For this group, Labour Day is more than just a day off

Many people will have enjoyed the day off from work Monday with nary a thought about the name – Labour Day – or how it came to be a holiday.

For those involved with the Waterloo Regional Labour Council (WRLC), however, the day is very much about the movement that brought us here … and where it’s headed.

With that in mind, the organization hosted its annual Labour Day picnic in Waterloo Park, an event held to support the United Way Waterloo Region Communities and draw attention to ongoing political issues.

“Longer-term goals of the council would be to change the government of Ontario,” said WRLC president Dale Eales. “We just had an election; Doug Ford is not exactly a friend of working people, so our goal is to get rid of him. We don’t like him.

“Short-term goals now, we’re working on communicating with all of our members, our slate of endorsed candidates for the upcoming municipal elections in October. So our goal is to make sure progressive-forward thinking and labour-friendly people are elected at all levels of municipal government.”

The Kitchener-based council represents 33 union locals, and approximately 28,000 workers including construction workers, professional planners, office administrators, health care workers, teachers, postal workers, and many more from all across the Region of Waterloo.

The Waterloo Regional Labour Council barbecue, held Monday in Waterloo Park, is a tradition that has gone on for decades, marking the unofficial end of summer. It sees some several thousand people each year, depending on the weather. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]
“Our labour council is very progressive,” explained Kelly Dick, secretary, and previous Kitchener-Conestoga NDP candidate. “We’ve got a progressive president. The entire executive is progressive, as well.

“We have a bunch of rallies and other things planned with the Ontario Federation of Labour. When we’re called to action with them, we’ll stand at attention, and off we go.”

Discussing the current climate, Eales voiced his concern regarding the NAFTA trade negotiation in the federal government and how these results will affect workers in the region.

“We’re taking a sort of wait-and-see approach on NAFTA, but it can be quite scary,” said Eales. “The U.S. is our largest trading partner, so if those talks don’t go well, that could mean a lot of jobs lost in this community.”

Other general goals of this council is to raise awareness of the definition and purpose of a union.

“We want to make sure that people understand what unions are,” said Dick. “We want to make sure that people understand that unions are more than just being unionized in a place. Unions are about community; they’re about bringing people from the community together.

“Whether you’re unionized or not, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re in the workforce – it’s why we have a 40-hour work week, maternity leave, WSIB, health and safety, things like that,” she added of the worker benefits that came out of the union movement.

The council encourages the community to  come out to labour meetings to further their understanding of what the organization does.

“We have 28,000 delegates,” explained Dick. “But we obviously don’t get 28,000 people at membership meetings. So my job is to reach out to the different locals and to promote the labour council and the things that we do, and try to get more delegates out to the meetings. That will strengthen our position in the community as well, because then we have community volunteers.

“Our biggest challenge is getting our delegates out to the meetings. But that seems to be the issue with most meetings, whether it’s labour or not. When they get home from work and plant their butt in the chair, they don’t want to move,” she laughed.

Political dealings aside, organizers were pleased with how things went at the barbecue, a tradition of more than two decades.

“I think it’s turning out really well – every year, we do better and better,” said Dick. “We’ve increased our numbers pretty much every year.

“Three years ago, we started offering food for free. And that really seemed to bring more people out. And I think the community is beginning to understand that it’s not just a labour thing – it’s not just about people who are unionized, it’s about the community as a whole.”

More details about the organization can be found online.

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