Fall 2017


I was one of many visitors in the gallery at Queen’s Park on November 22nd when the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act passed third and final reading. 67 of 107 MPPs voted to raise minimum wage, and to improve employment standards and labour relations, after a two-year review. 26 members were opposed to the legislation and 14 didn’t cast a vote.

From this vantage point, it’s clear how years of researching, organizing, training, mobilizing and advocating came down to a single action: standing up. Standing up for what you believe. Standing up for ourselves and each other. Standing up to opposition, ambivalence and indifference. Standing up to be counted.

It came down to the people the Workers’ Action Centre thanked in their first tweet after the historic vote: their brave members. These workers have been standing up to bad bosses and unfair rules, and sharing painful private troubles to reframe public issues, for many years. In the process, they’ve made the rest of us — members of the community and members of provincial parliament alike — braver. “So today,” tweeted the Mowat Centre’s Jordann Thirgood, “we woke up with greater certainty around decent work … challenges abound, sure, but yesterday was a big win for a lot of people.”

That’s the kind of year it’s been for Atkinson — a year of significant progress and unavoidable challenges on the road to decent work. Together with our partners, we’ve been building what the Broadbent Institute’s Alejandra Bravo calls “democratic muscle”. In September, Alejandra was Atkinson’s advisor on a road trip to Buffalo organized by our Director of Social Investment Jenn Miller for Atkinson Decent Work Fund grant partners working on community benefits strategies. You can read more about this cross-border learning exchange here.

The implementation of the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act continues to be a high priority for us. Community-labour coalitions are getting organized throughout the province including the Windsor-Essex Community Benefits Coalition and the Hamilton Community Benefits Network. They’re making sure billions of dollars in public investment benefit the entire community, not just the usual players. Similarly, a new tech-oriented neighbourhood on Toronto’s eastern waterfront, known as Sidewalk Toronto, is now on our radar. I outlined the case for tying a community benefits strategy to this high-profile project in a Toronto Star op-ed a few weeks ago.

Canada’s conversation on the future of work is centred on projects like this one, creating more demand for action on the future of workers. That’s why we joined forces with SHARE to organize like-minded investors to hold companies accountable for creating decent work. There is a guide for investors if you’d like to learn more. 79 investors, with $8 trillion AUM, backed the first year of our Workforce Disclosure Initiative.

That’s also why we added a second beat to the Toronto Star’s newsroom as the next stage in our “philanthro-journalism” experiment. Sara Mojtehedzadeh continues to report on work and wealth while Sabrina Nanji has taken on a new beat on democracy. And that’s why we partnered with the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough to convene more than 100 “vital conversations” across differences in opinion, experience, means and opportunity this fall.

In its entirety, our decent work agenda is about renewing Canada’s social architecture while making the transition to an inclusive and green economy. This architecture is a gift with strings attached. We’re expected to pass it on in better condition than it came to us. Turning 75 has made us acutely aware of our obligations to each other and to future generations — and even more determined to honour them. With this anniversary came a few special projects and insights into the “good fight” for social and economic justice.

We published our first graphic novella to see how history can inform current challenges. Director of Social Engagement Ausma Malik tells the project’s backstory in this post. Graphic novelist Willow Dawson, journalist Patricia Pearson and historian Jon Weier worked with Ausma and our Director of Social Impact Pat Thompson to bring the story of Canada’s long fight for decent work to a new generation of activists.

In October, Mowat Centre’s Andrew Parkin, the Broadbent Institute’s Rick Smith and I convened a roundtable to discuss Dr. Donna Wood’s paper on the 75-year decline in employment insurance — Canada’s only decent work program. This Globe and Mail op-ed by Andrew Jackson came out of the conversation.

But the highlight was awarding the inaugural $75,000 Atkinson Good Fight Prize to the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign at a reception in November. After I made the announcement, I asked for a show of hands to see who in the room had contributed to this fight in any way — tweeting support, signing a petition, making a donation or deputation. Almost everyone’s hand shot up, ready to be counted as part of this incredible organizing effort and the larger decent work movement.

Victories like this one depend on many, many people weighing in, making a choice and taking a stand. They are the result of a good fight: the clash of visions and values within democratic institutions and processes to create a better society. The next round in the fight for decent work will be a tough one, pitting different scenarios for the economic impact of a higher minimum wage against each other. There will be other issues to contend with, including the unfinished business of workplace safety for temporary workers and Canada Labour Code reforms.

Through it all, we’ll be standing with the people described by the Fight for $15 and Fairness’ Deena Ladd when she accepted the Atkinson Good Fight Prize: the people who “put in a crappy 12-hour shift and still have the energy to show up on a Saturday afternoon to talk to people they don’t know on street corners about why things have to be different in their communities.”

Deena said they are workers who have the “courage to stand up and say I have the right to be accounted for. You need to see me and you need to know that I am just as deserving as you to have a decent job. I am just as deserving as you to have a decent wage. I should be able to look after my family just like you.” “And that is what this movement is about,” she explained. “It is about ensuring that we do not leave anyone behind. That we bring everybody up.”

Atkinson is proud to be part of this movement and to count you among our friends. Thank you for your continued support.



1 Yonge Street, Suite 702
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5
Tel 416.368.5152 Fax 416.865.3619
Twitter: @AtkinsonCF

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