Canada’s largest labour organization has launched a new campaign to further its efforts to shape the federal government’s sustainable jobs legislation.
“Workers have the solutions and new ideas to tackle climate change. They know what needs to be done to make their jobs sustainable,” said Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), in a press release about the campaign. The CLC, which has more than 50 affiliate unions and three million members, was lobbying behind the scenes while the long-awaited legislation was drafted.
The act has only just begun its journey through the House of Commons and the Senate. Soon, Bill C-50 will be referred to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, where MPs will study the bill, hear from witnesses and propose amendments.
The new campaign, dubbed “A future that works,” is part of the CLC’s broader efforts to ensure the legislation reflects workers’ needs. It calls on workers to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets” and pressure politicians to deliver a worker-powered plan for jobs in a low-carbon future.
“It’s workers who will make the shift to a sustainable economy possible by creating sustainable energy, upgrading our buildings, bridges, and roads and developing low-carbon transportation,” said Bruske.
As written, Bill C-50 requires the government to publish sustainable job action plans every five years and create a sustainable job partnership council to advise the government and ensure workers have the opportunity to contribute to the plans over time. Canada’s unions want the act amended to ensure at least one-third of the partnership council, including the co-chair, are trade union representatives.
This issue is “going to be incredibly important to us,” Bruske told Canada’s National Observer in September. The CLC also emphasizes the need for federal investment to create low-carbon, unionized jobs, programs to get women, Indigenous and racialized workers into these jobs, and training initiatives as well as Employment Insurance (EI) and other financial assistance.
Workers are “on the front lines of climate change,” said Bruske. The campaign calls on workers to share personal stories about how their job or community has been impacted by climate change.
Extreme heat and extreme weather pose health and safety risks to workers. For example, Bruske pointed to farm workers — often racialized and without permanent resident status — who work outside and grapple with the impact of floods and drought on crops and personal support workers, who are disproportionately racialized women and work indoors with patients with no way to cool down during heat waves.
Canada's largest labour organization @CanadianLabour is pushing for amendments to the sustainable jobs act that would require at least a third of the seats on the sustainable jobs partnership council be occupied by trade union representatives.
Flett is the business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 955. The IUOE represents more than 50,000 Canadian workers, mostly heavy equipment operators and mechanics in the construction industry and stationary engineers who maintain and operate building and industrial complexes.
“I'm born and raised in Fort McMurray,” Flett told Canada’s National Observer in May. Decades after his grandfather moved there in the 1970s to work in the oilsands and a few years after the Fort McMurray wildfires, Flett is still there.
“I've worked my entire career in the oilsands and it's provided very well for my family. But I've also lived at what I would consider to be ground zero of some of the impacts that are happening.”
There was “The Beast” of a wildfire that devoured Flett’s family home and razed Fort McMurray in 2016, then 2020 spring flooding that caused more than half a billion dollars in insured damages in the town.
“We have lots of crane operators [who] have worked their entire career in oil and gas and are now down in southern Alberta building wind farms,” said Flett. “It's made them become more aware that this is a legitimate business that they can get into.”
Many members have a traditional mindset “very hooked to oil and gas, but now they're starting to see a new wave, they're starting to see that there are other options that are available to them, and they are beneficial jobs,” said Flett.
For example, Flett says oil and gas workers already have the right skills to work in hydrogen, an industry both Alberta and the federal government support. Pipeline operators, he said, will be primed to operate the massive CO2 pipeline and carbon capture network the Pathways Alliance has pitched.
Unifor, the CLC, the IUOE and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers endorsed the sustainable jobs act when it was tabled in June, and remain in support.
Last week, Conservative MPs vocally opposed the bill during its second reading debate in the House of Commons. Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie said the federal government's "constant retaliation against the natural resources sector" makes it hard for her to believe in the stated goals of the bill.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer