BY JEFF SHANTZ
TORONTO Greenpeace door
canvassers are used to pounding the pavements. Every evening, they walk
kilometres to spread the Greenpeace message of environmental care. However,
the organisations' canvass workers never expected to be pounding the pavement
in a picket outside the Greenpeace office here.
The workers, members of Office and Professional Employees International
Union (OPIEU) local 343, were forced to do this in Toronto on a cold November
4 morning after they were locked out with a year left on their contract.
The contract negotiated between the workers and Greenpeace Canada was
due to expire on December 31, 2003. However, in early July, Greenpeace
management illegally tried to renegotiate the contract, with the threat
that its canvassing operation would close without a new deal. When the
workers refused to accept management's unfavourable new terms of employment,
Greenpeace carried out its threat on October 15.
As a result, 13 canvassers were illegally locked out. The workers have
shown their commitment to Greenpeace by working in the high-turnover job
for up to eight years. One of the locked out workers is still facing court
charges after being arrested for taking part in a Greenpeace protest action.
Canvassers have been the grassroots face of Greenpeace for 14 years.
In Canada, many canvassers pull off the direct actions without pay
that are so much a part of Greenpeace's image and reputation. Canvassers
have raised millions of dollars for Greenpeace over the years.
Despite this, most canvassers are poorly paid, making little more than
the minimum wage. They also put in many unpaid hours. Many do the work
because they have a real concern for the environment and a commitment to
social change. This makes Greenpeace's actions even more disturbing.
So far, Greenpeace Canada has refused to communicate with the OPIEU.
Greenpeace Canada executive director Peter Tabuns said that the door-to-door
canvass workers have been offered jobs in a call centre. However, this
is unacceptable because call-centre work in no way resembles the job that
the workers were contracted to do. In addition, the new jobs would result
in a cut in earnings.
Carrying signs reading Greenpeace clearcuts jobs and Protection for
the environment and for workers, the locked-out canvassers are picketing
the Toronto Greenpeace office for several hours each day. They are being
supported by social justice, environmental and anti-racist groups, and
by unions such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees and United Steelworkers
Recognising the importance of fending off this blatant attempt at union
busting, a Workers Solidarity Club has formed to provide support to the
canvassers. It has organised a series of solidarity days to bring labour
and social justice groups to the picket line to show Greenpeace that workers'
rights are central to building a green society.
From Green Left Weekly, November 27, 2002.
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