Prince Rupert Labour Council is motivated to bring together the voices of workers and employers in the city to strengthen the community and build a climate for social fairness, racial justice and reconciliation, Tom Kertes newly elected president of the council, said.
The new Board of Directors, elected on June 25, is excited to unite union and non-union members to share perspectives and synthesize ideas for solidifying the community.
“The Prince Rupert Labour Council is committed to building community, supporting workers, and working together for justice and fairness for all people in our region,” Kertes said. “I am proud to be part of such a committed and strong team of workers in our community.”
The new Board of Directors are: President, Tom Kertes; Secretary-Treasurer Piroska Potoranay; Vice President, Tristen Wybou; Recording Secretary, Kyla Ragan; Councillor 1, Tim MacDonald; Councillor 2, Sparrow Taranov; Sgt. at Arms, Ian Dobson and Trustee, Shelley Gladstone.
“Our main focus right now is thinking of how to raise our visibility and how can we get connected and how can we listen to the community that may not be in unionized jobs, but that we can still support. We want to support better working conditions and better employment laws, those kinds of priorities,” Kertes said.
The Prince Rupert Labour Council’s mandate is to provide a common voice for hundreds of union members in the North Coast region while working together for the benefit of all communities.
PRLC is the local organization of the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents 3.2 million unionized workers across Canada. Prince Rupert has hundreds of members Kertes said, across many unions including the port workers, school district, grocery stores, social services and industry.
“Unions elect local delegates to meet at the Labour Council. We talk about ways to support each other, support the community, and to build connections in different kinds of work in different unions,”
PRLC was originally formed in 1957 and ran for many years. While it was never dissolved, it did become inactive for a time. In the autumn of 2019 it was re-energized with new leadership wishing to bring union and non-union members together to address vital issues affecting the Prince Rupert area.
Just as the energy to start community engagement ramped-up, COVID-19 hit.
“COVID started just as were in the process of rebuilding different connections. One of the things we did was a community roundtable to have conversations about how COVID was affecting people in the community.”
Kertes said one relevant issue raised at the roundtable was a way in which to complete outreach to the community, such as potlucks, picnics, and engagement events. He said the roundtable, which many who attend were union members, and the online event for the Day of Mourning, to recognize workers who lost their lives while on the job, have been successful and the council is currently planning a virtual labour day event.
“You don’t need to be a member of the union to want justice and to want fairness and a strong community in PR.”
Explaining about the labour council and its purpose, Kertes said the unions that make up the labour council are going to do things like negotiate contracts and working conditions, then the labour council advocates for strong communities that are fair.
“A labour council is like a chamber of commerce, but a chamber for the labour movement. It brings a lot of voices together, like the Chamber of Commerce brings business voices together, what we do is bring labour voices together,” Kertes said.
The conversation between workers and employers has to be inclusive to have strong relationship, he said.
“I think if you really care about the community, and want to make the community stronger from the bottom up, then what we are focused on at the PRLC is what you’ll be focused on. But, also labour council is a voice of workers in the community. Sometimes the voice needs to be heard by those that are not workers – like the major employers,”.
“We will work for that to be a respectful relationship and to bring our perspectives to the table. We hope this is done in a way that unites the community,” Kertes said.
According to Kertes, labour councils hold a strong position in communities because they bring people from different sectors of the economy together.
“There’s all sorts of really interesting issues when you bring teachers and postal workers and education assistants and dock workers and public health and community workers together, because we have all these different perspectives in our workplace, but together we see all of Prince Rupert.”
“Even if you’re not in a union, or even if you’re coming at it from a different perspective like a business leader … we want to have a conversation with you, we want to just start talking and listening to each other … and I think that as we continue to make all those connections, we can make a difference for Prince Rupert. I’m excited about that,” Kertes said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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