Labour Views February 6, 2015
Written by Gayla Thunstrom, Acting President Northern Territories Federation of Labour
As president of the NTFL Mary Lou Cherwaty was regular contributor to the Labour View column since 2007. She has recently left the north to work in the labour movement in Manitoba. NTFL Kivalliq Vice President Maureen Doherty caught up with Mary Lou and asked her to reflect on her term as President and share with us, her parting thoughts on labour issues facing the north.
What changes have you seen in the Northern Federation of Labour during your time as President?
Since I was elected in 2004, the membership of the NTFL has grown from 6200 to over 10000 members. The office location has moved 3 times, and is scheduled to move again when the UNW building is completed. Conventions used to be held every 2 years, but changed to every 3 years back in 2008. Delegates have voted to increase the number of Executive Council members to ensure that there is a Vice-President for each Territory and to split the duties of the Secretary/Treasurer into 2 separate roles. At the most recent Convention, a designated seat for a Youth Vice-President was created to better connect with young members and ensure their voices are heard.
What do you consider to be the accomplishments of the NTFL under your leadership?
Aside from the growth in membership, the NTFL secured a very successful training partnership with the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission, which is still flourishing. The courses provide participants with a much greater understanding of the workers’ compensation system and the benefits of early and safe return-to-work. Most recently, new curriculum has been added to train effective Health and Safety Committees.
In partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress, the NTFL hosted a very engaging 2-day seminar about/and for Temporary Foreign Workers.
Through collaboration with affiliates, the NTFL ran successful campaigns to increase minimum wage rates, implement new occupational health and safety regulations, and help protect the defined benefit pension plan under NEBS.
Also, at every election opportunity, we have encouraged and supported progressive, labour-friendly candidates to run for office.
Why is it important for the Labour Movement to be involved in politics?
Governments, at all levels, shape the world we live in. The Labour Movement needs to do a better job of educating our members – and all workers – about how decisions that are made by politicians affect their work, their lives, their families, and their communities.
We certainly wouldn’t elect our bosses to be our shop stewards, so why the hell are we electing them to run our governments?
One of the very most important things every worker must do is VOTE; and vote for a candidate that actually cares about workers!
Can you tell us about your new role?
Yes of course. I am thrilled to be working with the Manitoba Nurses Union as a Labour Relations Officer, specializing in Workers’ Compensation.
What do you see as some immediate challenges facing the Labour Movement in the north?
This year’s biggest challenge in the NWT will be to maintain voter engagement throughout three elections – municipal, territorial and federal. In Nunavut, it will be all about ensuring that workers elect a new, progressive Member of Parliament.
In both territories, continuing the fight to protect pensions, healthcare and good jobs; and to lobby for a national childcare program and retirement security for all will be ongoing challenges that cannot be ignored.
My sincerest wishes for continued success.
Mary Lou Cherwaty