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Speech to the Windsor United Way Labour Appreciation Night

Presented by Ken Georgetti on Friday, 18 November 2011

(Check Against Delivery)

Sisters and brothers – friends of the United Way – it is my great pleasure to be here in Windsor for the 34th Labour Appreciation Night.

Let me tell you one clear reason why I’m happy to be here – there is never a labour appreciation night in Ottawa!

In recent years Ottawa does, however, hold a regular “kick the hell out of labour night” – as often as they possibly can!

I’m only kidding of course.

I was very pleased to meet recently with Prime Minister Stephen Harper before the important G-20 international summit meetings in France.

It is a good reminder that despite the differences we all have – between business and labour, between left and right, between workers and managers – we can all find some common ground where we can work together.

And that’s what’s so great about the United Way.

It brings us together rather than driving us apart.

Whatever good reasons we might have to be at odds, when you get to the United Way and the work it does to help meet those in need, we leave our differences at the door.

That’s why I’m so pleased to be here to honour Dave Crosswell from CAW Local 200 tonight, who is receiving the Charles E. Brooks labour community service award.

No one can doubt Brother Crosswell’s enormous commitment to our labour movement or to his great union, where he served the local as Financial Secretary.

But everyone here and in this community is aware of the good work Dave has done with the United Way to richly deserve this great honour.

So I am very pleased to join Patrick Goggins and Penny Marrett from the United Way, Dino Chiodo from the Labour council [and Mayor Eddie Francis – if attending] and so many other people from this community in thanking Dave for his years of service helping others.

And in honouring Dave for his remarkable efforts, we are also recognizing the incredibly important role that members of our labour movement play in making our community better.

Not just better for all of us here today, but better for our children and grandchildren.

Because when you look back into the past, you realize that our grandparents didn’t grow up with many of the important social programs we have benefitted from.

At one point there was no Medicare – no public health system – and workers suffered as a result.

Employment insurance didn’t exist either – and losing your job was a terrible, life-altering disaster – not just a big challenge.

Labour fought hard to achieve these social programs – because we realized that society had an obligation to help those in need.

And we also recognized that while government had to play an important role, so did every member of our community.

Only when everyone made a contribution could we solve the problems we collectively faced.

And so the partnership between the United Way and organized labour is as old as our two movements, with the first United Way being formed to respond to the needs of workers.

Even before our relationship was formalized in 1988 in Canada, there were a number of partnerships already on the go.

In fact, it’s fair to say that Windsor was very much one of the birthplaces of the current national program.

The Windsor partnership has provided a sterling example of how our two movements can positively work together to have an impact.

The union counsellor training program was developed here back in the 1970s.

That program trained union members about how to support fellow workers and their families by connecting them with appropriate community services.

From that solid foundation, the program has grown so it now trains union members about community issues and how to connect our organizations and members with the United Way and others concerned with social justice – how we can work together for positive change.

This expanded focus has resulted in the recent name change – to the labour community advocate training program.

And we continue to draw upon Windsor’s excellent United Way labour staff, like Maureen Curtis, for leadership within the program, which now exists in 37 communities across Canada.

A key initiative being undertaken by the United Way and labour in Windsor is the retiree volunteer project.
As you are aware, the CLC’s major campaign in recent years has been to significantly expand the Canada Pension Plan so all workers can retire with dignity and security.

It’s not right that more than 1.6 million Canadian seniors are living in poverty, with income that is below $16,000 a year.

That’s a big reason why the Canadian Labour Congress is promoting our better plan for retirement.

If we phase in a small premium increase over 7 years, it would result in a doubling of Canada Pension Plan maximum benefits – to $1,635 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.

Improving the Canada Pension Plan is simply the best solution – because the CPP is universal, it’s portable – it goes with you, not your job – and it covers 93% of workers.

I know the CAW and all our affiliates are working hard to make expanding the Canada Pension Plan the next big improvement in this country’s social programs.

And I welcome all of the support you can give to our important efforts.
But retirement isn’t just about a stable and reasonable source of income.

So I’m very pleased to see the newly formed Retiree Volunteer Council created as part of our partnership here in Windsor – working to keep seniors active and mobilized.

And when I say the word “mobilize” I naturally return to the man we honour tonight – Dave Crosswell.

When hard times hit the auto industry, Dave was right there – setting up and directing the CAW Local 200 Adjustment Centre.

Dave helped hundreds of laid-off members keep their dignity while they found new careers through the Adjustment Centre.

But Dave didn’t just help union members – he worked hard to help the entire community through his work with the United Way.

So I want to congratulate Dave for winning this award – it is well deserved.

And I want to thank CAW 200 for their on-going work in Windsor.

I also want to thank all of you in this room who have been affected by the economic crisis and yet continued to give – your time, your energy, your money.

It has made a positive difference in this community and – thanks to our partnership with the United Way – it has helped improve people’s lives when they needed help the most.

On behalf of the CLC, my sincere congratulations, Dave – well done, brother, well done.