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CASE STUDY 2: RESISTING PRECARITY 

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 RESEARCH TEAM 

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 RESEARCH ACTIVITY

This case study investigates various approaches individuals, unions and/or collectives use to resist or overcome becoming "victimized" by precarious employment. Five distinct examples of collective responses to precarity are being examined.

The Justice and Dignity for Cleaners Campaign. Cleaners of office and building sites constitute a large precarious workforce -- typically performed by racialized, female and elderly workers.  Their jobs are often characterized by insecure, poverty wage employment in the private sector, and recurring threats of privatization in the public sector. Our research explores the Justice and Dignity for Cleaners campaign that enabled cleaners employed by the City of Toronto to fend off contracting out of their unionized living wage jobs. Additionally, we have researched efforts to challenge precarity by private sector cleaners. We point to rank and file unionization, and labour-community coalitions as the optimal means of making cleaning work stable, well-paid work. We have adopted a variety of research methods in this research: we have interviewed cleaners, union leaders and public officials; we have reviewed government documents and business media; and we have engaged in participatory research being present at relevant public events.  

Hospitality Workers and Worker-Led Enterprise. Here we explore the Hospitality Workers Training Centre in Toronto as an example of a labour-management initiative to promote industry-based training in the hospitality sector as a route to creating better jobs, stability and higher wages. The Centre has a labour-management advisory group that provides guidance on skills-development for specific hotels. The model is based on the Las Vegas Culinary Academy, a showcase of ‘high road training’ as an alternative to precarity.

Interviews were conducted with members of Toronto's UNITE HERE Local 75, the hospitality workers’ union, the Executive Director of the Hospitality Workers Training Centre (Toronto), and with key informants from the Restaurant Opportunities Centre to compare and contrast the efficacy of the different models. The research pointed out the difference in approaches in the various geographies and asked whether taking a "high road" approach to training was an effective strategy in mitigating precarity. 

Cultural Production as Caregivers’ Response to Precarity. Filipino women working in Toronto under the Live-In Caregiver Program have developed lively and creative artistic networks to express and challenge their experience of precarity. We examine a variety of cultural forms reflecting this robust artistic voice – including story-telling, theatre, graphic comic and visual art and songwriting. We explore the transformative potential of cultural production in resisting precarity. This research was conducted by analyzing specific examples of arts projects that have sought to advance caregiver issues in (and beyond) the Filipino community in the Greater Toronto Area that were developed collectively and collaboratively with caregivers themselves.

Community Benefits Agreements. Community benefits agreements are a means of assuring that "public dollars are spent on public good" in the case of new infrastructure and investment initiatives. As an example, we examine the Toronto Community Benefits Network's efforts to secure stable, equitable employment commitments from Metrolinx in relation to first, the Eglinton-Crosstown line and then in subsequent transit development in relation to the "Big Move". This CBA will be a legal agreement between the Network and Metrolinx. Community Benefits Agreements are a standard part of development in Scotland, were part of the Vancouver Olympics, and are used extensively in Southern California through the work of LANE, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. Our study will be one of the first to document the relationship between CBAs and the mitigation of precarity. This research draws on two years of participatory action research with the Toronto Community Benefits Network, that was brought into comparative analysis with cross-jurisdictional experiences of CBAs documented in the academic and grey literatures.

The minimum wage in Ontario. The fight to increase the minimum wage in Ontario was also explored. This included an assessment of the Minimum Wage Campaign, which included interviews with 8 individuals (from 8 different organizations in 8 regions across Ontario) on their experiences as organizers of labour movements and the impacts such participation has made. Parallel to the Minimum Wage campaign was the work of the Ontario government’s Minimum Wage advisory panel.  The panel travelled across the province engaging with stakeholders to explore different mechanisms to set and raise the minimum wage.  This paper analyses the recommendations of the panel and finds them insufficient. Specifically, the panel sidestepped a very important question in the minimum wage discussion: ‘What is an appropriate benchmark for setting the minimum wage?’ 

Taken together, these studies provide a diverse profile of collective responses to precarity.

 PUBLICATIONS

Carson, J. & Siemiatycki, M. (2014). Resisting Precarity in Toronto's Municipal Sector: The Justice and Dignity for Cleaners CampaignJust Labour, 22, 168-185. [Read

Kelly, P., & de Leon, C. (Forthcoming). Rescripting Care Work: Collaborative Cultural Production and Caregiver Advocacy in Toronto. In S. Procyk, W. Lewchuk & J. Shields (Eds.), Precarious Employment: Causes, Consequences and Remedies. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing. [Read]

Nugent, J. (2014). The Community Must Benefit: Local Agreements Between Developers and the PeopleOur Times, 33(3), 21-25. [Read]

Nugent, J. P. (Forthcoming). The Right to Build the City: Can Community Benefits Agreements Bring Employment Equity to the Construction Sector? Labour/Le Travail.

Patterson, S., Carson, J., & Siemiatycki, M. (Forthcoming). Cleaners Against Precarity, Lessons from a Vulnerable Workforce. In S. Procyk, W. Lewchuk & J. Shields (Eds.), Precarious Employment: Causes, Consequences and Remedies. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing. [Read]

Tan, S. K. (Forthcoming). Voices of the Minimum Wage Campaign: $14 Now! In S. Procyk, W. Lewchuk & J. Shields (Eds.), Precarious Employment: Causes, Consequences and Remedies. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing. [Read]

Tiessen, K. (2015). Raising the Bar: Revisiting the benchmark question of Ontario’s minimum wage. Toronto: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Ontario Office. [Read]  

 PRESENTATIONS & EVENTS

April 5-9, 2017 | Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Annual Meeting - Association of Geographers
Performing Collective Responses to Precarity: Filipina Caregivers and the Artistic Production of Solidarity
Presenter: Philip Kelly

February 18, 2016 | Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The CUPE Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee Conference
Resisting Precarity: Lessons from the Justice and Dignity Campaign
Presenter: Jenny Carson

June 2, 2016 | Calgary, Alberta, Canada
3rd Annual Congress - Canadian Association for Work and Labour Studies - Re-Energizing Communities
Resistance Along the Rails: The genesis, scaling-up, and impact of two labour-community coalitions in Toronto
Presenter: James Nugent

May 16, 2016 | Toronto, Ontario, Canada
York University Asian Heritage Month Lecture and Roundtable
Filipino Voices in the Arts & Academia (Video)

May 6-8, 2016 | Toronto, Ontario, Canada
LabourStart 2016 Global Solidarity Conference

Challenging precarity through community benefits agreements: Leveraging infrastructure projects to increase training and labour market access for equity-seeking and historically disadvantaged groups in Ontario
Presenter: James Nugent

Cleaning Tips: Lessons from Toronto Cleaners Resisting Precarity
Presenters: Jenny Carson & Myer Siemiatycki

August 21, 2015 | Oxford, England, UK
Global Conference on Economic Geography
Performing Collective Responses to Precarity: Filipina Caregivers and the Artistic Production of Solidarity
Presenter: Philip Kelly

June 4, 2015 | Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
2nd Annual Congress - Canadian Association for Work and Labour Studies - Whose Ideas?

Shovels in the ground: Leveraging social justice from infrastructure projects through community benefits agreements
Presenter: James Nugent

Resisting Precarity in Toronto's Municipal Sector: The Justice and Dignity for Cleaners Campaign
Presenters: Jenny Carson & Myer Siemiatycki

Voices of the Minimum Wage Campaign
Presenter: Serene Tan

Addressing Precarity in the Hospitality Sector through Training Partnerships
Presenter: Karen Lior

October 24, 2013 | Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Annual General Meeting Toronto Workforce Innovation Group
Resisting Precarity in the Twenty-First Century
Presenters: Jenny Carson, Myer Siemiatycki & Supriya Latchman

April 18, 2013 | Toronto, Ontario, Canada
United Association of Labor Educators (UALE) Conference
Caregivers and Collective Responses to Precarity through Cultural Production
Presenter: Philip Kelly

 MEDIA

October 5, 2015
Opinion: Making the Case for a $15 Minimum Wage in Ontario
by Kaylie Tiessen | Waterloo Region Record

October 5, 2015
Opinion: The Case for a $15 Minimum Wage in Ontario
by Kaylie Tiessen | Guelph Mercury

October 1, 2015
Raising the Bar
featuring Kaylie Tiessen | CTV Newsnet