This interview is with Service Employees International Union Local 2 strike leader, Sylvia Waldron, a long-time employee of Tropicana Community Services in Scarborough where over 50 workers were on strike for seven weeks. It was conducted by Socialist Action newspaper co-editor Barry Weisleder on January 7, 2021.
Barry: What community services are provided by Tropicana, including those that you provide as an employee of the firm?
Sylvia: Tropicana Community Services provides culturally aware and supportive programs such as employment services, counselling, settlement services, education and recreational, personal development and childcare. I am employed as an administrator in the organization.
B: After many decades without a union, why and how did workers decide to join the Service Employees’ International Union?
S: Staff always felt the need to have representation to gain and protect their respect, to be treated fairly, to have a voice and to be paid for their fair day’s work. With the removal of the longstanding Executive Director, with the Board of Directors taking on the role of being operational, and the instalment of new management, staff realized that representation and job security were needed more urgently than ever.
B: What specific conditions led to the strike that began in early November?
S: Management insistence on taking away long-standing paid statutory holidays, floater days and a continued freeze for three more years of staff salary.
B: The December 18 assault by a Human Resources manager’s sister on a picketing striker shows the growing desperation of a company that is spending public funds on strike-breakers, security guards and anti-union consultants. What do you say about the present situation, and the prospects for a just collective agreement?
S: It is despicable and horrifying that the Human Resources Manager’s sister thought it was her right, and totally acceptable for her to verbally and physically attack staff on the picket line. It bodes to the mentality and attitude towards staff by management/board and also to the type of conversational messages being given out to their family/friends and the public at large about the staff’s constitutional rights to strike and to demand respect, fair wages and better working conditions.
As you are aware, because of a strong union and staff keeping the solidarity with their demands on the picket line we were able to obtain a just collective agreement without any concessions from us.
B: What did you win in wages and benefits?
S: This fight was not just about wages; it’s also about trying to get our first agreement after one year. We got 2.5% over three and we maintain all our benefit and statutory holidays.
B: What does the strike show about the treatment of women and workers of colour by Canada’s ruling elite?
S: The strike shows that as much as we have made progress there is still a lot of work to be done to eradicate the systemic oppression, racism, classism and all the other isms that women, people of colour and the working class still face by Canada’s ruling elite.