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In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 20, Number 3 – Summer 2013

In Solidarity, summer 2013 cover. OPSEU members giving the thumbs up

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Our Working Future: Generation Y

Jeff Weston, Provincial Young Workers Committee

It’s no real surprise that our working population is not getting any younger. In fact we have heard time and time again that a large part of the work force is ready to retire. If you look around your local, you will most likely see that the majority of your members are on the back half of their working career, some quite near the end. This poses a monumental problem for the future of the labour movement.

According to the 2011 census from Stats Canada, 42.4 per cent of workers are between 45-64 years old.[1] That means in the next twenty years, almost half of our co-workers are going to be leaving the work force. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the retirement gaps in our work places will need to be filled with young workers and young activists.

We are beginning to see a decrease in seasoned activists. Those who have fought the good fight and achieved all that we have in our collective agreements are going to walk out the front door and their wisdom and knowledge will retire with them. We must engage the next generation in order to stay strong and relevant.

The problem that organized labour wrestles with is they don’t know how to engage the next generation. The gap between the seasoned leaders of organized labour, who are nearing retirement, and the young workers, who could care less about organized labour, is quite drastic. There may be only few years between the two groups, but the social generation gap is vast.

Sociologists are theorizing that there are five social generations living in each household. They are known as:

  • The Silent: born 1925-1945
  • Baby Boomers: born post-WWII up to 1964
  • Generation X: 1960-1980
  • Generation Y: (Millennials) 1980-early 2000s
  • Generation Z: early 2000s-present

These generations are people who share similar ages and cultural experiences. As we advance in our age of technology, the generations are only going to be smaller and develop faster. This forces our union to be in a perpetual state of “catch up.”

Generation Y is our future. As we see less of the baby boomers, we are going to see more of the “Ys”. This means the future of the labour movement hinges upon our ability to understand the next generation. The best way to learn something new is to go to the source.

Thankfully, I happen to be part of Generation Y and know a thing or two about who we are and what makes us tick. We are the ones who elected Barack Obama, revolutionized communication through Facebook and Twitter, dictate technology trends and more. We think outside the box, lack patience, have unstoppable drive and are bound to technology. We are the ones who force change because we refuse to do things “the old way.” We see a paved road and decide to make our own path because we can. We are impulsive, ambitious and fickle. We are not our parents’ generation and we will forge our own ideas because that is how we figure out who we are. Understanding Generation Y is clear as mud. What can we do to find balance in the labour movement through engaging our young workers? Try thinking like a GenY!

Find us where we play: online! If you want to engage the youth of today, you won’t succeed through the use of flashy posters or colour booklets. Our noses are pointed at our computers, cell phones, tablets and other electronics. The effective use of social media and apps (because we don’t use websites any more) will be your first step to attracting the new generation of labour activists. Case in point – the Occupy Movement!

Give us access to the information we need, don’t preach it to us. If you want to see a young worker become a highly effective labour activist, answer our questions. The answer, “Because that’s the way it is” will not work for us. Show us why organized labour is important. Provide solid factual answers to our questions. We don’t want to be misled or treated like we are unknowledgeable. Try being relevant with today’s problems, instead of focusing on the issues of the past. We are very self-centric; show us why organized labour is important to us today.

Organized labour needs to find a way to fill the gap of our departing leaders. The only ones who can do that are the GenYs. The less we try to understand the next generation, the more our future looks bleak. The more we put into our young activists, the less we have to worry about the future of organized labour. If we all did a little less talking and a little more communicating we might just find a way to understand each other and bridge the social generation gap. Our union’s future is bound to GenY. Take the time to get to know us; you’ll be shocked to find out just how effective we can be. 



Toronto Carribean Carnival: A time for celebration

Vince Gobind, Workers of Colour Caucus

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formally known as Caribana, has run annually since 1967 and was originally performed as a gift from Canada’s West Indian community as a tribute for Canada’s centennial. Over the years, Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival has evolved and is known as one of summer’s biggest parties. However, it is more than just a party. This festival aims to break down the artificial barriers of society like class, race, and wealth. It is a celebration of Caribbean culture, food, creativity, art, and music. Importantly, this is a celebration of the history of the ethnicities and social make-up of the islands: people of African descent (both slaves and free); French plantation owners; East Indian and Chinese indentured labourers; British, Spanish, and Creole settlers and the indigenous Indians. It is a celebration of literal and spiritual emancipation.

Many people think that Toronto’s Caribbean Festival is based on Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival. Before 1834, when slavery was abolished, Trinidad’s Carnival celebrations had two aspects: the torches, drumming and other African-derived ceremonies of the slave classes paired with the fancy-dress silks and satins of the European plantation owners. Often, the French monsieur’s and madams’ would dress as fantastical versions of their own slaves while the slaves would parody the plantation owners. After emancipation, former slaves, under the concealment of disguise, brought their dances, songs and festival traditions to the streets; recreating in symbolic ways the freedom from the slavery of the cane fields.

Interestingly, Toronto’s Carnival falls on the anniversary of Trinidad’s emancipation from slavery – August 1, 1834. It also falls on the date of a European festival celebrating the first loaf made from the new year’s wheat and the opening of the fields for common pasturage. Carnival and Caribana has evolved from this to masquerade bands competing for top honours called, “Band of the Year” reflecting the diverse expressive traditions of the Caribbean. The bands are judged for its costume design, energy of masquerades, and creativity of presentation just to name a few.

Locally, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival has grown from hundreds on Yonge St. in the late 60s to thousands on University Ave in the 80s and 90s to one of Canada’s major tourist attractions with over a million on Lakeshore Boulevard today. While the Carnival runs for two weeks, its climax is the Parade of the Bands on the final weekend of the festival.

On Saturday August 3, 2013, The Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) invites all members to participate as we enter OPSEU in North America’s largest celebration of Caribbean history and culture, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival. The WOCC will also be at the Junior (kiddies) Carnival July 20, Vaughan’s CariVaughan on August 4 and Barrie’s Caribfest August 17.

For the fourth year, the WOCC will join with the Louis Saldenah Mas-K Club in their presentation of “Heaven and Earth” in the ex-pats section “Aurora Borealis.” If you’d like to join in, registration is on a first-come-first serve basis and is limited. All members must be registered and paid by June 28, 2013 to participate. For more information and registration, please contact Vince Gobind at invinceable.intl@gmail.com

The WOCC would also like to express its appreciation to everyone who participated and made the 2012 Toronto Carnival season a successful one especially Winston, Sandra and all of the XPATS people who worked tirelessly and patiently to produce such beautiful costumes for the WOCC participants.

WOCC would also like to thank OPSEU for the use of the OPSEU truck at the Junior Carnival, Vaughan’s CariVaughan, and Barrie’s Caribfest. In addition, we would also like to extend our gratitude to the OPSEU Equity Unit for its support and to Monty Mohammed who volunteered to drive the truck at each of these events and for ensuring that OPSEU and the WOCC’s flags were flying high.

We would also like to thank all the Locals for their donations towards the costumes, especially Local 311, Local 348, Local 106, and Local 571. Last, but definitely not least, we would like to thank the masqueraders, everyone who was in a costume at the parade. We had four out of seven regions represented at the Toronto Carnival. We would like to send a special thanks to Sara Labelle, EBM Region 3, Krista Miracle past EBM Region 5, Sandi Blancher past EBM Region 1, and Felicia Fahey EBM Region 6 for taking time out of their busy schedules to participate in the parade.

Now, we are looking forward to doing it all again this summer!


Letters to the Editor

Dear In Solidarity Editor:

I wish to commend you and Glen Archer on your articles in the Winter 2013 edition of In Solidarity. They are two of the best I’ve read. In your submission, “Rallying for the 99”, you are accurate in pointing out that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are working for the common good of all Ontarians, and Mr. Archer certainly hits the mark in “Unions: Still Relevant?” with his comments about the deliberate attempt to mislead and confuse the public through the use of labels such as “Right to Work” when referring to union-busting legislation. I also agree wholeheartedly with his remarks concerning anti-union/anti-labour influences from south of the border which are now creeping into Canadian society like a cancer (and are just as deadly)!

I was particularly disturbed to learn that our Health Cards are at risk of being sent to the States for processing (and may already be there by the time this letter is printed). I’m outraged actually and can’t help asking, “Who is making these decisions and why are we not being informed of this?” No one asked me if this was OK and I would venture to guess that most Ontario voters were not aware when casting their ballots in any provincial election, that they were casting a vote for personal betrayal of their public services.

Big business is decimating our way of life, undermining our beliefs, weakening our safety nets and destroying our very sense of security all in the name of profit, and governments at all levels are in their pockets up to their dirty little necks! Indeed, outright war has been declared on ordinary Canadians everywhere, and like Mr. Archer, I fear that the deliberate glamorization of the corporate world through media programming is a further attempt to erode and undermine precious Canadian values, particularly those which support unions and other labour-related protections in our society. Even worse is the fact that our elected officials are complicit in this by supporting multi-national corporations as opposed to protecting the interests of those who are under attack. Is this not tantamount to biting the hand that feeds you given that we are responsible for their very livelihoods? As Canadian citizens, we need to wake up and smell the rot before it’s too late. If it isn’t too late already.

Louise Fisher, Retiree, Local 714

We want to hear from you!

We love to get feedback from our readers. If you have a comment on one of our stories, please send to In Solidarity, c/o Laurie Sabourin, OPSEU Head Office, 100 Lesmill Rd., Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8. Contact at: opseu.insolidarity@gmail.com

In this economy 

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

How often do we hear statements like “In this economy, you should be lucky to have a job,” or “We’d be crazy to ask for a wage increase in this economy?” I am annoyed by these words. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I don’t understand enough about the economy. I agreed to write an article about what the statement “in this economy” and what it means. What was I thinking? I don’t know anything about economics. I decided that prior to writing this article, and further, prior to formalizing my opinion on what this statement means, I ought to seek out some support. Through a good friend who works at the University of Western Ontario, I was put in touch with Jim MacGee, Associate Professor and Bank of Montreal Professor Director, Master of Financial Economics (MFE).

When asked about what people mean by “in this economy” MacGee responded that different people would look at different measures. Most people acknowledge that government budget is under pressure and that the recession has slowed down the growth per capita in regards to income.

I asked MacGee if Canadians think the economy is harsh because they are inundated with American media. I mean, really, how much of the media has influenced how Canadians perceive the Canadian economy? Isn’t it really the U.S. economy that they are thinking of?

MacGee responded that there is definitely a lot of U.S. influence in our media; however, the recession of 2008/2009 was just as real to Canadians as it was to those in the United States. The Canadian recession was almost as deep. Fortunately the Canadian housing market was not hit nearly as hard. The Federal Government of Canada is fiscally in better shape than the federal government of the United States; however, the province of Ontario is fiscally worse off than many of the U.S. states.

My interview was going off track! I was here to prove that our economy really isn’t that bad! With this I mind, I asked MacGee when was the Canadian economy booming. His answer was simple, “The best time is right now.” We are in the best economic position that we have ever been in as a country. For example, a middle-income family in the 1980s could not afford a midrange car with the options that they can now. Additionally, we as Canadians have made progress on environmental issues and see an improved quality of life.

Ontario, according to MacGee, is not doing as well. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Ontario was the industrial heartland of Canada. Ontario, in particular, has been hit by increased globalization and international trading which have led industries to gain efficiency by using foreign manufacturing and goods.

How does this apply to the workforce, economics, and income? Economists would say that to increase the economic prosperity of workers, employers need to see an increase in real growth. This either means better product, more product, or less cost per product. An example of this is Service Ontario. MacGee reminisced on observing his parents needing to renew their drivers’ licenses. This was an all-day affair requiring them to drive two hours from home to Halifax, Nova Scotia. There they would stand in line for hours, if not all day, to renew the license. Service Ontario has created a more efficient system of delivering the product. The efficiencies are a benefit to the consumer, and therefore, have made a better product.

There is no question that the government has made some bad decisions. Government policy decisions of 2005 and 2006 are still affecting our economic potential. One example MacGee points out is the Clean Energy purchasing of Ontario versus British Columbia. British Columbia decided they would buy clean energy. People then presented bids as to what cost they would sell that energy to the government, and the government took the best bid. Ontario, however, offered a high premium for buying clean energy, and, in turn, Ontario has suffered a loss on energy. Currently, energy is being purchased for more than it is sold.

The way to overcome a recession, according to MacGee, is change and efficiency. So where does that leave us, the unionized employees? MacGee suggests that unions should be working to help the employers find those efficiencies. Unions need to ask questions about being more constructive, to realign work to deliver a better product.

Union leadership can suggest efficiency gains at the bargaining table. Creating efficiencies to make a better product or service can equal higher wage increases for the members. Although MacGee acknowledges that creating efficiencies is historically the employer’s responsibility, perhaps it’s time the unions change the game.

Macgee ended our interview and said, “Without willingness to embrace change, we can’t have an economy that grows.”

I have to admit my head is still spinning, and I can’t say that I understand that much more about economy. I do know that our economy is the best it’s ever been in Canada. I also know that after the recession of 2008/2009, we have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to keep up internationally. We are fighting austerity and fighting for fair wages, but are we doing it the best way we can? Is it time to change our game plan?


The making of a union activist

Glen Archer, EBM Region 7 (Former In Solidarity editorial committee)

Once upon a time in a land far away and in a time long ago, there was a keen young man who got called into a manager’s office. No reason was given, just a “Hey, can you come and talk to me for a minute?” With no reason to suspect this would be anything other than an informal discussion with a supervisor, the naive young man followed his boss into his office.

This was the first time being summoned for some face time with the boss since being hired full-time almost ten months earlier. The innocent little chat with a manager looked tame enough until the door closed and the little boss man climbed into his big chair behind the big desk and began tapping his stubby little fingers on his computer keyboard.

“I suppose you are aware of the situation with Mr. Jones? (not his real name)” he began the discussion with. The innocent façade of the meeting vanished in an instant. The other employee mentioned had just been terminated a few months earlier for poor attendance in his probationary term.

Immediately the young man was put on the defensive. Here we are discussing firing an employee on probation who was hired about six months ahead of him, and now a desperate feeling of vulnerability closed over him as he too was on probation.

What was the implication?

Without looking up at the young man, the supervisor began poring over a small printout he had on his desk. “I am disturbed by the amount of sick time you have used over the last year,” he said.

“I see you had a sick day in March. Another in July and more in August. One more in November!” He glanced at the employee and asked “Can you explain all these absences?”

Here is where I will tell you that the young man mentioned here was me. The meeting took place in January of 1988, about six weeks before the end of my probationary term as a full-time correctional officer.

My initial reaction to this line of questioning and threatening tone was, to be honest, a little disrespectful. I asked the manager “Do you ever read your mail?” Because if he did, he would have known that in March of 1987 I had taken a day off to attend a doctor’s appointment. My physician provided a note that supported my need to be off for this particular day and also requested a need for soft-soled shoes as the old police-style oxfords were causing me knee issues.

I pointed out to the boss that the absences he referred to in July and August were in actuality one absence. I was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident on my way to work on July 31st and was ordered by my doctor to be off work for two weeks with full bed rest. It was during this particular week that management fired the other employee mentioned above for using too much sick time, so against my doctor’s orders I struggled back to work on August 6th with a doctor’s note advising management that I was injured in a car accident.

I had no doctor’s note for the day I missed in November, it was just one of those flu days where I could not get out of bed, let alone work.

I summed it up for the boss by saying I actually had three instances for that entire period of time and this was after almost two years of unclassified service without missing any time whatsoever.

I was incensed that my attendance was even being questioned, let alone after providing medical documentation.

The little boss man tried to play down his role in the affair by saying “I don’t get into the personal stuff! The Attendance Committee punches the numbers into the computer and passes on a printout to me. All I do is look at the numbers. I am satisfied with your explanation and I don’t see this as having an effect on your probation. All I want to do is make sure we don’t see a pattern developing here!”

It was at this point I pretty much lost my excrement! “A pattern developing!”

I was dumbfounded. I looked at this paper-shuffling fool and asked pointedly “Do you think I would want to get into a devastating car accident and spend a week in bed with debilitating back pain so I can take a week off every summer?”

The meeting was pretty much over at this point so I walked out, my head reeling as I re-evaluated what had transpired.

I was disgusted with myself for even allowing the meeting to continue after the manager’s opening salvo about firing another employee. I mentally kicked myself for not demanding a union representative immediately after realizing I was in an attendance management meeting.

It was a turning point in my OPSEU career though. From that very point onward I resolved to never be bullied by another manager. I have remained sceptical of management tactics ever since. It is my firm belief that when they say that they would like to meet with you and that you don’t need a union rep, that’s the exact time when you do need one!

I am sure that many a union activist was born from experiences with bad managers or poor management practices.


What made you an activist?

This year at Convention, In Solidarity reporter Virginia Ridley scoured the crowd to find out what made OPSEU members get active in their union.

Cathy Henry, Local 546 

“It's not that I want to be, it's that it's necessary that someone steps up. I've learned a lot and really enjoyed doing this.”

David Strain, Local 310
“I was having issues of my own and started seeking out information. It was from there, part of my info gathering was going to the union and looking to the union to support me and fix it.”

Sarah diTomaso, Local 588 

“My president (Annette Donaldson) didn't give me a choice. It wasn't a horrible decision.”

Shamel Shokralla, Local 510

“An urge to educate members. It's been a learning experience. I’ve had to make sacrifices, but the small victories make it worth it”

Anne Makela, Local 741

“My employer.”

Randy Hall, President, Local 657
“I hate bullies. I've been active 12 years”


Part 3 of a four-part series

“Mega-Mart”: it’s a personal choice

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

Question: How do you quickly create enemies inside a union?

Answer: Tell them that there are positives to a Mega-Mart.

I, like many of you, am busy. My day is full from the moment I open my eyes until the moment exhaustion finally overtakes me and I put off my to-do list until the next day. Although shopping at the local Mega-Mart seems like a more efficient way of shopping, it rarely saves me any time. What it does do is use up a large chunk of my time in the evening, causes me to purchase more items than intended, and creates stress. I can’t say I have ever left the Mega-Mart in a good mood; people generally push their way unhappily through the aisles. Maybe people are cranky at the thought of the long line ups; perhaps people have just dealt with one of the employees who is generally less than enthusiastic to be there. Even more possible these shoppers were unable to obtain help finding a product that they needed or were unable to get advice from a staffer whose limited knowledge came from reading the package.

Yet, the Mega-Marts offer us an abundant choice and selection. The options truly are limitless. If you can think of it, you can probably find it at the Mega-Mart. However, do we as consumers truly require that much choice?

That much choice is not our friend; in fact, it is what is creating a lot of stress and anxiety in our lives. When given options, it is human nature to evaluate those options. In our quest for fulfillment, we attempt to make the best possible choices. However, evaluating options takes up valuable time. When we are spending time staring at mustard labels and comparing the nutritional value and then contrasting the cost value per milliliter, not only are we creating stress from time shortage later in our day, but we are also putting our brain into “choice overload.”

Autonomy and freedom of choice are critical to our wellbeing, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don't seem to be benefiting from it psychologically (Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice, 2004).

In the end, I think I will save my sanity and limit my choices by stopping at the local business, whether it be the local pizza shop, restaurant, hardware store, grocer, or book store in my community. I know that I feel better supporting a local business in my community, and perhaps I will keep a little calmer too!  

It’s campfire season

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

As we head toward summer, I’m sure most of us are making our plans to take in the beauty of Ontario’s great outdoors. According to Ontario Parks (Park Statistics, 2010) in 2010, Ontario’s provincial parks hosted upwards of 9.5 million visitors. Man, that’s a lot of marshmallows. Whether we camp, hike, or hang out in our yards, many of us will spend time around a campfire. As we take time to plan our vacations, let’s take some time to remind ourselves of our outdoor fire safety.

Below is a list of things to keep in mind when hosting campfires. The Windsor Fire and Rescue Services has created a great web page with lots of extensive information (http://www.windsorfire.com/divisions-prevention-campfire-safety-guidelines):

Planning a campfire:

Always check your municipality’s bylaws on open-air burning, and follow all rules and guidelines set out by fire officials. Also, check for any fire bans in the area.

Never build a campfire on a windy day—it’s amazing how far sparks and embers from the fire can travel.

Build campfires where they will not spread, preferably in an established fire pit, well away from tents, trailers, dry grass, leaves, tree branches or anything that could combust. A good rule of thumb is to maintain a 6 to 10 foot clearance around a campfire.

Lighting a campfire:

Use crumpled paper and/or kindling to start a fire, and avoid flammable liquids. NEVER use gasoline as a fire starter as its invisible vapours are highly explosive. Also, keep all lighters and matches out of children’s reach.

Don't let fires get out of hand, and don't burn garbage in your campfire.

Have sufficient wood on hand to eliminate the need to leave your campsite to restock.

General safety:

Never leave campfires unattended, and make sure that a responsible adult is monitoring the campfire at all times. Running and horseplay are never welcome around a campfire.

Take care when roasting items over a fire. A flaming marshmallow can easily ignite clothing, and heated sticks or skewers can quickly cause serious burns.

Take care not to wear loose clothing around a fire as it can easily catch fire. Also, use a poker, not your foot or hand, to rearrange pieces of wood.

Remind everyone how to STOP, DROP and ROLL should their clothing catch on fire. Remember to cool a burn with cool running water for 3–5 minutes.

Extinguishing a campfire:

Keep plenty of water and a shovel around to douse the fire when you're done. Use caution when applying water to the campfire. Once the water has been applied, stir the dampened coals and douse it with water again. As an added precaution, shovel sand or dirt to cover the dampened coals to smother any remaining embers.

Startling campfire facts:

It only takes a one-second contact with a 70°C (158°F) campfire to cause third degree, full thickness burns, and the average campfire can get as hot as 500°C (932°F) in as little as three hours.

The majority of children are burned the morning after a fire from coming into contact with hot ashes or embers.

A campfire left to burn itself out or put out with sand only was still 100°C (212°F) eight hours later. The buried coals and embers retain their heat underground like an oven. The temperature, less than 10 cm (4”) below the surface of the sand or dirt can be as high as 300 °C (572°F).

A campfire put out with water is reduced to 50°C (122°F) within 10 minutes of applying the water and reduced to 10°C (50°F) after 8 hours. The safest way to extinguish a campfire is with water.

There you have it. If we take a few minutes to refresh our fire safety knowledge, all of us (and our beautiful natural resources) should remain safe. For more information, even RV and cottage fire safety, check out the Windsor Fire and Rescue Services website.


R. v. Cole and an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy

Shelina Ali/ Rabble.ca

Technology has become central to the workplace, with employers regularly providing employees with access to computers and other devices for use in the course of work and employment activities. Personal use of these devices often becomes incidental, especially as the boundaries between the workplace and home blur. As a result, questions arise over who really owns the personal information generated on these workplace devices and the extent of an employee’s privacy rights over any personal information stored on these devices.

The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision of R. v. Cole indicates that an employee’s personal information, even if stored on computers owned by an employer, may attract a reasonable expectation of privacy.

R. v. Cole and unreasonable search and seizure

Richard Cole was a high-school teacher who also supervised the use of the school’s networked laptops by students. He was given a laptop, owned by the school board but for his exclusive use, to allow him to carry out this role.

The school board had a policy which allowed employees to use work computers for personal use, while stating that all data and messages generated on or handled by the school board’s equipment would be considered the property of the school board. While conducting maintenance on Mr. Cole’s board-issued laptop, a school board technician found photographs of a partially nude underage female student stored on the laptop. The principal was informed of the photographs and the photographs were copied onto a disc and provided to the police.
A police officer, relying on the consent of the principal and the fact that the laptop’s owner was the school board, then conducted a warrantless search of the laptop.

The main issue before the Supreme Court was whether Mr. Cole’s Charter rights were violated by the warrantless search conducted by the police officer contrary to section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court found that while the principal had a statutory duty to maintain a safe school environment and the reasonable power to seize and search the school-issued laptop, the police officer did not. The police officer required judicial authorization to perform the search, either in the form of a warrant or with the consent of Mr. Cole. The consent of the principal was not enough for the purposes of a criminal investigation.

Recognition of an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy

The implications of R. v. Cole are not limited to the Supreme Court’s findings related to the warrantless search of an employee’s employer-owned computer by a police officer. The Supreme Court also addressed the nature of an employee’s personal information stored on a workplace computer. The decision confirmed that employees do have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to information stored on workplace computers. 

This finding related to an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy is a departure from previous cases dealing with an employee’s use of workplace computers. In 2009, the Alberta Court of Appeal in Poliquin v. Devon Canada Corporation unequivocally stated that employees do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to the information stored on a workplace computer. The court in that case found that an employee’s workplace is not their home and although an employer permits limited personal use of workplace computers, the employer may place terms and conditions on that personal use. 

R v. Cole has changed the blanket presumption that an employee cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to information stored on a workplace computer. Instead, an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy depends on the policies, practices and customs governing the use of workplace computers.

Employer policies no longer determinative

The majority of the Supreme Court in R. v. Cole stated that a policy on the use of workplace computers may be instructive, but is not determinative when assessing whether the personal information is private. Where an employer’s policies state that the information generated on a workplace computer is not private but nevertheless permits personal use of the device, an employee may be able to claim privacy rights over the information generated by the employee’s personal use of the device. Other factors must be considered including the employer’s actual practice and the type of information generated. Where the information generated from the personal use is “meaningful, intimate, and organically connected to the person’s biographical core” there will be a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Employees’ personal information and invasion of privacy

The implications of recognizing an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to personal information generated through the use of workplace technology are not fully understood. 

In provinces such as British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan, legislation exists that allows individuals to bring an action in the courts for damages related to an invasion of their privacy. This legislation applies where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that “intrusion upon seclusion” was a cause of action that would attract a civil remedy in Ontario, essentially allowing individuals to sue for invasion of privacy even though there is no provincial privacy legislation recognizing this type of civil action. The Ontario Court of Appeal stated that where a defendant’s conduct is intentional, and the defendant invaded a plaintiff’s private affairs in a manner that a reasonable person would regard as “highly offensive causing distress, humiliation or anguish,” a plaintiff would be entitled to damages for the invasion of privacy.

The R. v. Cole decision potentially opens the door for employees to successfully sue employers for invasion of privacy in the workplace. As technology continues to erode the clear distinction between the home and the workplace, this additional protection for employees may be seen as a positive and responsive development addressing the changing reality of the workplace and workplace technology. It also indicates that employers should turn their minds to privacy rights before accessing personal information that may be stored on workplace computers and other devices.

Iler Campbell LLP is a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities, and socially-minded small business and individuals in Ontario.


WSIB Strategic Plan: Addressing work-related stress 

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety

You feel overloaded at work and they changed your shift schedule again without warning. You can't get work off of your mind and are having trouble sleeping. To top it off, your stomach is acting up and those nagging headaches are back.

When the demands and pressures of your job are too much for you to handle, and you don't have much control over the situation, you may experience work-related stress (stress caused or made worse by work). If left unchecked for a prolonged period of time, stress can make you sick.

Why it's important

Work-related stress is widespread. In the European Union, work-related stress is second only to back pain as the most common work-related health problem, affecting 28 per cent of workers. According to a survey by the American Psychology Association released in early March 2013, one-third of American employees experience chronic stress at work.

Whether it originates from within or out, the pressure to work at optimum pace and performance can take a toll on, and negatively impact, both the organization and the employee. Studies show that stressful working conditions are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, high staff turnover, reduced productivity and product/service quality, and increased compensation costs—all of which have a negative effect on the bottom line. The impact of stress on workers may include tobacco, alcohol or drug abuse, violent/bullying behaviour, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate, and irritability. Chronic stress can also cause health issues such as back problems, heart problems, stomach ulcers, and hypertension, and can weaken the immune system.


Everyone has different thresholds for and triggers of stress, however some workplace factors are more likely to lead to stress than others.

Examples of potential causes of work-related stress include:

  • Job design: the job is not matched to worker skills and abilities; poor work shift design
  • Role: lack of clarity about responsibilities and/or expectations; conflicting roles and/or multiple supervisors
  • Relationships: constant discord, bullying, harassment or open aggressive behaviour
  • Control: no control over planning and deciding how work should be completed, or solving problems
  • Training: lack of training to equip employees for their jobs
  • Demands: unreasonable or unrealistic  performance targets
  • Culture: poor communication, poor social environment, lack of support and respect
  • Physical environment: excessive noise, poor air quality, uncomfortable temperatures

Although some of these factors may occur in a workplace without leading to stress, the risk for stress increases when these factors occur in combination and/or for prolonged periods of time.

What employers can do

  • Treat all employees in a fair and respectful manner.
  • Assess the risks of work-related stress by looking for pressures at work that could cause high and prolonged levels of stress.
  • Take appropriate action to prevent the pressures from becoming negative stressors.
  • Match the workload to workers' capabilities.
  • Design meaningful jobs that are stimulating and provide opportunities for employees to use their skills.
  • Allow employees to have control over the tasks they do as much as possible.
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities.
  • Provide employees with the training, skills and resources they need to do their jobs.
  • Establish work schedules that are compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job.
  • Involve employees in decision-making and seek their input on issues affecting their jobs.
  • Improve communications and reduce uncertainty about career development and future employment prospects.
  • Value and recognize individuals' results and skills.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction among employees.
  • Provide access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

What employees can do

Often the source of the stress is something that you cannot change immediately. Therefore, it is important to find ways to help maintain good mental health and be proactive in dealing with stress. In the workplace, you may find some of the following tips to be helpful:

  • Try to relax; take several deep breaths throughout the day, or have regular stretch breaks.
  • Take 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to prioritize and organize your day.
  • Be constructive and make practical suggestions.
  • Be realistic about what you can change.
  • Take your breaks. Go for a walk at lunch or do something you enjoy that is not work-related.

Respectful workplaces that encourage good communications and healthy work systems are more likely to have a healthy and productive workforce.


One hundred years later and no lessons learned

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

A beloved high school teacher once wrote in my yearbook, “There ain’t no education in the second kick of a mule.” He then urged me to really think about what he had written. That was thirty years ago, and I still reflect upon his advice.

I try to make decisions based on past actions, and I definitely don’t repeat stupid acts (even though the potential is there for a really funny story). If disaster arises from one’s actions, why would we ever duplicate the disaster again? This question has been haunting me since the end of November when the world heard of a devastating clothing factory fire in Bangladesh. Right smack in the middle of the pre-Christmas shopping rush, the ethics of our off-shore sourcing of products came to light once more. Even more recently, since the first draft of this article, came the news of the devastating factory collapse in Bangladesh.

Even spookier is the fact that I had heard the story of overcrowded, unsafe, collapsing or burning workplaces before.

You see, I’m married to a fire administrator. My dad was a fire chief for more than twenty-five years. From the time I was very young, I was made aware of building occupancy and always knew where the closest fire exits were. In addition, I’m often called upon to teach the communications courses for fire science students at Lambton College. In these courses I often use historical fires as writing material. Many of the fires and disasters studied are used years later in the fire services, building codes, fire code as what not to do. Such cases are described as “textbook” cases studied to make improvements in building safety, fire code, building code, working conditions. Historical fires serve as classic case studies for fire service administration.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire is exactly one of these textbook cases. In fact, it’s one of the most studied.

In the early 1900s, the New York fashion district was seeing an upsurge in demand for ready-made women’s clothing, and garment factories sprung up all over lower Manhattan.

On March 25, 1911, at the end of the day, young women were finishing their shifts making women’s blouses at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Bystanders spotted flames coming from the eighth floor, and fire companies were summoned, but they couldn’t get close enough. Fueled by bolts of cotton and fabric, the fire quickly grew trapping upwards of 275 employees. Many tried to escape but found blocked exits—many chose to jump to their deaths rather than burn. In a short time, 146 garment workers were dead. The internet is full of historical accounts, photos and documentaries. It’s a horrible, horrible tale.

Out of this tragedy grew many laws which govern workplace safety: all doors must open outwards, no doors are to be locked during working hours, sprinkler systems must be installed if a company employs more than 25 people above the ground floor, and fire drills are mandatory for buildings lacking sprinkler systems (U.S. laws).

As disturbing as it is to read of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, most disturbing is the fact that this fire that has served as a warning for 100 years is almost the exact same type of fire that broke out at the 2012 Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh. One hundred years has passed, yet not much has been learned.

On November 24, 2012, 112 workers died in a horrific factory fire in Bangladesh at the Tazreen Factory that produced garments for Wal-Mart, Disney, Sears, and other clothing companies. Wal-Mart spokespeople claimed that the factory was no longer "authorized" to produce garments for it, but documents show that "as recently as September, five of 14 production lines at the factory were making shirts and pajamas for Wal-Mart." As soon as I read of this fire, I wondered how could this happen again.

How in 2012 could conditions be so deplorable that people are actually locked inside their work places?

Well, it did, and it’s true. The parallel between the two fires are astounding:

  • Both companies were pushed into mass production for the sake of fashion. Cheaply made garments were cranked out cheaply by overworked, and often young, workers.
  • Owners wanted to control the conditions in the factories. Safety measures were deemed expensive and were bypassed.
  • Speed and technology kept these factories ahead of the competition.
  • Sabotage, locked doors, fences, a lack of alarms—all were designed to keep people from leaving work.

Workers in Ontario believe it to be common sense that buildings housing workers will be compliant with various codes. We depend on being safe at work. Maybe we are too dependent.

As much as we trust inspections and fire codes in Ontario, as we strive to stretch our shopping dollars, we often put out of mind the volume of products produced where fire codes and labour laws may not be as strict as those we have grown to expect.

And we know safety features in factories that make clothes for North Americans are very expensive. Although Wal-mart and other companies grant titles such as “Director of Ethical Sourcing” and “International Coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign,” corporate meeting minutes from 2011 state “while well aware of the risks to the lives of the workers involved, [Walmart] refused to invest in factory safety” (Bloomberg News). Furthermore, the corporation stated that costly safety updates were not “financially feasible.”

So why don’t companies refuse to use manufacturers with unsafe work conditions? One article noted how it’s not that easy. The author described the global supply chain as being very intricate and difficult to decipher. Although many manufacturers claim no link to factories with poor employment and safety records, whenever they sub contract even the tiniest portion of the manufacturing, they could, perhaps unknowingly, be using labour in the developing world.

Interestingly, the same article outlines how the relatively low-skilled labour can be found in many poor countries. Also, equipment can be easily moved makes it a nomadic, sometimes untraceable business. Low cost labour is one thing that can be sourced. Cost for things such as shipping, duties, and raw materials are more often out of the hands of big brands.

All in all, these grey areas lead to a changing, moving sector whose safety and employment practices are anything but transparent.
Shortly after the Tazreen fire, an article was written for the Globe and Mail by a Canadian clothing designer. The title, alone, is telling of how he feels knowing that much of the manufacturing work of our garments gets outsourced: “I designed that cheap garment. I lit that factory fire in Bangladesh” by Sujeet Sennik is quite heart wrenching. In it he tells of cost cutting measures, tight deadlines, and the Canadians’ demand for fashionable, yet inexpensive clothing.

Sennik says he figuratively “lit the fire” because his designs end up in some of these very grey areas of subcontracting of manufacturing jobs. As much as I feel for him and his remorse, truly, each of us could say we contributed to the fire—we buy the stuff without knowing the origin of products.

But we can try to do better. We can read, and we can talk. One hundred years passed between the “textbook” “what-not-to-do” fire and a recent fire and building collapse that caught us by surprise. Let’s not let another hundred years go by without finally figuring out what to do.

Author’s note: This article was written for In Solidarity in January 2013. Sadly, in April, the world witnessed the devastating collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013, this building, home to the Ethertex factory, collapsed killing 1,127 workers. According to the CBC, there are upwards of 240,000 such garment factories in Bangladesh yet only 50 safety licencing officers.

The New York Times reports that blame for the collapse is being volleyed between the mayor who granted construction approvals and the owner of the Rana Plaza who scrimped on building materials, illegally constructed upper floors, and forced workers to return to work after the building was cited as unsafe.

Closer to home, corporations utilizing factories in Bangladesh were feeling remorse directly after the incident. Loblaws (seller of Joe Fresh clothing made at the Ethertex factory) has joined other major retailers in signing a pact to improve building safety in Bangladesh. Each corporation is required to earmark $500,000 yearly toward building safety efforts and are to refuse business with those who fail to make safety upgrades or fail to allow workers and their unions to voice safety concerns.

Let’s make a pact to follow this story, and let’s hope that the manufacturers involved make good on their promises.


Grassroots a success in Aboriginal Mental Health

Kim McDowell, Chair, Human Rights Committee

I feel very privileged as part of the Provincial Human Rights Committee (Region 1) to have been part of initiating improved Aboriginal mental health services in my area. One of my long-time colleagues approached me a year ago to discuss a vision that I could help make a reality.

The chain of friends, colleagues, and community partners brought together a small force to advance Aboriginal needs within our hospital setting. I knew that statistics in London/ St. Thomas indicated an increase of Aboriginals needing mental health services being admitted to several community hospitals.

I had discovered there was no hospital that had identified services to support Aboriginal health care needs beyond the offerings of Western medicine. I don’t profess to have great knowledge within the field of Aboriginal medicine, but I could certainly advocate to the hospital CEOs that the barrier between Aboriginal health needs and Western medicine was one that we could explore. By using the statistical information available we could begin to advance resolutions to reduce barriers.

Many people can acknowledge there are several determinants of health disparities in Canada, one of which is Aboriginal status. In turn, social and economic factors have an influence on Aboriginal health. These social and economic factors have various manifestations, such as enhanced reliance on social assistance, high unemployment rates, interrupted education, inadequate and insufficient housing, and increased exposure to infectious diseases. In addition, the history of poor communication between health care professionals and minorities, particularly Aboriginal people where the numbers of Aboriginal doctors are few, can lead to misunderstandings, non-compliance, and dissatisfaction of services received.

Also, for any change within the healthcare system to occur, conversations with and participation of Indigenous people and the recognition of colonial history must be accepted for our plan to move forward as “the burden of health and social disparities borne by Aboriginal Canada are rooted fundamentally in colonialism and their historical position within the Canadian social system” (Frohlich et al., 2006).

After much discussion, a plan was emerging.

Several unique resources would be needed to enhance our proposal—to improve the mental health services in our community. The ongoing challenge within our region of the loss of beds in mental health facilities and barriers experienced was brought to the South Western Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN). Cambridge was experiencing a particularly high loss of spaces, but after local uproar, the government did agree to implement 25 new beds and new funding for that community.

In addition, the Mental Health Commission identified Aboriginals’ lack of mental health support systems, so a proposal to implement services for Aboriginal patients was executed. It is with excitement that an evolving plan of action would be supported through senior leaders. This is living proof that a grassroots movement provided solutions to inefficiencies in a community.

The new services were life altering: patients shared their experiences, and evaluations showed that the ability to have input into their own care (Patient Centred Care) showed the results of psycho-social rehabilitation. In advancing a plan to reduce a barrier, patients could be served and supported in a holistic approach.

Social Mapping Project: Putting the findings to work in Region 1

I had never been to a drum awakening ceremony before, but I was about to be invited to one.

Over the past few years, Region 1 has shown a growth in unionized members. After examining our own demographics and mapping of our unionized workplaces, members were able to use the Social Mapping Project to lobby the Provincial Human Rights Committee for cultural assistance. One suggestion was to have Aboriginal drums within the region for members use during union meetings.

I had the privilege to send emails, lobby our members, invite input, and approach colleagues who could guide and lead the way for an innovative teaching opportunity.

My colleague and long-time friend, Bill Hill, Local 152, graced a small number of members in a drum awakening ceremony on May 27 in Region One. My colleague Tina (Region 1 Aboriginal Committee) along with several other Region 1 members and community partners shared a smudging ceremony which allowed our spirits to cleanse negative energy, and allowed us to open our hearts, minds and bodies to purification.

In sharing the experience of the drum awakening, the heartbeat of Aboriginal life, the pattern of our existence is set. In turn, in the awakening of five drums for Region 1, our friends, colleagues and loved ones can now share through drums their stories and teachings, and in turn this can assist our region to collectively unite in mutual purpose for all members.


Labour Day: A union member’s coolest holiday

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

It’s July 1, 2013. My family and I have just returned from Canada Day festivities, and the job ahead of me is to construct an article regarding Labour Day. Any angle—In Sol needs an additional article.

It’s pretty hard to think about Labour Day when I’ve just finally digested my official “kick off to summer” ethnic gut-buster: souvlaki, Vietnamese spring rolls, Mongolian kebabs, noodles. You see, my town is pretty much void of ethnic food offerings except one day per year—July 1. But I digress.

I guess, with the whole summer ahead of me, I can give a few minutes of thought to Labour Day—the official end of summer. The day I put away all of my white shoes, handbags, and clothing (yeah, right). The day the air is rank with the smell of new crayons and pencils. The day we look back on all the pool parties, weddings, and barbecues we attended. The day we wax nostalgic over what little we accomplished during the past few months.

Many of us think of Labour Day as just that—the end of all that was good: good weather, grilled foods, summer romances, outside activities, general loafing about. However, it’s important to remember that Labour Day, historically, was really the start of something good—decent working conditions for Canadian (and those in other countries) workers.

In a 2009 interview, Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress noted just that—the Labour Day holiday came about to remember the contribution that ordinary working people have made to the Canadian way of life. "The Number 1 reason why people join a union today, still, is that they want to make sure that their health and safety is protected, and they want to be treated fairly," Georgetti said. "We do have better pay, we have less accidents at work, we're more productive and we drive the economy a lot more than the people who don't make the wages that our members make."

So what’s Labour Day all about? For many of us, we line parade routes in our towns, and if we’re lucky, we’re invited to any number of labour-sponsored picnics.

It turns out that Labour Day has a way more interesting history than I could ever have imagined. Many of you will know this, but in December 1872, members of the Toronto Typographical Union were on strike for a 58-hour work week. The Toronto Trades Assembly asked its twenty-seven unions to show support for the typographical workers who had been on strike since March 25 of that year. George Brown, editor of the Toronto Globe, pitched a stink and urged police to charge the Typographical Union with conspiracy. Twenty-four leaders of the Typographical Union were arrested, and labour leaders called for a demonstration on September 3 to protest against their arrests.

Seven unions descended upon Ottawa. It is thought that thousands of workers marched in this parade. From this, John A. Macdonald, who had been closely watching the “nine-hour day” movement, promised to examine the country’s anti-union laws, and, eventually, parliament passed the Trade Union Act which legalized and protected union activity. After 1872, many, many unions continued to seek a shortened work week (54 hours).

After this success, the Toronto Trades and Labour Council continued to hold celebrations every spring, and it was not until 1894 that the first Monday in September was made an official holiday.

So there you have it. We often moan that Canadian history is boring compared to the exploits of our neighbours to the south. I, for one, am pretty impressed that our Canadian union ancestors fought such a serious battle for improved working conditions.

Now I am off to enjoy the entire summer ahead of me, but you can rest assured that this coming Labour Day, I will remember all of those who have had to fight for what many of us take for granted.


A fresh look at Just Cause

Steward Update

Most union contracts in the United States and Canada include a just cause clause to protect members against arbitrary and unfair discipline. Some contracts use equivalent terms, such as “proper” or “good” cause.

In many ways, just cause is the keystone of the union contract. Without it, many other provisions would be undermined as employers could easily fire workers to avoid pensions or higher wages or fire union leaders who insist on strict contract compliance.

On its face, the term “just cause” is open to many interpretations. Some mangers view it as simply requiring a good faith reason for taking disciplinary action.

But years of forceful union advocacy have persuaded labour judges (arbitrators) that the concept includes multiple elements such as fair notice, due process, and equal treatment.

In 1965 arbitrator Carroll Daugherty identified seven necessary elements of just cause. His list of “tests” has been widely circulated, especially by unions, which have used it as a checklist in preparing and presenting grievances.

Unfortunately, Daugherty’s list has seven elements of just cause. Inexplicably, it omits progressive discipline and mitigating circumstances—two principles that labour arbitrators widely apply. Moreover, two of his seven tests call for fair and objective investigations. While no one denies the need to investigate, few arbitrators will reverse a decision simply because an employer fails to review all relevant documents or allows a supervisor to conduct the investigation. Most arbitrators say that a perfunctory investigation weakens an employer’s case but that if it is nevertheless convincing, discipline should be upheld.

Updating the principles

My review of more than 20,000 awards reveals that most arbitrators in the United States and Canada expect employers to comply with the following basic principles in making disciplinary decisions:

Fair Notice

An employer may not discipline an employee for violating a rule of standard whose nature and penalties have not been made known.

An employee should not be punished for violating a rule or policy of which he or she is unaware. The employer must be able to prove that it publicized the rule in a handbook, a posting, or through announcements to the rank and file.


An employee may not be penalized for violating a rule or standard that the employer has failed to enforce for a prolonged period.

Failure to enforce a rule for a protracted period of time lulls employees into believing that the rule is no longer in effect. In this context, punishment is equivalent to applying a rule of which the employee is unaware.

Due Process

An employer must conduct an interview or a hearing before issuing discipline, must take action promptly, and must list charges precisely. Once assessed, discipline may not be increased.

Just cause requires a minimum level of due process. Before it announces discipline, an employer must offer the employee an opportunity to dispute the charges, explain why he or she did what he did, and if appropriate, express remorse.

Substantial Proof

Charges must be proven by substantial and credible evidence.

Because workers’ livelihood are at stake, just cause requires the employers base decisions on verifiable observations and records, not rumours, suspicion, or speculation. In arbitration, employers may not rely solely on hearsay evidence to prove an employee’s misconduct.

Equal Treatment

Unless a valid distinction justifies a higher penalty, an employer may not assess a considerably stronger punishment against one employee than is assessed against another known to have committed the same or a substantially similar advice.

A fair disciplinary process is inconsistent with favouritism or discrimination.

Employees who commit similar offenses must be treated similarly – unless there is a justifiable reason, such as a significant difference in seniority, record, or attitude, for doing otherwise.

Progressive Discipline

When responding to misconduct that is short of egregious, the employer must issue at least one level of discipline that allows the employee an opportunity to improve.

Unlike the criminal system, the primary purpose of industrial penalties is to correct wrongdoings, not to punish or humiliate the offender. If there is a chance that an employee can change or rehabilitate himself, the employer should apply a penalty that allows the employee to demonstrate improvement.

Mitigating and Extenuating Circumstances

Discipline must be proportional to the gravity of the offense, taking into account any mitigating, extenuating, or aggravating circumstances.

When determining the proper penalty for misconduct, employers must consider all aspects of the matter. Employees with strong records have an incentive to reform and are likely to respond to intermediary penalties.

Of course, pointing out violations of the principles described above does not guarantee that an employer will settle a grievance. Many personnel managers refuse to recognize union agreements, no matter how well supported by precedent or authority. Nevertheless stewards and other grievance representatives who base their presentations on well recognized just cause principles will put forward the strongest possible case. They will also lay a solid foundation if the union should decide to take the matter to arbitration.


Mottos to work by

  • If you can stay calm, while all around you is chaos…then you probably haven’t completely understood the seriousness of the situation.
  • Doing a job RIGHT the first time gets the job done. Doing the job WRONG fourteen times gives you job security.
  • Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
  • A person who smiles in the face of adversity…probably has a scapegoat.
  • Plagiarism saves time.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try management.


Cycling is smart but some cyclists need to get smarter

Straight Goods

Bicycles are an increasingly popular, affordable and practical transportation option. Many cities are making life easier for cyclists by building separated lanes, implementing bike-share programs and introducing regulations to reduce conflict between bikes and cars. You can now find bicycle sharing in 500 cities in 49 countries, including Beijing, Montreal, Chicago, Paris and Mexico City.

In my home city of Vancouver, we’re still waiting for a planned sharing program, but cycling is the fastest-growing transportation mode here, jumping by 40 per cent since 2008, from about 47,000 to 67,000 daily trips. This is mainly thanks to an ever-expanding network of bike lanes and routes.

The personal and societal benefits of getting out of your car and onto a bike are well-known: better mental and physical fitness and reduced health-care costs, less pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, often speedier commutes and significant cost savings, to name a few. Studies also show the exercise benefits of cycling exceed negative health effects from pollution and injury.

Still, despite the many arguments in favour of cycling, increased infrastructure always incites criticism—most of it unwarranted. And the behaviour of some cyclists doesn’t help.

Let’s consider some claims from opponents. Two main ones are that bicycling initiatives hurt local businesses and impede car traffic. Numerous studies show the opposite is often true: over the long term, business usually improves and car traffic is reduced. When bike lanes do affect car-commuting times, it’s often by a small amount.

Research by the New York City Department of Transportation found retail sales increased 49 per cent along Ninth Avenue after a protected bike lane was built, compared to just three percent for the rest of Manhattan. A Toronto study focused on Bloor West Village found far more customers arrive by foot, bike or transit than by car and “visit more often and report spending more money than those who drive.”

As for impacts on car commuting, bike lanes often have a negligible or even positive effect. More people cycling means reduced car traffic—the real cause of gridlock and slowdowns. Not everyone can use a bike and sometimes cycling isn’t practical. But as people opt for alternatives to cars, the roads open up for those who must drive. A study by Stantec Consulting Ltd. found Vancouver drivers thought it took them five minutes longer to travel along a street with a new bike lane, but it actually took from five seconds less to just a minute and 37 seconds more.

Studies around the world also show that bike lanes have significantly reduced accidents involving cyclists, as well as the incidence of speeding cars.

But if we really want to increase safety for cyclists—and pedestrians and motorists—we all need to take responsibility for our behaviours. People navigating on foot must be aware of surrounding bikes, buses, cars and other people and not wander with their eyes fixed on electronic devices. Car drivers need to follow road rules and be more aware of cyclists and pedestrians. Some cyclists just need to be smarter.

A lot of criticism of the growing number of cyclists in cities is valid: too many blast through stop signs, don’t give pedestrians the right-of-way, refuse to signal turns, ride against traffic, don’t make themselves visible enough and use sidewalks. Many seem to have a sense of entitlement compelling them to ignore laws. It doesn’t take much to learn and follow the rules, and investing in proper gear—including lights and reflectors—is absolutely necessary. You’ll not only be safer; you’ll also be less likely to anger motorists, pedestrians and fellow cyclists.

Some jurisdictions have resorted to increased regulations and penalties to make cycling safer and to reduce conflicts between cyclists and drivers. In Chicago, bike riders face increased fines for disobeying traffic laws, as do motorists who cause bike accidents. The fine for “dooring” a cyclist (opening a vehicle door without looking and hitting a bike) doubled from $500 to $1,000.

There’s really no doubt: anything that increases bicycle use, from separated lanes to bike-sharing programs, makes cities more liveable and citizens healthier. Cyclists must do their part to build support for initiatives that make cycling easier, safer and more popular.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.


In Solidarity wins prestigious CALM award in Edmonton

OPSEU has once again won recognition for great communications work at the annual Canadian Association of Labour Media (CALM) Awards. Held in Edmonton, Alberta this year, the CALM Conference brought together labour communications staff and volunteers from across Canada. 

In Solidarity is proud to have won The Freeperson Award for best cartoon, illustration or infographic produced by volunteers for the illustration of Sean O’Flynn in the Fall 2012 edition. The award winning illustration was drawn by Daniel Ford, the 16-year-old son of OPSEU Senior Communications Officer, Don Ford.

OPSEU Local 558, representing counsellors, librarians and faculty at Scarborough's Centennial College, received exceptional recognition with three separate awards (by volunteers) for their boundary pushing newsletter, Unfettered: The Katie FitzRandolph Award for best overall print publication, best photo and the Cliff Scotton Prize for excellent communications about labour history and culture.

OPSEU Head Office won the outstanding book award for their steward handbook, Powertool. 

Download In Solidarity Summer 2013