"The goal of the All Together Now! campaign and the Fairness Express bus tour has been to show people that there are solutions to the problems we are facing," says James Clancy, NUPGE National President.
Fort Frances (18 June 2014) — The All Together Now! (ATN) campaign that has been touring Ontario on the Fairness Express bus is nearing the end of its run. It has been on the road for over six weeks and will host its final event in Kenora on June 21.
Fairness Express team heads to Fort Frances to lend a hand as community is in a state of emergency
On June 16, the Fairness Express was scheduled to be at the Atikokan Post Office for a day of talking to residents about rising income inequality and how we can fight it. The bus was scheduled to make a stop in Fort Frances the next day but the team got word that they could be used up there right away! Fort Frances is under a state of emergency with water levels on Rainy Lake at an extreme high — the highest they have been since 1950. A number of roads have been washed out, and local officials fear flood conditions could get much worse.
With the community in need of volunteers to assist with making sandbags, the team headed off to help local residents protect their buildings and docks on the shore of Rainy Lake.
When the team arrived, municipal workers were busy placing sandbags along the shoreline to protect the remaining decks and docks in the vicinity. After speaking with local officials, the team got to work laying sandbags along the beach behind the Rendezvous Inn. A portion of the beach was already submerged and there was a fear that rising water levels would cause significant damage to shoreline structures.
Listening as important as talking on tour stops
Once all of the sandbags were in place, the team of Fairness Express engagers went downtown to explore the city and find out more about the community.
Elaine Kerr, Fairness Express engager and activist with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), spoke with a few local residents and asked about the local economy and job market.
“If I came into this community looking for a job, where would I look?” Elaine asked.
“McDonalds or Walmart would probably hire you,” replied one person.
“What if I wanted to find a good paying job?” Elaine inquired.
“There is not much. That is why most of our young people are leaving,” said the local resident.
The team spoke with another individual who had recently lost his job at the Resolute Forest Products paper mill. Fortunately, he was able to find work across the border in International Falls.
In November 2013, Resolute shut down its kraft mill and laid off 240 workers. In January, the company shut down its paper machine and shed an additional 150 workers. In March, the remaining workforce received termination notices, and by May, the mill was completely shut down. The workers fought to keep the mill open and even agreed to cuts to their wages, benefits and pensions. Unfortunately, these measures were not enough. The company cited falling profits and rising costs as the reasons for pulling the plug. The mill employed approximately 700 area residents, and the closure has been a major blow to the community.
Stories of layoffs, business closures and cuts to services not new to Fairness Express
Throughout the tour across Ontario, the ATN Fairness Express engagers have heard stories about people, families, and communities struggling to rebuild after the recession in 2008. Good jobs are harder to find as industries move out of communities for cheaper labour elsewhere, despite massive government tax breaks to encourage investment. Public services are under stress as people need to rely on them more heavily now, while governments cut back wages, staffing and programs that keep the services running.
"The goal of the All Together Now! campaign and the Fairness Express bus tour has been to talk to people about the fact that there are solutions to the problems we are facing," says James Clancy, National President, National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "Income inequality is not inevitable.
"People thank us every day for talking about options and giving them hope that, together, we can change the direction this country is headed in," said Clancy.
While the Ontario portion of the Fairness Express bus tour is over on June 21, the tour will continue into Manitoba beginning on June 25.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE