerns. “I’m well aware of my rights but they really tried their hardest to get me there!”

Another critical violence prevention resource is training. But while there are educational resources and trainings in violence prevention for the health care sector, they are not focused on the specific challenges of homecare work. “We need more training for violence prevention, not only the physical, the emotional and the mental, but the sexual violence that happens,” says Rene. “We need trainings made for community health workers, not general trainings for people who work in a hospital facility.”

Community health workers also feel they lack training in the new set of duties they are being asked to perform by their employers, which puts them at risk. According to Corrie, there has been a drastic change in her profession: her clients have become more complex over the years and her duties have expanded from homecare to nursing. Mental illness and addiction are common in her clients, but she has received no education about how to handle clients with these conditions: “We don’t have any training on schizophrenia but we could have eight clients in a week with schizophrenia. We don’t have any training on alcoholism but we have a lot of alcoholic clients,” says Corrie.



Building a culture of safety in the community health sector is imperative if community health professionals are to perform their jobs effectively. Steps in the right direction are being taken, starting with speaking out against violence. Campbell says that as a union representative, her main goal is to raise awareness about members’ rights and empower them to stand up. As a union, UFCW 1518 is working hard to hold employers to their promises of safety trainings and commitment to make safety a priority.

Although it has been slow, Corrie says she feels a shift in how community health workers think about violence. “Now the mentality is that this is not okay.” Campbell also believes things are getting better, pointing to Island Health Authority’s commitment to train all of their employees, including CHWs, in violence prevention through both online and classroom courses. Director Monica Staff is optimistic and hopes that the union can make more impactful changes through the Provincial Violence Prevention Committee and the Provincial Mental Health Committee. “Being part of these larger provincial committees is important because we actually have a voice and a role in advocating for the community health sector,” says Staff.

One recent safety measure enacted by employers is the implementation of a call-in procedure, which mandates that community health workers check in and check out of their shifts over the phone. Another is the requirement of sending two CHWs at a time to visit high-risk clients. Staff hopes that this year’s implementation of WorkSafeBC’s High Risk Strategy, which includes inspectional activities and education, will improve employers’ violence prevention programs and reduce violence-related injuries. “It’s long overdue. But we won’t stop fighting until all of our community health members can go to work each day with the certainty that they are safe, supported and secure.”

Young Workers Take on Convetion

Hundreds of activists from UFCW locals across Canada gathered in Montreal this August for the 12th National Council Convention. Delegates reviewed the progress made by the union over the past five years and set its course for the next five, hearing committee reports and voting on a range of resolutions.

The Young Workers Report highlighted the unique challenges faced by workers under the age of 30, a demographic that represents about 40 percent of UFCW members. Things like unprecedented levels of under- and unemployment, sky-rocketing tuition fees and high debt load make it harder for young workers to succeed as employment becomes more precarious and cost of living continues to rise. Initiatives such as the Young-Workers Internship Program, the Ignite Youth Conference and the #TossTuition campaign aimed at engaging young UFCW members and help them overcome specific barriers.

Almost two-thirds of the UFCW 1518 delegates were members, and the majority were young workers. “I am really proud of 1518 for sending so many members and for the diversity of the group we sent and how representative it is of our membership, including women, people of colour and young workers,” says Ryan Milligan, a young member from Shoppers Drug Mart.

[pull-quote]I am really proud of 1518 for sending so many members and for the diversity of the group we sent and how representative it is of our membership, including women, people of colour and young workers.[/pull-quote]

Many UFCW 1518 delegates were also national convention first-timers. “It was an amazing experience,” says Kamal Sudha, a young member from Safeway Pharmacy who was recently elected to the union’s executive board. “I learnt more than I have ever learnt in my life. I feel I now have the knowledge to be able to help.”

The UFCW 1518 delegation also included members from different sectors, such as community health. For Kristen Briosi, a community health worker from North Island Home Support, attending convention was an important way to foster solidarity across a diverse membership. “Being included and being able to be a part of something as big as national convention was really inspirational for me,” Briosi explains. “Now that I feel included, it gives me the opportunity to make other members feel included as well.”

Although convention is a crash course in all things UFCW, 1518 members weren’t just learning and observing; they also dominated at the microphone, speaking to almost all of the 20 resolutions that came to the floor. Resolutions covered a range of topics and reflected UFCW’s social justice mandate, advocating for diversity, inclusion, accessibility, equity, and fairness. Highlights include a pledge to increase the representation of women on the UFCW Canada National Council and establishing a National Young Workers Committee, as well as a commitment to seek paid leave for victims of domestic/sexual violence through collective bargaining.

There was also a call for all levels of government to fund and implement a comprehensive response to the opioid crisis. For Milligan, the issue is personal: he comes from a community that has been hit hard by this public health emergency. “I know many people who have been brutally affected by the opioid crisis and who battled with addiction and some of those who have even died from addiction,” he recounts.

Inspirational, empowering and educational were the common sentiments around convention among member delegates. Now back at work, they can feel the impact of their convention experience, which seems to have sparked more interest in the union. Says Sudha, “People at my work are very proud of me and now see me as a leader who can bring their voices to a higher level.”