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 of America.
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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