Why Unions Should Engage in Political Campaigns

As a Member Organizer with the Canadian Freelance Union, I was part of a Unifor member-to-member campaign during the three weeks leading up to the provincial election in Alberta on April 16. Our duties included communicating with Unifor members across the province in person, on the phone, and, in the final days prior to the election, via text messages We were asking members to take a pledge to vote in the election, as well as answer questions about issues affecting working people in Alberta.

One of the questions I got a number of times during the campaign was, “Why would a union be involved with politics?” That is a very good and legitimate question. Here are some reasons why:

  • At their heart, unions are organizations that are trying to affect the power balance in the workplace. We are trying to make the boss, or clients in our case, to be more even with us the workers. This power play often finds itself playing in the larger society during elections. We as workers need to ensure that those representing our districts are also representing our interests.
  • The labour movement has always been rooted in social justice. That's why it advocates for things like fair working conditions, hours and wages. The actions of the ruling political party can affect healthcare, education, housing, and other public programs. These issues affect union members and society at large.
  • Government makes policies. Policies affect people – this includes working people, like our union members. It falls within the purview of union representatives to form political positions based on a careful examination of what current and prospective political candidates and parties are communicating with regard to issues affecting workers. It also follows that union representatives would seek to communicate such positions to members. The ultimate choice of who to vote for, of course, still rests with the member.
  • The labour movement, like any social movement, requires the active participation of its members in order for it to be successful. It's a microcosm of society. And voting is a way to be an active citizen. Even if someone doesn't vote in their best interests, individually or collectively.
  • The party in power impacts the direction of labour and social movements. A progressive government should ideally result in the ability for the labour movement to work for positive changes, rather than always being on the defensive - as is often what happens when a regressive party is leading government.

While the Alberta election did not go the way we hoped, the member-to-member campaign made a difference. I believe it helped contribute to the record number of advanced poll voting (over 700,000), as well as voter turnout in general (over 70%). It allowed us to connect with many in our membership to discuss issues affecting workers in light of current events. Initiatives like this can help labour activists in mobilizing members around issues and lead to a more involved membership.

Paula E. Kirman is a Member Organizer with the Canadian Freelance Union.

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5 Tips for tax season

It’s tax season! While most of us appreciate that taxes are important for maintaining social goods like our health and education systems, filing taxes can be stressful for freelancers. Faced with piles of invoices and receipts and the prospect of owing money we haven’t accounted for, paying taxes can seem like a daunting organizational and financial challenge.

But getting organized to pay your taxes can also be empowering and help you take better control of your finances, both personal and professional. Armed with the right information, you can reduce the amount of taxes you owe and make strategic decisions about managing your finances. Tax season is a great time to implement longer term practices that will help you not only when filing your taxes, but that will also ensure the success of your business long term. To that end, here are the CFU’s top five tips for tax time.

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CFU in solidarity with the unpaid internship strike

The Canadian Freelance Union stands in solidarity with journalism students at Concordia in their struggle to end unpaid internships. Their decision to join students across Quebec and take a one-week strike is courageous and an important action to demonstrate that unpaid internships are unacceptable, and a relic of a past.

Journalism is a difficult industry. As industry bosses find increasingly clever ways to cut costs, under-pay journalists and attack job security, unpaid internships have risen in prominence as a solution to generating more profits. From the days where one could argue that a journalism internship part of the educational costs that one might pay to attend university, unpaid interns are used more and more to fill employment gaps that bad decisions have created. Unpaid internships look far more like unpaid work than educational opportunities.

To be able to work for free requires that students have a certain level of financial freedom. Unpaid internships squeeze out poor students, who are more likely to be racialized, Indigenous, women, disabled, trans* and/or queer. This forces a new class of homogeneous reporters into an industry already plagued by systemic inequalities. Poorer students who want to become journalists find themselves at a disadvantage as they lack the volunteer service that their wealthier peers could afford to take on, thereby boosting their resumes and potential hiring possibilities.

Indeed, there is a straight line between who is rewarded by the industry based on their personal wealth, and who is denied entry.

As freelancers, we are well aware of these barriers. We fight for better job conditions for freelance media workers in Quebec and across Canada. We encourage our members to refuse to volunteer when they should be paid. As such, we naturally are in solidarity with Concordia journalism students as they embark on their strike.

It is actions such as these that will change our industry for the better

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Fighting for Decent Work Under Ford

Listen to the panel discussion, "Fighting for Decent Work Under Ford", hosted by the Canadian Freelance Union on November 7, 2018 in Kingston, Ontario.

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Little gigs, big sites

The perils of the platform economy and freelancing for big sites

Upwork, Fiverr, Amazon, YouTube, …. It’s likely that, as a freelancer, at some point you will consider these kinds of big sites to connect with clients and find platforms for your work. But while these online platforms can help generate gigs and audiences, they are also microcosms of the struggles facing many precarious workers.

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Decent Work Under Ford: A Panel Discussion on Precarious Work Today in Kingston

Wednesday November 7th


B201 Mackintosh Corry Hall, Queen's University Campus

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Send us your Pitches: CFU Call for Content

We are looking for content! The CFU is currently soliciting proposals for written, video and graphic content focused on issues of economic justice for freelancers produced by the membership.

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The New Form of Temp Agencies: Hyr

With so many people wanting flexible work and more control over their hours, as well as the rise in insecure work, it’s only natural that temp agencies would adapt to the new gig economy.

Hyr is a new temp agency that operates through an app promising quick, fill-in last minute positions. This allows businesses, mostly in the hospitality industry, to quickly find someone to replace employees who call in sick. As freelancers, we personally understand that this type of work opens employees up to the potential of abuse.

Hyr takes an already precarious workforce into even more precarious territory. Managers and business owners may under-staff, knowing they can turn to Hyr for any last-minute replacements at a lower rate and without benefits. It strips these temporary workers of the ability to create bonds -- let alone unions -- with their coworkers.

The transparency of the app also leaves workers open to exploitation and discrimination. You can set your hourly rate, but it’s not clear how much Hyr is charging the employer. You’re given no instructions about tax deductions or who’s paying them. Plus, the ‘suggestion’ to have your photo, along with a link to your instagram and twitter account to complete your profile is ripe for discrimination based on protected statuses such as race, disability, LGBTQ status, or even your political views, such as a support of unionized workplaces.

However, because of rising inflation against stagnant or falling wages, more people are looking to temporary or side jobs to supplement their income. As a union for freelancers, we understand the complexities of our current labour market, and strive to protect precarious and low income workers from exploitation. We also know that this type of call-in shift work is predominantly staffed by marginalized populations, and is often low wage work at or just above minimum wage.

Hyr says that they address a need from both a staffing and worker perspective for this type of work. This is something temp agencies have said for decades. There will always be someone calling in sick, and the alternative most often employed in hospitality and service industry has been to hire more people at fewer hours so that people will be desperate and eager to take last minute call in shifts.

As freelancers, we know that flexible employment is prefered, and even required, by certain people. If someone has to manage chronic pain, picking up short term positions when their pain levels are manageable allows them freedom and control over their situation. The solution is not to eliminate this type of work, but to allow more flexible employment options that are covered under employment legislation, supported by a strong social safety net, and empower workers.

Currently, there is little stability and a precarious future being nurtured in the gig economy.  The more desperate the people are, the worse our deals will be. It doesn’t need to be this way. We urge all gig workers, whether you’re working through Uber or Lyft or Hyr or any other, to band together and form a union. You are providing the labour that these companies need, and together, you will be in a stronger position to negotiate. Push for regulations and legislation that make your life more secure. Push for wages that allow you to sustain a family and plan for a future. Push for stability while still allowing yourself the flexibility you want or need.

In Solidarity.

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5 Reasons freelancers need to organize

When working freelance, it’s easy to think you are all on your own. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now more than ever, it is important that freelancers work together to secure a better deal. Here are five reasons why freelancers need to organize.

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5 Questions for CFU Executive Members

We spoke with CFU Executive members about their work lives, their struggles as freelancers, and why they became union members and compiled their responses*. Read on to learn more about the people guiding your union and their thoughts on where to go from here.

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