Humber detaining union organizers a troubling sign for labour rights

Corey Brehaut

Humber College is engaging in unlawful union busting tactics.

Part-time contract support staff at Ontario colleges have increased by over 30 per cent between 1985 and 2015 and currently outnumber full-time employees of this kind two to one across the province, according to OPSEU Local 561 steward Tracy MacMaster at Humber College. These part-time workers do not receive benefits, cannot participate in discussions concerning the curriculum and have no job security.

That is why the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union is canvassing college campuses to sign contract workers into the union.

Such efforts by OPSEU seem entirely reasonable. Yet two union organizers for part-time support staff at Humber College were detained and questioned for more than an hour by security at the Lakeshore campus before being escorted off the premises and told not to return.

That’s according to a new report in the publication for Humber College faculty union OPSEU Local 562, citing chief steward Fredy Meija, a support staff union representative.

The pamphlets being passed out had photos and names of the presidents of the GTA’s colleges with their salaries and the slogan, “It only takes a few at the top to keep thousands at the bottom.”

Its goal was to encourage part-time contract workers at the college to join the union by going to www.collegeworkers.org.

The information on the pamphlets is freely available in the recently released Sunshine list which details the compensation of all Ontario public sector employees earning $100,000 or more.

Seeing as Humber president and CEO Chris Whittaker made $425,282.23 last year (the most of any college president in the province), I’m inclined to think that the reduction of full-time staff for part-time and contract workers is merely to fill the coffers of the rich on the backs of the poor.

Of course, unions were created to fight exactly this kind of thing, so OPSEU was not happy with the treatment of their organizers.

Hence the union, including its president Warren “Smokey” Thomas, made a trip to Humber College on Mar. 24 to pass out copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to remind Humber’s higher ups that freedom of association is an entrenched right in Canada.

“Freedom of association is the right of all Canadians. This includes the right to come together in a union and bargain for better wages and working conditions,” Thomas said. “By trying to kick our organizers off campuses, college presidents are violating the Charter. This must stop.”

OPSEU administrators also plan to file an Unfair Labour Practice complaint at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

They claim that they are recruiting on campuses because Toronto’s colleges are artificially inflating the number of non-union contract workers in order to make it more difficult to sign up 35 per cent of the staff for the union.

This is the minimum requirement in order to make the school and the union go to the bargaining table.

If these claims turn out to be true — and if campus security are kicking people off of campuses for handing out pamphlets with readily available material, it may well be — it is a voter suppression tactic to keep the people from organizing in order to get fair and equitable treatment from their employers.

I doubt anything will be done to stop this. It’s not in vogue to like unions after years of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper telling Canadians that unions wanted to steal their money and destroy their economy.

But the purpose of unions remains the same as ever: to protect those who work for a living from those who live in luxury off the workers’ sweat and toil.

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