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Home / News / United with Labour in building stronger communities
September 13, 2022
For many of us, Labour Day marks the time when summer winds down, and the start of a new school year. But it’s also important to remember this day’s origins from the struggles of working people and unions fighting for fairness and equality, and how we have all benefited from the gains of the labour movement.
Since United Way of the Alberta Capital Region’s beginnings in 1942, we have worked closely with local labour organizations and their members to build stronger communities.
“We have weekends because of unions. Unions have been at the forefront of adding gender parity and diversity, equity, and inclusion policies to the workplace,” says Natasha Fryzuk, United Way’s Relationship Lead, Labour Community. “Union members are standing next to you at the grocery store checkout – they’re the ones working at the grocery stores. They’re teachers, they’re nurses, they’re people on the front lines.”
Locally, our partnership with labour was formalized in 1978, when United Way of the Alberta Capital Region signed an agreement with the Edmonton and District Labour Council to have a Labour Coordinator on staff at United Way working for and with organized labour. And in 1988, an agreement between United Way Centraide and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) was signed, taking that partnership nation-wide.
But the history goes back much further, especially here in the Alberta Capital Region. Elmer Ernest Roper, who would go on to be Mayor of Edmonton, was very active in the Edmonton Trades and Labour Council, and helped to establish United Way’s forerunner, the Community Chest of Greater Edmonton.
“Since then, labour groups in the region have supported United Way in our shared goal of making the community a healthy place to live, work, and raise a family,” says Natasha. “When you look at the work United Way does, we know that when people are well supported, well paid, and feel secure in their work, that spreads to our communities.”
A cornerstone of United Way’s fundraising comes from workplace campaigns and the individual workers who give their time and money to making those campaigns successful.
Natasha works closely with United Way’s newly formed Labour Cabinet, comprised of local labour organization representatives. Natasha and the cabinet are liaisons between United Way and unionized workers participating in workplace campaigns, volunteering, or supporting United Way in other ways.
Prairie Region Representative
Canadian Labour Council
Edmonton District & Labour Council
Alberta Federation of Labour
Recently, changes to the Alberta Employment Standards Code have affected unions’ ability to donate directly to charities; however, union members are still able to donate individually as well as coordinate volunteer opportunities in support of causes.
“Unions are the first to get involved in any community initiative. It’s so important to be in community and connect with each other, build that community of support, and to have that public profile. Getting involved with United Way is one way to do that,” Natasha shares.
The Labour Cabinet’s chair is Greg Mady, president of the Edmonton and District Labour Council. A long-time United Way cabinet volunteer, Greg says he is energized by the new cabinet and the opportunities that lie before them.
“The Labour Cabinet will be there to support union campaigns as they raise money in support of United Way. It’s not just how can we tap labour organizations for support, but how can we support them in turn by sharing more about what United Way does.”
Greg also took part in the Labour Community Advocate Program when he was a postal worker. These programs, tailored for union members, shed light on the resources available to them if there is a work stoppage or if they just need extra support.
“It’s so important to have the knowledge that when you’re off work and are only getting $100 a week in strike pay, here is how you can save appropriately, and here are the resources you can access in the community if you need it,” Greg explains.
“My favourite thing about United Way is that it is an organization doing its best to make sure people’s basic needs are provided for, and that attention is being raised for issues in our city,” says Greg. “United Way leverages community relationships, and they know what issues need to be served.”
When Angeer found out her eight-year-old son’s bone cancer had relapsed, she didn’t know how she would be able to get through it. Like many local families, they were also facing isolation and anxiety as a result of the pandemic.
When COVID-19 hit, Aylisa worried about how she would be able to give the participants in her program hope. Many were facing eviction, mounting utility bills, or obstacles to being able to work.
Chloe struggled in school until she was connected with wrap-around supports through the All in for Youth initiative, a collaboration supported through United Way. Staff help Chloe through hardships at home, build her confidence and support her on her path to graduation.