Trans at Work; Dignity & Discrimination in Yukon

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This week we have seen discrimination at its ugliest, its most vile. We watched in horror as news broke from Orlando Florida of the hate-inspired murder of so many at a gay nightclub but this is only the most recent in a long list of attacks.  While we may try and label those as random acts committed by crazed killers, the truth is that systemic discrimination and inequality maintain an environment where such hatred can flourish. The fact that media is hesitant to call this a hate crime illustrates the pervasive discrimination this community consistently faces.

The Liberal Government has introduced legislation to protect transgender people from discrimination and hate crimes. The bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender expression or identity. Prime Minister Trudeau stated “Far too many people still face harassment, discrimination and violence for being who they are. This is unacceptable”.

YEU has been working alongside our trans and gender non-conforming members, urging employers to ensure difference does not preclude employment, workplace safety or dignity. A system designed without thought for those outside the strict male/female binary ensures trans workers face discrimination at every stage of their employment journey.

Within the corporate structure of YG, workers regularly encounter incidental discrimination in the form of old policies, language and practices established before anyone considered inclusion as an objective. That type of discriminatory practice and language is not difficult to remedy, if the will exists.

From the moment an employee receives their offer of employment, they are forced into a system that makes all gender identities besides male and female invisible.  To accept a job with YG, individuals must log in through an online portal and select a gender from a drop down menu – the options are Male, Female and Unknown. For a worker who is clear in their gender identity, “Unknown” is an affront. This is gender-based, systemic discrimination.  Even the forms required to access medical leave or to request accommodation offer two gender options; male & female. In cases where a trans worker is seeking accommodation, the forms required for accommodation cannot be completed.

Some expressions of intolerance are more overt.  Trans or gender non-conforming workers are afraid to be themselves in the workplace for fear of bullying or jeopardizing career advancement.   The workplace culture permits supervisors to use their own personal discomfort with others’ gender presentation as a reason to restrict access to training, to promotion, to employment itself.   In strict gender dichotomous work-sites, the need to accommodate workers is seen as too great a burden and employees are at risk of being performance managed out of work. Of course other reasons are given officially, but it’s easy to see prejudice at play. A tranPULSE study from Ontario notes that 13% of transgender people report they have been “constructively dismissed” for being transgender.

Some employers are doing a better job. The City of Whitehorse has initiated required LGBTQI Welcoming Workplace training for all staff in an effort to create an equitable work environment and to ensure clients don’t experience discrimination when accessing City services.  Yukon College has taken steps as well through Transgender Remembrance services. Private employers like Starbucks have policies & literature educating employees on the sensitive use of pronouns, and are quick to act in support of a worker who faces discrimination from colleagues or a supervisor.

Until the Human Rights Act is amended to explicitly include gender identity and expression as protected grounds, trans and gender non-conforming Yukoners are covered under the protected grounds of sex.  Employers must respect that trans workers need to be in safe and appropriate work situations. Forcing them to identify gender at every step of their process, demanding doctor’s verification of gender identity, encroaching on dignity through intrusive and unnecessary procedural systems is a violation of the Human Rights Act.

Yukon Employees’ Union invites the Government of Yukon to act as a model employer. Create gender neutral washrooms and remove the need to identify gender. Entrench policies and procedures which recognize some workers are gender non-conforming, trans, inter-sex and 2 spirited. Work collaboratively with the trans community to identify where gaps exist and how best to bridge them.

Recognize that accommodation requests from trans employees are not intrinsically medical in nature and stop demanding medical certificates for non-medical issues. Acknowledge your responsibility to protect workers, no matter their gender identity, under the Human Rights Act.

Yukon Government is re-launching a diversity training program through the Yukon Women’s Directorate entitled GIDA, Gender Inclusive Diversity Analysis. The GIDA documents state “Good public policy works toward ending discrimination in Yukon society and creating a society that includes everyone.” Sadly the document refers to intersectionality & inclusion while only ever referencing women and men, boys and girls. There is not a single reference to trans or gender non-conforming individuals nor any mention of those who exist outside the binary. Even this training program, designed to help identify & eradicate discrimination, discriminates.

An authentic culture of inclusion will benefit our Yukon community far beyond the workplace doors. We challenge you to create a new standard of equality and inclusion to help diminish hatred and violence.

PTSD & Work: The Link is Clear

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It’s time for Yukon’s legislation to catch up.

The Ontario legislature has unanimously passed a bill making it easier for first responders with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to receive workers’ compensation benefits.

Under old Ontario legislation (similar to current Yukon law), first responders diagnosed with PTSD were required to prove to the WCB that they had suffered either a specific traumatic event or a number of cumulative traumatic events that caused their PTSD.  This process involved reliving the events to prove they were traumatic enough to cause PTSD.  The WCB or employer would often ask intrusive questions about the worker’s personal life to see whether the PTSD might have another, non-insurable cause.  The process could be long and emotionally destructive, leading to delays in treatment and worsening of symptoms.

This new legislation will change all of that.  Ontario’s new bill ensures that if a first responder is diagnosed with PTSD, the WCB presumes the PTSD is caused by their job.  This will save injured workers from having to relive trauma  and should provide more timely access to support and treatment.  The bill is an important step toward removing the stigma carried by first responders suffering from PTSD.

Finally, governments are recognizing that first responders are real people with normal reactions to the sometimes devastating things they face on the job.  They are required to attend scenes of injury, violence and death, occasions of destruction and loss. They do what most of us cannot even imagine.

It’s time to recognize that our firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, dispatchers, Correctional Officers, Youth Justice Workers, Community Nurses and others face difficult and traumatic events regularly at work.  We need to show our support, and pressure the Yukon Government to amend our Workers’ Compensation Act. Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta have amended WCB legislation to include presumptive Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder language and New Brunswick is close behind. It’s time for the Yukon to show our first responders that we see their struggle.

Add your voice to the story; email Minister Mike Nixon, Minister Responsible for Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Board  and ask him to bring this issue forward.

Farewell, 2015

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This has been a busy and productive year for the Yukon Employees’ Union. Not without its challenges, 2015 offered YEU opportunities to stand up for Yukon Hospital Corp workers and Yukon’s school bus drivers. We saw new workers choose us as their representatives on the job as we organized new Locals in Haines Junction & Whitehorse. Dawson City employees joined forces with YG workers in the Klondike region to form a brand new super-local and we were BUSY!

We welcomed new staff to YEU, held training events & joined you in celebrating some important milestones. Our 50th Anniversary observance spanned the year and culminated in a great party in November. We bbq’d, skated, watched films together and celebrated Human Rights. Our members came for training, joined PSAC Committees and helped bring about important change in our communities. Thank you, YEU members. You are an inspiring group of individuals and we’re proud to work hard for and with you all year ’round.

From all of us to all of you, Happy New Year. May 2016 bring you health, happiness and peace.

Best Wishes,
Yukon Employees’ Union Staff & Executive

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YACL: Building Strong & Diverse Communities

YACL for 2015 December newsletterReady, Willing and Able is a new national employment program aimed at increasing the labour force participation rate of people with disabilities. This federally-funded initiative has been launched in 20 communities across Canada and has seen some great successes; Whitehorse is no exception. The Yukon Association for Community Living is moving into our second year of working with the program.

YACL’s employment team is made up of a Labour Market Facilitator and several job coaches. Together we have worked to support more than 20 new employment opportunities for Yukoners experiencing various disabilities.  As part of our role, we’ve engaged with dozens of employers to identify employment opportunities and we’ve provided on-the-job support to workers with disabilities and to their co-workers and supervisors. Support comes in the form of ongoing job coaching and other job-specific accommodations.

We hear so many success stories both nationally and locally as employers access a pool of hard working, long term and dedicated employees who love their jobs. These workers are gaining independence and building a social circle and meaningful ways to participate and actively contribute to their community. We start with the employer’s need and work to find the right match of skills and interest in an employment candidate. YACL is working to foster long lasting and successful working relationships between businesses and employees who are hard working, positive and capable additions to the workplace team.

The types of jobs found and supported through Ready, Willing and Able range from less than part-time to full-time, in small businesses to large, and across a variety of skill sets.

A key component of Ready, Willing and Able is helping businesses realize the value in hiring a person with a disability when the right match is made between job position and individual. In these cases, businesses across the country are seeing extremely low turnover rates, high levels of accuracy and dedication and an overall positive and motivating shift in workplace culture.

YACL has also initiated and coordinates an Odd Job Squad; a group of people who have interest and ability in  labour and trades work, offering short term services to businesses and community members.  They mobilize for odd jobs like small construction projects, snow shovelling, yard work, stacking wood and more. By supporting a good quality and dependable on-demand labour force we help workers gain skills and make connections, developing opportunities for longer-term future employment.

YACL has partnered with YuWIN and other disability organizations, developing new campaigns to further engage the business community and other potential employers. This includes web-based marketing but also provides opportunities to recognize success. We thank businesses that have been key players in inclusive hiring.  We plan to develop training and education opportunities for businesses who may be interested in becoming involved but want to learn more.

If you’re interested in the Odd Job Squad or in becoming a supporter of our programs please contact Kathleen Hare at rwa@ycommunityliving.com or 667-4606.

Article submitted by Yukon Association for Community Living
http://www.ycommunityliving.com

The TPP: Why Labour must fight.

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This post by Nora Loreto, activist & editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media was originally published on rabble.ca Nov. 24, 2015

Under the TPP, wage disparities will increase and the global working class will become even poorer. This will disproportionately impact racialized workers and women.

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will fundamentally change global trade and work. Considering the implications of the deal, the Canadian labour movement must figure out how exactly it plans to fight for workers under the new regime.

Of course, the TPP hasn’t actually been signed. Justin Trudeau has promised very minimal debate, which is unlikely to change the agreement. It was mostly finished by the time he was elected.

Trudeau’s government won on the promise of “real change” and nowhere else is “real change” as much like “real status quo” than on the trade file.

This presents an enormous opportunity for labour activists: either seize the optimism that brought the Liberals into power to expose the worst elements of the TPP, or do nothing and lose the small opening that currently exists. Objectively, there’s no question about which route to take. But sometimes, the decision-making process isn’t this simple.

Private sector unions have mostly focused on the impact that the TPP will have on manufacturing. Deepened trade liberalization will continue to move manufacturing to less expensive regions and Canadian jobs will certainly vanish.

Public sector unions have mostly focused on privatization. Under the TPP, public services may very well be challenged by foreign powers. Together with privatization-friendly politicians, Canada’s health, education and social service sectors could face international pressure to privatize under the guise of trade liberalization.

But what’s been missing from the debate is the role that the TPP will have in further subjugating a global class of poor workers. Under the TPP, wage disparities will increase and the global working class will become even poorer. This will disproportionately impact racialized workers and women.

In Article 19.2: Statement of Shared Commitment, the TPP dictates that while all member countries affirm their commitments to International Labour Organization principles laid out in the ILO Declaration, the declaration and the TPP both say that “labour standards should not be used for protectionist trade purposes.”

In other words, where collective agreements increase the price of goods and services that are subject to the TPP, member countries can challenge these policies as forms of protectionism and potentially have them struck down.

This is an enormous threat to organized labour in Canada and all TPP member countries as nearly all aspects of a collective agreement, or trying to even form a union to improve working conditions, could be challenged under the TPP. Because collective agreements are not state policy, they largely fall outside of the articles that attempt to protect individual states from being challenged on their own basic worker protections.

As manufacturing jobs migrate out of Canada, there is a loss not just of Canadian jobs, but of unionized members doing the work at all. Capital will go to countries where labour is cheap and workers are less organized. Without unions present to help mitigate the effect that unregulated capitalism has on the working class, the TPP will further exacerbate deep social inequalities that exist among the signature countries of the TPP.

The difficulty for labour is that fighting against these provisions in the TPP requires solidarity (and action) to protect workers who are not unionized and, mostly, not Canadian. For a system that is set up to advocate on behalf of a dues-paying membership, this can pose a problem: how much time and money should unions spend to support workers who aren’t members or in Canada?

It’s a structural difficulty, but philosophically easy to answer: Canadian labour should fight to protect these workers because it’s the right thing to do. To defend the working class in the era of globalization means defending the working class globally, especially when it’s our government that’s rushing to create structures that will allow for the wholesale exploitation of these workers.

More importantly, it’s accessible and basic international solidarity work that both touches workers at home and creates an opening to talk about racism and race, conversations that are sorely needed.

 

Whitehorse Food Bank Feels the Summer Heat

no-soup-july-2015Every summer the Whitehorse Food Bank faces the same challenge; how to meet increased demand at the same time  both food and cash donations dry up. Families with kids at home struggle to make sure there’s enough food to fill hungry bellies and visitors to the city turn to the Food Bank to help them make it through the summer.

New Executive Director Kyla Merkel has instituted some wonderful new initiatives including Family Day at the emergency food provider. All summer, each Wednesday will be reserved for families with children. At that time, only parents & kids will be allowed in the building. While the adults pick up their once monthly food hamper, children will be able to colour, play with toys and have a healthy snack.

With health in mind, the Food Bank has removed ramen and instant soups from their most requested list. Remember, If you make a food donation be sure to bring your grocery receipt when you drop off food; you will be sent a tax receipt at the end of the year… everyone wins!

How can you help?

Donate money!  Sign up for the Food Bank’s Green Apple Club! Visit www.whitehorsefoodbank.ca and register for easy donations monthly. Even $10/month will help ensure reliable cash flow. You can also donate online at Canada Helps or donate your recycling at Raven; just tell the clerk you’d like your refund donated to the Whitehorse Food Bank.

Donate food! Top items include pasta, canned soup, tinned fruit and vegetables, canned meat, dry cereal, rice & peanut butter. Visit the Donate Food page to learn more.

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Joe Oliver’s Off Balance Budget

Joe-Oliver-Federal-Budget-Image produced with the express permission of artist Ingrid Rice, North Vancouver.