May, 2016 / Author:

Let’s all continue to work together to help make our workplaces and communities a safe and inclusive space…

The work unions have done has happened on many fronts and has resulted in real-life benefits to queer workers. “The LGBT presence in the labour community is much more apparent now than it used to be,” says John Doyle, Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) research and communications co-ordinator. “Most of the larger unions that are affiliated with us, and us as well, have created room on our executive for a representative from the LGBT community.”

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) is one of these. Representing 40,000 Manitobans, it’s the largest union in the province. MGEU participates in Pride festivals and advocates for greater GLBT awareness among union members. According to Wayne Chacun, first vice president, MGEU has been pushing workplaces for gender-free washrooms for trans folks. “All employees everywhere should feel safe,” says Chacun.

CUPE Manitoba, representing 26,000 Manitoba workers, marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance this year on its website. “Let’s all continue to work together to help make our workplaces and communities a safe and inclusive space for those who identify as transgender,” its website reads.

Manitoba’s human rights code does offer protection on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, and any worker can mount a human rights complaint based on this. However, that process can be lengthy, Doyle says. That’s why MFL prefers to have the language in the collective agreement. “That gives us access to the grievance process, which tends to make it a shorter timeframe before you get to resolution,” Doyle says.

If a unionized worker has an issue in their workplace, they can raise it with the union, which will step in to help resolve it. If it cannot be resolved, the worker can file a grievance. Without specific language in a union’s collective agreement, the worker may be left to file a human rights complaint. In that case, a union would provide representation and assist with the process, says Doyle.

Unifor, Canada’s largest privatesector union, hosts a Pride conference for more than 120 people every two years. It also runs a Pride activist program every other year for GLBT members to improve their social change skills. Unifor area director Ken Stuart says about 20 people attend the course each time it’s run. “Any of those LGBT members that take it feel more confident going into activist roles, whether it be leadership within their local unions, or learning how to go out and lobby,” he says.

Additionally, Unifor has published lengthy informational booklets educating union members on GLBT issues. Other union organizations—like the Canadian Labour Congress, the national voice of labour—have since adopted them.

Unions have done a lot behind the scenes for GLBT workers, but also for all GLBT Canadians. Their fight for the rights of queer workers has meant pressure on government for legislation on human rights, anti-discrimination and same-sex spousal health care.

For any unionized workers, Unifor’s human rights committee handbook has some good advice: “Check your collective agreement. Does it specifically include the words ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression’ and ‘sexual orientation’?… If not, contact your bargaining committee.”

–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance writer in Vancouver, B.C. who wants to live on land and write from a cabin one day.

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