Presented by Ken Georgetti on Tuesday, 26 October 2010
(Check against delivery)
Brothers and Sisters, it’s my pleasure to bring you greetings of solidarity from the Officers and 3.2 million workers who are members of the Canadian Labour Congress.
I especially want to thank Pat Dillon for inviting me to speak to you once again.
And I have to tell you, it’s not often you get an electrical worker like Pat to ask a pipefitter like me to do anything!
Pat is a strong advocate for the building and construction trades within the CLC and he has earned the respect of our other affiliates in both the private and public sector with his knowledge and commitment to our labour movement.
I also want to welcome back some old friends - the Labourers, the Carpenters, the Boilermakers and the Plumbers - to the Canadian Labour Congress.
We missed you and we're glad to have you back!
I want to talk about three important issues with you today.
First, our need as unions to better communicate to the public the great success we achieve for our members.
Second, I want to tell you about the CLC’s most ambitious and important campaign in decades – to dramatically improve retirement security for every worker in Canada.
And third, which is of great importance to the building and construction trades, why we must convince the federal and provincial governments to continue economic stimulus programs with large infrastructure projects.
Let me start by getting your opinion on three percentages measuring success.
First – a 10% success rate – I think you’d agree that if you failed 90% of the time, it’s very bad.
That kind of failure rate is reserved for Lindsay Lohan going to rehab.
Second – a 50% success rate – half good but also half bad.
Lastly – a 93% success rate – fantastic! Almost as good as you can get in anything you try.
Now for the details.
The 10% success rate – or the 90% failure rate – indicates the number of new restaurants that survive past their first year of operation.
It’s a brutal business and despite the hopes and dreams of chefs, disaster awaits for 9 out of 10.
The 50% success rate – or 50% failure rate – is for marriage.
Half of all marriages today end in....divorce.
The only good news – for a divorce lawyer it means half the people in this room are either former clients, future clients or worst of all....repeat clients.
But the best news is that the 93% success rate – or just 7% failure rate – is for collective bargaining to reach a new contract between unionized workers and their employers..... without a strike or lockout.
A stunning level of accomplishment in a field that is complex, involves large amounts of money, features different values and personalities, often gets unwanted public attention, and sometimes requires conciliation and third-party intervention.
You know, sort of like marriage.
And yet....which of these three examples gets the best media?
New restaurants – overwhelmingly.
Every time a new restaurant opens it gets positive media coverage.
You never read a review of a new restaurant that says: “Hurry down because this place has a 90% chance of closing soon.”
Contrast that with labour negotiations.
Media always report that there might be a strike or lockout with loss of service, that talks may break off, that both sides are entrenched, that the outlook is bleak, etc.
And yet...93% of those same negotiations end successfully without a labour dispute.
In Ontario, that success rate is actually even higher – 97%.
What this says to me is that we have a major public relations job to do as union leaders and activists – to communicate the great success we achieve in negotiating contracts.
And it’s not just reaching collective agreements without disputes that unions are good at.
We win better pay and working conditions for our members, make their workplaces safer, negotiate medical and dental benefits, protect their rights during layoffs, help them get training, and when their careers end, make sure they have a pension to retire with dignity and security.
Now you tell me...
Is that a bad organization to belong to?
Because a lot of people apparently don't want to belong to a union for some reason...
Unions and their members also raise more than $200 million dollars a year for the United Way and volunteer with important community organizations.
And the labour movement has been critical in using political action to fight for Medicare, employment insurance and other programs that benefit all Canadians.
Brothers and sisters, we do a heck of a good job!
And all the polling shows that the overwhelming majority of members are very pleased with their unions.
But we don’t see that accurately reflected in the media to the public.
There are still far too many negative stereotypes of unions perpetuated by big business and right-wing governments.
We all have to work hard to change perceptions about our movement, because without public support we are vulnerable to anti-union labour legislation, to failed organizing drives and to employer-led decertifications.
One important way to win positive support from the public is to take on and win popular issues.
And that’s exactly what the CLC is doing with our most ambitious campaign yet.
Our goal is to achieve significant pension and retirement security reforms for all Canadian workers – union and non-union.
Unfortunately, the prospect of retirement actually scares most Canadians – they see ahead of them not their golden years.... but poverty fears.
And even more sadly, they are right to be worried.
Today more than 1.6 million Canadian seniors are living in poverty, with income below $16,000 a year.
What a shameful situation for the people who built this great country!
So what is the answer?
Well it’s definitely not RRSPs!
Billions of dollars were lost in the financial meltdown caused by corporate greed and the failure of governments to regulate banks, financial institutions and corporations.
Do Canadians really want to gamble with their retirement security that way?
No they don't.
Only 1 in 4 Canadians bought RRSPs in 2008.
And one-third of Canadian workers between the ages of 24 and 64 have absolutely no personal retirement savings.
Even those with RRSPs don't have enough.
The median RRSP value for a worker between 55 and 65 years old in 2005 was just $60,000 - and that was before the stock market roller coaster ride.
That was enough to buy a monthly pension of just $250.
Meanwhile, the 38.5% of the workers who actually have pensions – like people in this room – are under attack.
Employers are scrapping defined benefits pension plans and replacing them with defined contribution or RRSPs – which both have the same high risks as the markets.
It’s a grim picture.
Fortunately, the CLC has a better plan – we want to double Canada Pension Plan benefits for all workers.
If we phase in a small premium increase over 7 years, it would result in a doubling of maximum benefits – to $1635 a month.
That would raise the basic pension floor for all workers from a poverty level of $12,000 a year to a far more liveable $20,000.
The reasons why improving the Canada Pension Plan is the best solution are clear – the CPP is universal, it’s portable – it goes with you, not your job – and it covers 93% of workers.
I want to emphasize for building and construction trades members the portability and universality of the CLC proposal.
The CLC plan is achievable – we have had it costed by Bernard Dussault – the former chief actuary for the Canada Pension Plan.
And now – I am very pleased to say – Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and provincial ministers have said they support expanding the Canada Pension Plan.
They have not yet signed on to the CLC plan to double CPP benefits, but it is a welcome start.
That’s why I am asking for your help – we must convince all federal and provincial politicians that a minor increase in the CPP is not enough to protect Canadians' retirement income.
But there is much more we must achieve.
We need an immediate 15% increase to Guaranteed Income Supplement benefits in order to lift those 1.6 million seniors out of the poverty they are now trapped in.
We also need federal pension insurance – to protect our workplace plans.
We insure our lives, our homes, our vehicles and our jobs – but not our pensions!
So sisters and brothers – this is our time – our moment to make the most sweeping positive change seen in Canada since Tommy Douglas introduced Medicare in Saskatchewan and transformed the nation.
It’s time to protect every worker in Canada so they can retire with dignity and security.
And I know that with your strong support – we can do it – we can win!
Lastly – my third topic – the need for continued economic stimulus from the federal and Ontario governments.
The reasons are clear – first – our economy is not recovering as fast as we hoped.
The private sector has failed to create jobs.
Our economy is now forecasted to only grow by 2% a year.
That’s only enough growth to keep existing workers employed – not to reduce the 8 per cent unemployment rate.
Second – large infrastructure projects not only create decent jobs in the building and construction sector – they also have positive spin off effects that create additional employment.
When a labourer, a heavy equipment operator, electrician or bricklayer goes to work, they spend their income in the community.
That means more jobs, more prosperity and a quicker economic recovery.
It’s not rocket science.
But I’m very worried that the federal Conservative government doesn’t understand common sense.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says existing economic stimulus funding will end early next year – but that will hurt workers.
So the CLC is speaking out, loud and clear, in support of continued economic stimulus.
And we believe in thinking big – and thinking long-term – by calling for more ambitious infrastructure expenditures like public rapid transit, high speed rail and green energy projects.
We need the kind of spending that will keep your members on the job and put unemployed members back to work.
Brothers and Sisters – from improving our economy by creating jobs.....to ensuring all workers can retire with security.....to demonstrating the positive advantages of joining a union – we have a lot to do at the CLC.
And with your help, I know we can do it.
Thank you for inviting me and have a great convention!