By Cecile Favron
Members from various unions around the region did more than talk about policy and issues when they met here last week for a regional conference held by the BC Federation of Labour.
They also celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Kitimat-Terrace and District Labour Council, the regional body representing a number of unions with local members. The labour council’s roots date back to the first years of Rio Tinto Alcan’s Kitimat aluminum smelter.
Construction and then operation of the smelter grouped together a large contingent of workers and with it a call for union representation for wages, working conditions and other issues.
Last week’s conference, held May 22-23, featured issues occupying organized labour – employment in the resource sector, jobs in the “green economy” and improving wages for minimum wage workers.
“The purpose of having this conference [in Terrace] is to be the BC Federation of Labour, not the Vancouver Federation of Labour,” Irene Lanzinger, President of the BC Federation of Labour said of the choice to hold regional conferences in all reaches of the province.
The conference involved many local unions including the BC Teachers’ Federation, the United Steelworkers, and the Hospital Employees’ Union.
Participating unions spoke at the panel events and engaged in various workshops over the two-day conference.
The conference featured five panels on mobilizing members, the history of the labour movement, the resource sector, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and local poverty issues. Various workshops on health and safety, the minimum wage debate, and the federal election were also held in the afternoons.
Lanzinger highlighted the jobs versus environment debate as a critical issue with unions of the northwest.
“We think we can have both,” Lanzinger said on the issue, citing that green jobs are very good for the average worker. She believes that investing in sustainable energy, transportation, and construction will create more sustainable jobs.
The BC Federation of Labour is also working on a project called The Fight for $15 Campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for all workers.
For this goal, Lanzinger encourages more unionizing in northern B.C. which only has a union density (the proportion of workers who are unionized) of 30 per cent. “Unions are good for communities, they make the communities a more equal place,” Lanzinger said.
“Our most vulnerable workers are low wage workers, so we need to be helping them.”
Unions represented at the conference come from as far as Prince George and Vancouver, but are mostly from the Terrace, Kitimat, and Prince Rupert area.
“The goal of this conference is the make the labour movement stronger in the region,” explained Lanzinger.
Also speaking were area politicians, including Skeena – Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen, Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin and BC NDP leader John Horgan.