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.

Non-Profits & Yukon Employees’ Union: A Note from the President’s Desk

Steve new camera

 In the last few years YEU has seen a marked increase in the number of workers employed by non-profit groups who wish to organize their workplaces.
YEU does not have an organizing budget or organizing staff and we don’t go out into workplaces looking to organize them. Workers come to us looking for information, for support and assistance. Sometimes those organic internal organizing drives are successful and we sign a new bargaining unit and sometimes the workers aren’t interested or ready to unionize. Either way we’ve learned a lot from our new non-profit groups.

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Teegatha’Oh Zheh Bargaining Team

It may seem a bit counter-intuitive to unionize a non-profit. After all, those who work in such organizations often choose to do so because the organization’s goals align closely with their own belief systems.  Few pursue a career in a field populated by non-profits and NGO’s because they expect to make a lot of money; that decision is usually driven by a deeply held conviction or interest. The truth is these organizations often have precarious budgets and suffer from lack of long term financial certainty.

So how on earth does bringing a union into the mix help a precariously funded not for profit organization? Well, there are lots of reasons to unionize and money isn’t always top of the list. In fact it’s almost never the main reason groups decide to organize.

Many of our new smaller units are governed by volunteer boards. A Board of Directors provides oversight and direction to an Executive Director (in some cases), who manages staff. The problems we see often stem from the challenges created when well-meaning directors attempt to make human resource, policy and management decisions without a background in human resources, policy development or NFP management. Decisions made for financial or ideological reasons can impact staff in ways that are unexpected and negative.

Inviting a union in helps to establish a structure that benefits all parties who contribute skill and energy to the function of the NFP. A well-crafted contract ensures the needs of workers and management are met, and roles and expectations are clear. It also creates a fair and predictable workplace – an enormous advantage in what is often an otherwise unpredictable environment. And a secure workplace means less turn over of staff, which is more economical.
Last weekend I attended a Talking Union Basics course. It was exciting to see so many people taking this union fundamentals course and especially rewarding to see members from our newer locals attending union training.

The one thing that stands out for me about our Union is that we are a truly democratic organization. That commitment to democracy is evident from the moment employees decide they want to organize and join YEU; a majority of workers must sign cards to be granted union certification with the federally regulated Canadian Industrial Relations Board. From that moment on,  decisions like what goes into their collective agreement, whether to accept or reject that collective agreement are in the workers’ hands.

 

I want to recognize the workers of Help & Hope for Families, Teegatha ’Oh Zeh and Skookum Jim Emergency After Hours Outreach Services for devoting endless hours to an organizing process that can feel extremely frustrating at times. To you and to those groups quietly working toward union certification, I say congratulations & welcome to YEU.

Steve Geick, President

Yukon Employees’ Union

International Women’s Day 2016 #PledgeForParity

International-Womens-DayInternational Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day – observed globally, also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

IWD has been observed since the early 1900’s – a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical changes… like women in the work force! Women worked outside the home in factories, on farms, in offices, as teachers and much more. Of course they earned far less than men, no matter that their work was often exactly the same. And their work was precarious and often dangerous.

In 2016 the value of women’s work cannot be denied or debated and the issues of gender parity, equal access, and pay equity cannot be ignored. Even today, depending on where they live, *Canadian women  earn between 74¢ and 82¢ for every dollar a man earns doing work of the same value.  For indigenous women and women of colour, the wage gap is even greater. The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take until 2133 for the world to entirely closes the economic gender gap.

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem

Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take concrete steps to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.

International Women’s Day is about celebration, reflection, advocacy, and action – both globally and at the local level. Join the international call for gender equality; do your part, take the pledge.   Add your voice  by using the hashtag #PledgeForParity      If you are in Whitehorse, make sure you pop by the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre to help them celebrate their 40th Anniversary on March 8th, and visit Yukon Women in Trades & Technology’s IWD Celebration with Yukonstruct. We’re overdue for action and we are overdue for parity.

On International Women’s Day and beyond, 
I pledge to …

Until there is true equality for women in all areas of our lives, there will be more work to do.

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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.