Trade unionists honoured for human rights work


Safeguarding the rights of working people is a labour of love for Janice Gairey.

Last Saturday, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Toronto chapter) president was presented with the Bromley Armstrong award at the ninth annual Workers of Colour/Aboriginal Workers conference at the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) centre.

Established seven years ago by the Toronto & York Region Labour Council (TYRLC) which organizes the conference, the award is presented to the union’s affiliated local members who have demonstrated excellence in labour equity and human rights.

“The main reason I do this work is for my 16 grandchildren,” said Gairey who is the OFL’s Director of Human Rights. “There is no one that will ever stop me from doing this.”

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and CBTU member Edwina Bascombe-Buhnai nominated Gairey for the prestigious award.

“Janice is a very strong motivator within our union and her leadership qualities are very valuable,” she said. “Others can do well to follow her lead and help make their unions and the labour movement stronger through active participation.”

The TYRLC also presented a recognition award to former International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 353 president, Barry Stevens.

“This brother has had an amazing history of activism as an ally for equity and human rights issues,” said TYRLC president, John Cartwright. “He patiently and doggedly fought for an equity agenda in the construction union that over the years never had a history of leadership around equity and human rights fights.”

In the conference’s keynote address, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam talked about the challenges and frustrations she has endured since entering City Hall last December.

She’s one of 15 women on the 45-member council.

“When I took office, I thought this was exciting and I would get the opportunity to work and build my city,” said the Toronto Centre-Rosedale councillor. “What I didn’t know at the time was that the incredible right-wing movement that took the mayor, his supporters and their brand of politics to City Hall was going to cause me and my progressive colleagues to be on a monthly basis all throwing ourselves under a bus trying to stop the gravy train.

“On the first day in office, there was the unilateral announcement to cancel Transit City…This is one the biggest mistakes in our generation…I will also never forget April 6, 2011. On that day, we received 48 hours notice of a special council meeting in which the mayor decided it was time to remove all the Toronto Community Housing board directors, tenant representatives and elected politicians assigned last December to sit on the board. We reduced the 13-person board to a one-man board.

“I come from the private sector and I have worked in real estate. I have never run into a corporation valued at $6 billion run by one man. The articles of incorporation were amended on the floor of council with 15 minutes notice. What we are seeing is a complete frontal assault on public services.”

Born in Hong Kong, Wong-Tam came to Toronto with her parents at age four and lived in public housing in Regent Park.

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