The word equity is synonymous with fairness and what is shared equitably. For decades in our workplaces, unions have fought and fought hard for decent wages and benefits, often against enormous obstacles, not the least of which would be thick-skinned and thick-headed employers. How often do we hear about how companies or organizations trumpet the incredible value of their greatest assets, their employees, and yet, when it comes to showing the money, really walking the walk, well…
There is something to be said about our struggles in our workplaces, struggles that we fight each and every day. Over the course of history, yes, Canadian history, we have seen victories that have led to more and greater victories. The list is extensive, starting with the 40-hour work week, weekends, overtime pay, pensions, benefits, and on and on. We have also experienced defeats, especially in the private sector, such as factories closing, wage cuts, concessions, and yes, that list is also becoming extensive. So when we experience a great victory these days, the cause for celebration is great, the victory all the more sweet because these days, working class victories, union victories, are much harder to come by.
In 1983, a group of women employees with the help of their union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, took on one of the biggest employers of the day, Canada Post, and fired the opening round of what would become an almost 30-year struggle. Pay equity is a concept that the public service unions brought to the fore, and we all know that the great Treasury Board pay equity case, which was won in the 1990s, was a great victory indeed.
The idea that all workers should receive equal pay for work of equal value is a clear enough concept. Pay equity generally addresses the concept that female dominated work groups are less well paid than male dominated groups. And this was certainly the crux of the Canada Post fight. Canada Post workers classifed in the CR group (administrative support staff) were a female-dominated group and were paid less as a rule than the PO group, which was heavily male dominated. Studies had to be commissioned, and questioned, and re-commissioned, and questioned again, and experts had to be hired, challenged, and evaluated. The legal battle, once the appeals started, was one of the most complicated and technically challenging in Canadian legal history. The PSAC, which led the fight, and never gave up, was certainly criticized on all sides. It takes leadership to lose at Federal Court, then lose at Federal Court of Appeal, and then carry on the fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Yet the determination of our sisters who never gave up hope, who showed the greatest determination, and showed us once again that they were sticking to the union, no matter what, finally won the day!
The message in this victory, in which all working Canadians share, is that united, we can win. The feeble strength of one is nothing compared to the great force of workers united in common cause. And in common cause our union sisters fought and won a victory that will remain a great part of union history. PSAC receives the kudos it rightfully deserves. The union movement receives a boost in morale that is sorely needed. The corporate media have remained mainly silent, as the significance of this victory remains far from lost in the eyes of most employers. It can be no surprise that they would rather keep it all very quiet indeed.
It is up to us to trumpet this great victory of our sisters in their fight against their employer. A fight, in the final analysis, that should not have been necessary, especially against an employer which claims that its greatest asset is its employees. Paying them all fairly was something Canada Post preferred to fight to the last of its considerable resources. Shame!
Let us celebrate what our unions can do and will continue to do in helping us all achieve not only pay equity, but fair and just working conditions, and social justice in our communities everywhere in Canada, and around the world.
In total solidarity,