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Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-Ibarra

Mel Myers: Labour, knowledge, and empowerment

by Levy Abad

          Mel Myers Conference March 2024
 
The 21st Mel Myers Labour Conference at the Victoria Inn Hotel in Winnipeg, March 2024.

Last March 14th and 15th, my union sent me to attend the Mel Myers Labour Conference at the Victoria Inn Hotel in Winnipeg as a rep of our Local 389 Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) under the leadership of Ambroise Sarrasin, who recently became the Regional VP for Western Canada. The Mel Myers Labour Conference was organized in 2002. It is Manitoba’s premier forum that brings together union leaders and union-side lawyers to discuss concerns and explore solutions to issues within the unionized workplace. Since its inception, proceeds generated from the conference have been donated to various Manitoba organizations. This year’s recipient was The West Central Women’s Resource Centre (https://myersfirm.com/labour-conference/).

Among union brothers and compatriots

Aside from being my Union’s rep to the conference, I am also a shop steward of the local. With me at the conference was a union brother Satyam Sohi of Canad Inns (BCTGM) and Ian Matiation, Business Manager of BCTGM. Labour leaders from shop stewards to presidents were in attendance. It was also an opportunity to meet Filipino compatriots from different unions like Bro. Gaspar V. Gaspar, former VP of International Association of Machinists (IAMAW) Local 1953 and now acting as trustee of Standard Aero; Tony Galang and Nixon Laurel de Ocampo of USW 4297, Isaiah Cabrera, shop steward of Winpak; Ray Sator, my Knights of Rizal brother and member of Télécommunications Employees Association of Manitoba (TEAM-IGPTE Local 161); Aleli Sanvictores, a sister from Workers United (mentioned by Mildred Caldo); and last but not the least, Mylene Holmes, CUPE MB Secretary /Treasurer. There was also a whole table of delegates from the workers’ association of Macdon Industries. David Gautier of AIMAW who is married to a Filipina, was also there.

Of favourite profs and New Democrat comrades

Another surprise was seeing some former legislative staff colleagues from back in 2011-2014 when I was working for Flor Marcelino (former MLA and Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism), Jill Stockwell, Dale Edmunds, Chris Noto, and Clair Cerilli who was part of the Mel Myers’ facilitating team.

It was also a privilege to see my favourite author and Winnipeg activist, Jim Silver (Professor Emeritus, Urban and Inner-City Studies), respected Indigenous leader Prof. Niigaan Sinclair, and Jacqueline Romanow (Assistant Professor in Indigenous Studies of the University of Winnipeg). The three scholars led the plenary discussion on the Union Engagement of Indigenous Peoples. “Historically, unions have not always fought for the rights of Indigenous workers.” (https://myersfirm.com/labour-conference/).

Feels like law school again

The topics discussed at the conference were Unions 101, Social Media updates, Fundamentals of Discipline, Medical Issues, Strike Action: Law and Lessons Learned, Duty to Accommodate, Respectful Workplace, Workers Charged and Convicted of a Crime, Duty to Accommodate – An advanced Perspective, Organizing Do’s and Don’ts, Ask a Labour Lawyer, Workplace Privacy and Surveillance, The Duty of Fair Representation and Difficult Members, and lastly, Top Cases of 2023. All these topics are based on labour laws and government policies. Hearing them being discussed feels like being a student in law school.

Labour and multiculturalism

One of the highlights of the conference was a reflection on the multicultural policy of Manitoba and Winnipeg, in particular. This was not surprising considering the broad representation of different communities in the conference. Attending this educational event was a learning experience. I thank my union BCTGM for the opportunity to research, touch base, and listen to the countless brothers and sisters on different issues that helped a lot in writing the history of Filipino labour leaders and activists from 1968 to the present.

Salute to Mel Myers

The number of union delegates present at the conference was overwhelming. In addition, the topics discussed were substantial and dared one to immerse into the daily struggles of the workplace to grasp the depth of the issues. The time, effort, professionalism, and level of organization involved from the plenary to breakouts were outstanding. The barristers who facilitated the topics were eloquent in their presentations. Mel Myers empowers union members such as shop stewards, who, with the mastery of these topics, can become compared to barristers. The Mel Myers Labour Conference has been serving the labour movement for 22 years. It deserves a working-class salute!

Levy Abad authored a book titled Rhythms and Resistance: Narrative of Filipino Musicians and Activists (1972-1994). Levy is also a singer-songwriter, poet, and migrant rights activist who has released four albums centred on the life and struggles of migrants.