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Labor has many suggestions for New Democrat government.

Labor has many suggestions for New Democrat government

The gasps in the business community were almost audible when the NDP government was elected in Ontario.

In very basic terms, business fears that it has lost the ear of the government. That privileged position is now occupied by the labor movement, and business is not certain what is being whispered into which ears.

While there has been soul-searching in corporate boardrooms, there is a giddy feeling of power in the union halls across the province.

The labor movement has already influenced the NDP, while in opposition, on a number of party policies such as a minimum corporate tax, government-run auto insurance and a higher minimum wage.

That could be just the beginning as labor looks to the new government for action on several fronts.


Steve Boniferro, an international representative in Sault Ste. Marie for the United Steelworkers of America, mentions changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act as the labor movement's first priority.

Boniferro said he would like to see stronger rights to refuse unsafe work entrenched in the act, along with the right of an employee to report environmental violations by a company without fear of reprimand.

In addition he hopes to see a revamping of Worker's Compensation Board procedures.

"Hopefully, there will be an attitude change at the board in the way it deals with people."

Currently, dealing with the board is a "disaster" because of an uncaring attitude, he claimed.

In addition, Boniferro would like to see strong legislation outlawing the use of strike-breakers. "Basically, in Ontario, strike-breaking is still not against the law."

However, Boniferro admitted he doesn't expect to the labor movement will get everything it wants from the new government.

He does believe labor will now be a participant in the decision-making process.

Finally, he said he would like the first Minister for Labour appointed to represent the needs of labor.


Fred Miron, president of Local 2693 of the IWA-Canada union in Thunder Bay, puts "anti-scab" legislation, such as the existing law in Quebec, right at the top of his priority list for the new government.

Miron explained that such a law is absolutely necessary, and would let striking workers pit their economic strength against that of a company.

It would permit quicker settlements of labor disputes and would eliminate picket-line violence, he stated.

Miron would also like to see improved workplace safety, along with improvements to the healthcare system.

In addition, he believes workplace health and safety legislation should be strengthened to give a trained worker on a joint workplace health and safety committee the authority to shut down an unsafe workplace.

That right was originally in the bill until it was watered down, he noted. "We think it's absolutely necessary."

A worker has the right to refuse unsafe work, but that creates problems because another worker might do it, he explained.

"It sets up a competition."

As a union leader in a resource industry, Miron is not worried that the NDP may have divided loyalties to both the labor movement and environmentalists.

"I believe there's room for all of us," he said, adding that he considers himself an environmentalist.

While he would like to see the NDP government get started on changes, Miron admitted they won't all be accomplished at once.


Barry Tooley, president of the Sudbury and District Labour Council, is also hoping for strong "anti-scab" legislation.

Tooley also would like to see changes to the workers' compensation legislation to improve worker health and safety.

"The number of deaths in industry is unacceptable," he said, adding that changes should include the right of workers to refuse unsafe work.

In addition, Tooley advocates a government-run automobile insurance system.

Tooley said labor has been restricted in the past to criticizing legislation, which is harmful to workers, only after it has been introduced.

"Now it's going to be a much different story," he said, explaining that the government will realize the concerns of labor.

He said the labor movement would like to see relatively swift movement on some NDP promises, but will not put the new government in the position of hurting the economy or working people.

For example, Tooley said the promise of an increase in the minimum wage need not not mean an instant jump of $3 per hour, but a gradual increase to give employers, such as small businesses, time to work it into their budgets.

However, Tooley defended an increase in the minimum wage, saying it is currently "out of whack with reality."

As for the NDP being lobbied by the business community to the exclusion of labor, Tooley noted that labor has always had close relations with the NDP, and believes it will continue to have a sympathetic ear.

Tooley said that while big business will lobby for its interests, the government will be receptive to labor concerns.


John Ward, communications director with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said the PCs and Liberals were influenced by one group, and he would not like to see the NDP and Premier Bob Rae fall into the same trap.

"He can't be prisoner of any one group," Ward said.

However, he noted that many people in the labor movement will be getting involved in government.

Two of OPSEU's main concerns are greater political rights for public servants and broader bargaining power, such as the ability to negotiate pensions.

OPSEU took an active role in the provincial election with commercials calling for better health care and an end to privatization of segments of the public service.

Ward noted that the NDP has been sympathetic to those concerns in the past.
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Title Annotation:New Democratic Party of Canada
Author:Bickford, Paul
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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