Feeling silenced? As a public servant, how outspoken can you be during this campaign?

silenced

This Federal Election is unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s the longest campaign ever but it’s also taking place during something of a communications revolution. Sure we had Facebook  during the 2011 Federal Election but we hadn’t yet hit the user density of today and we hadn’t yet heard of things like Snapchat & Vine. Few Yukoners were tweeting in 2011 and we still naively believed that our privacy settings guaranteed us some degree of…well, privacy!

A lot has changed. Most of us are skeptical about how private our posts are, and we should be. What we say online in our off-work hours can have a profound negative impact on our careers. The recent suspension & subsequent retirement of scientist & public servant Tony Turner after his protest song Harperman went viral is a case in point. To be fair, it’s not only public servants who are felled by their online activities; in this election we’ve witnessed a never ending parade of disgraced candidates whose tweets and status updates have made short work of their political aspirations.

Bruno Thériault, director general of Justice Canada’s workplace branch recently sent a memo to the employees in his department. The memo, heavy handed and intimidating, sends the message that public servants should avoid using social media altogether during this election.

“Recent memos being sent to federal public service workers seem designed to discourage our members from exercising their legitimate rights”, says Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada PSAC). Read Ms. Benson’s blog post “We shall not be zipped” here.

Union members and all employees have a right to freedom of expression protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, even if they work for the federal government.  Expressing political opinions or sharing political content on social media is a form of political expression and is protected by the Charter. Online political expression does not benefit from any greater or any less protection than other forms of political expression. You have the right to share political content on Facebook, Twitter or other social media accounts as long as you do so outside your hours of work and you don’t use the employer’s equipment.

These rights are not absolute, so please consider the following carefully before you post, share, or tweet.

1. Don’t identify yourself as a government employee or include information or comments that suggest you are a government employee. Make sure your social media profiles don’t list your place of work or employer.

2. Consider your level of visibility and influence. Are you a supervisor? A public face of your organization?

3. Are you a union representative? Union representatives have greater freedom to engage in political activities however union representatives cannot make any comments about their employer that are reckless, malicious or dishonest.

So what’s the bottom line? Speak your mind, have an opinion, engage in the democratic process and be involved. While you’re at it, be wise, prudent and circumspect. And above all else, VOTE. Self censorship is only necessary in an atmosphere of mistrust and fear. Elect a government you do not fear.

Trans Rights in Yukon; One Small Victory at a Time

Kat-Traplin-Lois-Moorcroft-Chase-Blodgett2-May-13-2015-RGBYukon’s PSAC Pride Committee rep, MLA Lois Moorcroft and trans Rights activist Chase Blodgett at the Yukon Legislative Assembly following the passing of a motion forwarding Trans Rights in the Yukon Human Rights Act.


May 14th 2015 marked a positive step toward a more equitable Yukon.  Lois Moorcroft, MLA for Copperbelt South presented a motion to change the Yukon’s Human Rights Act to include language specifically protecting the rights of Yukon trans people. Her motions read:

THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to review, and introduce amendments to, the Human Rights Act, before the end of its current mandate, to protect the human rights of trans people by adding “gender identity” and “gender expression” under section 7 of the Act as a prohibited ground for discrimination. 525. Ms. Moorcroft (Motion No. 994)

THAT this House urges the Government of Yukon to review its legislation, programs and services and introduce required amendments or policy changes in order to ensure the human rights of trans people are fully protected.

To most progressives, that seems straight forward. Simple. A no-brainer, even.  Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers,  Minister of Justice countered that all Yukon people are protected under Article 7 of the Yukon Human Rights Act which lists” sexual orientation” as prohibited grounds for discrimination.  Ms. Moorcroft put forward the argument that sexual orientation is a different thing entirely from whether or not one feels their gender identity aligns with the gender designated to them at birth.

The motion was debated, spun around, debated again, argued for and argued against. In the end as an olive branch and with a nod to the large gallery of concerned members of our community, Mr. Cathers proposed amending to the motion to add the words CONSIDER INTRODUCING AMENDMENTS and THE NEXT TIME THE ACT IS REVIEWED.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Moorcroft (and the gallery) felt the government’s offer to CONSIDER changing the legislation at some theoretical distant future date was not in keeping with the spirit of the motion.  The proposed amendment provided no certainty, no sense of urgency and no genuine commitment to change.

The floor of the Legislative Assembly became quite animated, with MLA’s and Ministers leaving the room and returning, conferring in the hallway with pages ferrying notes back and forth across the floor.

When all was said and done, and thanks in no small part to the contributions of Klondike MLA Sandy Silver, there was unanimous agreement to pass the motion without the word CONSIDER included.  The work will now be to ensure the Yukon Party maintains its commitment and prioritizes a review of the Yukon’s Human Rights Act sooner than later.

As passed:


Motion 792

THAT this House urges the Yukon government to advance equal rights for transsexual, transgender and gender-variant people by:

(1) introducing amendments to explicitly include “gender identity” and “gender expression” under section 7 of the Yukon Human Rights Act as a prohibited ground for discrimination the next time the act is reviewed;

(2) supporting full equality and respect for trans people accessing Yukon government jobs, programs and services; and

(3) using public education to fight intolerance, discrimination and violence against trans people.

The motion received the unanimous support of all MLA’s in a recorded vote.



PSAC and YEU Activists were present in the gallery along with other community members. YEU delegates to the PSAC National Convention in Quebec City in early May were particularly interested, as a series of resolutions addressing the rights of transgender people were brought to the floor, and all were passed with overwhelming support.  Unions have always walked alongside those who work to change the status quo. We are proud to be a part of the journey.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead, 1901-1978

Sick Leave: Ours to Protect!

Sick-Leave-Flyer-E

YEU Celebrates 50 years; 1965-2015

News-Photo-First-Yukon-Agreement-Signing1971“It is time for an imaginative, courageous, and positive approach to salaries, [and] working conditions.”

Bob Smith, YTPSA President 1965

On a Sunday afternoon in late 1965, a group of Yukon civil servants gathered together in the Whitehorse Legion Hall. Having long felt they were not offered the same treatment as their federal colleagues, the Yukon workers wanted change. They met to adopt the constitution of an association uniting the collective interest of all Yukon Territorial Government employees.

Living standards were dropping as salaries failed to keep pace with the rising costs of living in the North. Salaries fell victim to inflation with a difference of over 40% in food costs between Whitehorse and Edmonton. The results, especially in communities outside of Whitehorse, were evident. Public Service morale in Yukon was down and staff turnover was constant. Looking to improve the lives of all YTG employees and their families, the Yukon Territorial Public Service Association was founded.

In the early months of the YTPSA,  documents note the Union’s immediate goal was to achieve a pay increase of 10%. Although lacking collective bargaining rights, they sought through their negotiations to provide a higher standard of living for their members. In a letter addressed to then Commissioner G.R. Cameron, YTPSA President Bob Smith wrote that it was time “for an imaginative, courageous, and positive approach to salaries, [and] working conditions.” By April, 1966, they were successful in achieving their wage recommendation.

This is the first in a series of articles sharing the history of the Yukon Employees’ Union, now celebrating 50 years. Follow http://www.theunionbillboard.com to receive regular updates.

Shop Steward Round Table Reboot!

YEU toolboxYou raised your hand, you were elected…. now what? At YEU, our Shop Stewards & Local Executive members are very important. In fact, without a strong and well educated volunteer base we would have a hard time keeping up with our large and diverse membership.

Our staff and Executive are working hard to ensure we offer the right training modules to our volunteers and workplace advocates. In order for you to feel confident that you are representing the membership and union well, you need a strong basis in facts, a thorough understanding of your Collective Agreement and the mentorship of experienced union staff.

With those needs in mind, we are planning a half day brainstorm session for all our Stewards and elected workplace advocates. No matter whether you are the sole employee rep in a workplace of 6 or a seasoned Steward with 300 employees in your department – we need you. All stewards from all employers and workplaces are encouraged to attend this Shop Steward Round Table session.

SAVE the DATE! 
Thursday January 22, 2014
9:00 am ‘til Noon OR 2:00 pm ‘til 5:00 pm.

Both Round Table sessions are the same, so plan to attend only one. You will be required to bring in your approved leave form in order to attend. Please call Josh at 667-2331 or complete the form below to pre-register for either the morning or afternoon session.

We want to hear what you have to say; bring us your concerns and your Steward questions. Let us know what stands between you and full engagement as an employee rep. Our goal is to build up our Steward network, ensuring you get the training and support you need!

Here’s looking at YEU in 2015; thanks for a great 2014!

steve elizabeth food bankThis has been a busy year. We have welcomed workers into the YEU Hall from four new bargaining units. These, our newest members, have made the sometimes difficult decision to pursue unionization as a means to an equitable workplace. 2014 saw us announce the certification of Help & Hope for Families in Watson Lake, Takhini Transport bus drivers, the municipal workers of Haines Junction and the support staff of Teegatha’Oh Zheh.

In each case, unionizing was a decision made by the employees and they approached us for help moving forward. We are grateful that they look to us for assistance in crafting contract language to improve their working lives.

YEU had our Triennial Convention in October; we welcomed new faces to our Executive and bid a grateful farewell to several outgoing elected officials. Loralee Kesler served three terms as our elected VP, and we wish her all the very best as she begins her next adventures. Brother Blair Andre (Brother Bear) has stepped away from our Executive, as have Sister Girlie Austin and Brother Mark Bowers. We are grateful for their long service as activist Directors on the YEU Executive.

We also bid farewell, in a way, to our long time activist Jack Bourassa in June when he was elected Regional Executive Vice-President of the North for PSAC. He has relocated with his family to Yellowknife but his work is pan-northern and he will continue to be a fixture in the Yukon through his term as REVP.

YEU has seen several staffing changes over the last year, as we say adieu to long time staffers and welcome new faces and energy. If you haven’t popped in to meet everyone yet, please do… we’re a friendly bunch and the coffee is always on.

Looking ahead, we’re excited to launch into 2015. This year will mark the 50th Anniversary of this small northern union. What began as a small regional group of upstarts challenging the status quo has evolved into a much larger group of upstarts challenging the status quo…. Some things don’t really change I guess!

Our community involvement continues, and I’m very proud of the work done by our activists, Locals and even staff over the last year. We have participated in events that bring attention to some serious issues nationally and locally. We have helped raise awareness, funds and food for the Whitehorse Food Bank and honoured Human Rights Day with a series of meaningful talks. Our activists work on committees that are out there doing real work all year long, often without any acknowledgement or reward. We thank them, and invite all of you to join a committee or come out next time we join a community challenge.

The year is shaping up to be a busy one internally for YEU as well. We have a lot of work planned; there are issues we plan to address in the delivery of training for our Shop Stewards, in the support offered to our Locals and more. As always, we appeal to you… the members, to guide our work. Here’s an invitation to join a training discussion for Stewards January 22nd; if you’re a Steward, PLEASE find time to attend. If you wonder why your workplace doesn’t have a Steward, call us.

And hey… if you came out to one of our events in the last year, thanks! Our plan is to carry on. In fact we’ve proudly made donations once again this year to a number of local groups. We also plan to keep that up.

This is, now as it was 50 years ago, YOUR union. YEU is a small but mighty union, and we are bucking the trends. While other unions shrink, we continue to grow in strength and in numbers.

So here’s to you this holiday. We wish you a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and Solidarity Forever!

Straight Talk: Beware the Union Organizer!

Norma Rae

We’ve been in the news a lot lately; we’ve had several new worksites unionize and we’ve been part of a very unpopular job action by Air North’s flight attendants. We thought we’d provide a bit of truth against the mythology  that we are out there in Yukon communities with our thugs, stirring up trouble uninvited.

We’re NOT.

YEU has exactly zero union organizers on staff. YEU’s massive organizing budget is $0. That’s right. $0.

We are gratified and proud that so many Yukon workers have chosen to come to YEU when faced with workplace problems they can’t solve. We are proud that workers from across the territory have chosen to approach us asking for help. That’s how it works, they call us. They. Call. Us. And when their collective agreements are negotiated, guess what? THEY decide which issues matter to them, and they tell US what they need.

And good for them. Thank heavens they do. We’ve seen some pretty powerful examples lately of what happens when workers don’t have the support they need to make things right in their workplaces. We’d love to tell you that workers no longer need unions… that is surely not the case now and we don’t see it as a likelihood in the near future.

We’ve heard it all; unions have no purpose anymore; everything unions achieved in the past is now enshrined in legislation so we don’t need them. That’s funny, considering how free-wheeling this government has been with legislation. Nothing is set in stone in Canada these days… just ask a scientist, a pensioner or a veteran. Unions are too political; why doesn’t anyone say that about corporations? We’re fighting for YOU, for your rights and your salary, your healthcare, your children’s education, your freedoms, your choices, your equity and your future. Corporations spend millions lobbying for their interests… they’re not spending that money on anything to benefit you or your kids, period.

So there you see folks. Our budget for agitation and organization of new units is a big fat zero. The number of staff members at YEU dedicated to the purpose of ensnaring unsuspecting workers is also a big fat zero. These workers are signing up for the same reasons workers have always unionized. Strength in numbers is not a slogan, it’s a fact. Get the facts.

You have questions? We have time. Call us at 667-2331. Email President Steve Geick at sgeick@yeu.ca or if you want, Call Steve at 867-335-2631!