Apr 282013

An unfair labour practise complaint alleges that JustUs! has dismissed two employees for initiating discussions about forming a union. Both non-members of the co-operative sought out assistance from the Service Employees International Union before being abruptly terminated.

Since before Confederation, Canadian workers have fought to establish the right to join the union of their choice and the right to bargain collectively. For more than three decades, these rights have been enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Nova Scotia Trade Union Act forbids the dismissal of workers who discuss and take further steps to  organize collectively in the workplace.

From the largest multinationals to the smallest co-operatives, it is the legal obligation of employers to know and to respect the rights of Nova Scotia’s workers when it comes to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the right to unionize.

Solidarity Halifax calls on Just Us! to:

a) reinstate the dismissed workers immediately, rather than wait for the determination of the Nova Scotia government, and

b) voluntarily recognize any union chosen by workers as the appropriate bargaining agent of employees across the co-operative’s operations.

Solidarity Halifax welcomes any and all efforts that seek to organize long-neglected wage workers who sling coffee each and every day. And it welcomes all who enable workers to  exercise their right to collectively determine the terms and conditions under which they sell their labour power. Solidarity Halifax recognizes that both trade unions and worker  co-operatives can become organizations for worker emancipation in the face of capitalism.

Solidarity Halifax asks everyone to attend a rally at the JustUs! investors meeting at 11:30am, Sunday, April 28 in Grand Pré and to contact general manager Debra Moore to voice your opposition to anti-worker activity: (902) 542-7474 Ext. 227, deb@justuscoffee.com

Apr 232013

Solidarity Halifax member Mary Burnet writes open letter to Just Us! general manager Debra Moore in response to union-busting actions of the cooperative.

Dear Debra,

I’m writing to you as a long-time patron of Just Us, a worker in an independent business that has had a long and friendly relationship with Just Us and its employees, and as a person in the Halifax community with social justice politics who is trying her best to navigate a capitalist system. I’m also a property owner, a landlord to my housemates, a non-unionized worker, and a future law student. I’m identifying myself in these ways to say that I am fully implicated in capitalist property, workplace, and educational establishments. I’m not above them or able to exist completely outside of them, and I can’t think of many people in Canada who are able to do so. However, I’m still trying to do my best to be aware of my privilege and be conscious of the choices I make.

When you live in a capitalist society and have social justice politics, you often have to make compromises. When you’re looking for a place to live, a place to work, a place to buy food or a place to buy coffee, there are rarely choices that are morally and politically uncomplicated. For those of us who believe in equity and social justice, navigating a capitalist system often means doing our best to choose options that go against systemic norms of property and resource accumulation, hierarchical management and worker exploitation, and environmental degradation. However, these ideal options are not always available to us, and we are left with the moral imperative to simply do our best.

From the work Just Us has done in Nova Scotia and through its partnerships with fair trade producers around the world, it seems that in many ways, you and your co-op are doing your best to navigate capitalism and global inequity in order to support your partners, fellow co-op members, and the environment.

It’s not enough, however, for you to work for an improvement in the working conditions and job security of your fellow co-op members, but not of your employees. As a business in a capitalist economy with a tiered system of power and profit, you and members of the co-op profit from the labour of non-co-op workers, and you have the power to deny them requests for improved working conditions knowing that they have few avenues for recourse. While many non-unionized workers benefit from the historical efforts of unions in terms of the establishment of breaks, minimum wage and overtime, in many work environments this is not enough, and workers need the collective bargaining power of a union to ensure they are being treated justly. Apparently this is the case at your Spring Garden location and has also been so at the Wolfville and Grand Pre locations. Since this is an obvious pattern, it seems like it’s time for you to examine your business practices and see where the gaps are in your purported mission of “people and the planet before profits.”

As it stands, you’re not doing enough and you’re not doing your best. By firing two people who were key organizers of a drive to unionize employees at your Spring Garden shop and misrepresenting their dismissal to the media, you’re directly thwarting the efforts of workers attempting to mediate the oppressions of working in a capitalist system. You are upholding the oppressive power of capitalism, violating labour practice codes, and going directly against the social justice public profile of your business, which is a significant reason for many of your customers’ patronage.

Though I still support many of your business practices, I will not support Just Us financially until you reinstate Shay Enxuga and Elijah Williams to their previous positions, pay them for missed shifts, and recognize your employees’ right to form a union.


J. Mary Burnet

*I wrote this letter and sent it to General Manager Debra Moore on April 5, 2013. You can send your own letters to deb@justuscoffee.com

Originally published in the Halifax Media Coop.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.


Apr 232013

Solidarity Halifax member Jackie Barkley responds to the shallow media analysis of Rehteah Parsons’ tragic story.

As a citizen, a mother, and also a mental health social worker, I have been appalled at the vouyeristic, group think, fact-weak,  narrow, and unthoughtful coverage (print, on-line, radio and television) of the recent tragic suicide of a young woman.

Quantity is not quality.  Banner headlines are not thoughtful coverage of such a nuanced issue.

And the media is not alone in its responsibility.  Our collective public response has been no less led by the same mentality that’s part of the problem.  It’s ironic that the social media that is being partly blamed for such awful suffering, is the same instrument now being used by adults to go viral with threats, mob mentality and  very simplistic conversations about what happened.

There are very complex social, cultural, political, and economic issues involved in the intersection of factors which led to this, and the multiple other sexual assaults and deaths by suicide  – which we face in a culture that has broken the intergenerational teaching by adults toward children and adolescents.

Dealing with this will take time, thoughtful examination of our medicalization of social problems, serious political analysis of contemporary cultural hegemony, and way more that 6 paragraphs and a sound bite.  What we need is some depth, alot of depth, in the public discourse on this question.

Jackie Barkley, MSW, RSW

Originally published as a letter to the editor in The Chronicle Herald.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.


Apr 112013

By Kyle Buott
President of the Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and member of Solidarity Halifax

Water rates could be going up by 30%. (1) Halifax Water, the publicly owned utility providing water, sewer and wastewater services to most of HRM, has applied to the Utility and Review Board for a major water rate hike. There is a hearing on April 15th. The rate hike will probably go through since the UARB rubberstamps most rate hike applications. (Remember Nova Scotia Power?)

After electricity rate hikes, bus fee hikes, government user fee increases and more, workers and their families are now expected to swallow a major hike in water rates too. The cost of utilities and basic services is out of control.

So what’s going on? Who is responsible for this rate hike? What can we do about it?

Halifax Water says the rate hike is necessary because we need to do $2.6 billion in repairs and improvements to our water, sewer and wastewater systems over the next 30 years. A large part of the cost of these repairs comes from new federal water quality standards that must be met, as well as the cost of replacing outdated infrastructure, like lead pipes. In general, these standards and upgrades are a good thing that should increase water quality and public confidence in our water systems.

The rate hike is happening though because the federal government decided to force municipalities to pay the cost of adopting these new standards by themselves. The federal government sets the standards but is investing very little in public infrastructure. What little investment does occur often requires privatization or P3s – public-private partnerships. As we’ve learned in Nova Scotia where we’ve had P3 schools, roads and nursing homes, P3s mean private profits and public pain. (2)

Putting ourselves at risk by privatizing our water should never be on the table. Water is a human right and necessary for all life. Water is not a commodity and should not be bought and sold on stock exchanges. That’s why we have public utilities, accountable to the people, to guarantee access to safe drinking water.

We, the people of this city, need investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, but under capitalism the government closest to the people is starved of the resources it needs to provide the services people need. Municipal governments provide many of the public services we use on a daily basis like local roads, sidewalks, garbage, recycling, compost, rec centres, hockey rinks, libraries, beaches, police and fire protection, and much more. Yet municipalities receive only 8 cents for every tax dollar in Canada. (3)

An anti-capitalist or socialist approach sees the city or local community as the centre point of public life. The beginning of an economy built on solidarity, not profit, puts the services people need as the top priority. Access to safe, fresh drinking water, free from pollution, is clearly a service people need and should be a priority.

Instead of investing in the services people need, like clean water, the Harper Conservatives have cut $220 billion in taxes for corporations and high income earners, the 1%. (4)

So, where did the money for our water system go? Into the pockets of some bankers and oil tycoons.

Is that fair?

Once upon a time, our governments actually invested in infrastructure. In fact, that’s how most cities’ water, sewer and wastewater facilities were built – with investments from the federal and provincial governments. Since the 1960s however, the federal and provincial governments have been downloading costs onto municipalities. Today, the infrastructure deficit is estimated at $145 billion (5), and municipalities are responsible for 53% of that total, while receiving only 8 cents for every tax dollar in Canada (6). This is not sustainable and does not promote economic growth.

The federal Conservative government has taken underinvestment in infrastructure to new levels. Despite action by most major economies around the world to stimulate the global economy, the Conservatives have refused to make even basic stimulus investments in infrastructure and are putting the country’s economic future at risk. Investing in safe drinking water is not too much to ask from our federal government.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are the reason your water rates are going up. Harper is making municipalities pay the full cost of new federal standards while cutting taxes for the elite. That’s not fair. We need federal dollars for public infrastructure. This will create good jobs, green the economy and provide the services people need, like safe drinking water.

The solution is simple really, four easy steps:

1. Stop the water rate hikes
2. Tax the millionaires and billionaires to pay for public infrastructure
3. Say no to P3 privatization
4. Enshrine access safe, clean water as a human right

1.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2013/04/02/ns-water-hike.html

2. See the Auditor General’s report on the problems with P3 schools in February 2010 (link opens .pdf): http://oag-ns.ca/Feb2010/full0210.pdf

3. http://www.fcm.ca/home/issues/infrastructure/about-the-issue.htm

4. ttp://alltogethernow.nupge.ca/fast-facts

5. http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/canadas-infrastructure-gap

6. http://www.fcm.ca/home/issues/infrastructure/about-the-issue.htm


This article first appeared on the Halifax-Dartmouth District Labour Council Website and at the Halifax Media Coop.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Apr 022013

By Kyle Buott

President, Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council and member of Solidarity Halifax

Politicians always talk about how they want to create good jobs in our economy.  Unfortunately they think corporate tax cuts and handouts create good jobs.  Here are five ideas that don’t cost the government anything, and that all political parties should support this spring to create good jobs for all in Nova Scotia.

1. Equal protection for all workers.  Work is changing.  It’s increasingly part-time, casual, or temporary in nature.  Minimum standards and a basic employment contract should apply to all workers. We need to better regulate temporary agencies and create equal protections and benefits for part-timers, interns, temps, foreign temporary workers, and casual workers.

2. Proactive enforcement of labour standards. Right now labour standards are complaint-driven.  Employers can essentially do whatever they want as long as workers don’t complain.  This isn’t fair. Employers have power over people’s economic situation, and the fear of being fired often keeps workers from reporting labour code violations.  Also, many workers do not know their rights.  By investing in proactive enforcement we can make sure unscrupulous employers can’t exploit workers’ economic insecurity.

3. More holidays and better vacations. Nova Scotia has the fewest statuary holidays in the country, tied with PEI. We only get six holidays a year. Many other provinces get nine. Saskatchewan, Yukon and Nunavut get ten.  If that isn’t enough, Nova Scotian workers only get a base two weeks’ vacation each year, compared to three in some provinces and four in most of Europe. We need more time off.

4. Make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain collectively. Labour unions bring up employment standards for all workers by creating a race-to-the-top, instead of the conservative race-to-the-bottom.  When people come together and form a union they build democracy in the workplace and ensure a piece of the pie is shared with the workers who produced the wealth in the first place. This supports local communities and good jobs by increasing the amount of money spent in the local economy. Right now, the deck is stacked against workers who want to form a union to improve their living standards and get dignity on the job. Fewer than one in five private sector workers are in unions in Nova Scotia today, and that’s one reason our wages are second lowest in the country. When workers come together and form unions, living standards and wages go up. It’s that simple.

Need a union? Call the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour today at (902) 454-6735 and ask about how to build a union at your workplace. They will put you in touch with an organizer for your industry or sector.

5. Improve the Labour Standards Code – We need to reverse the war on workers. Employers have been driving down wages and benefits for decades.  Why is it that Nova Scotia has some of the worst labour standards in the country?  On almost every part of the Labour Standards Code, we are below most other provinces.  You can check out this report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives by Judy Haiven, Larry Haiven and I that makes almost 40 recommendations to improve labour standards for all workers.

Politicians need to stop the bullshit.  Good jobs can be created very easily in Nova Scotia.  We can turn bad jobs into good jobs by simply doing what other provinces are already doing.  Why should Nova Scotia’s labour standards be among the worst in the country? That’s not fair.

All that is required to change the situation and create good jobs is the political will.

So Darrell, Stephen, Jamie, how ‘bout it?

Stand up for fairness and create good jobs for all.


*Originally published at halifaxlabour.ca and the Halifax Media Coop

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.