We are celebrating a special anniversary this year. On March 23, 2021, CUPE Local 79 turns 79!
One year after our founders first organized, the Trades and Labour Congress issued a Charter to the Toronto Municipal Association Local 79 (now CUPE Local 79) on March 23, 1942. Our goals have remained the same since inception: to advocate for better wages and working conditions on behalf of the men and women who keep Toronto running. Local 79 has always been the largest municipal local union in Canada, and grew substantially following municipal amalgamation in 1998. When the Charter was first dedicated, we represented 750 workers at Toronto’s City Hall and Riverdale Hospital.
Today, we’re proud to represent more than 20,000 members, both full- and part-time.
We serve as nurses, child care workers, planners, clerks, social service employees, cleaners, court services staff, ambulance dispatchers, and many other occupations supporting our neighbours and our communities. You’ll find us at civic centres, including City Hall and Metro Hall. We ensure that Toronto’s water is safe to drink and our food is safe to eat. We inspect apartment buildings, homes and workplaces. Our Public Health members work to prevent infectious diseases, and we shelter those without homes.
Local 79 was established in 1942 while Canada was at war. It was a time when union membership soared as war industries created thousands of jobs. In response to the economic challenges of war, governments implemented austerity measures on workers’ wages and allowed employers to override collective agreements.
It was in this climate that workers for ‘The Civic Administration’ of Toronto, who had not received a pay hike for 12 years, organized. On March 23, 1942, the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC) granted the Charter for the Toronto Municipal Employees Union Local 79 (now CUPE Local 79), representing 750 workers of the Administration’s 1440 employees. Soon after, Local 79 successfully negotiated a new collective agreement, which was adopted on May 29, 1944.
In 1951, Local 79 opened its union office in Toronto’s Old City Hall and proceeded to create an extensive city-wide system of shop stewards to support its growing membership. By 1948, City workers earned an average of $35/week, slightly more than the national average. Over a few short years Local 79 made gains on higher wages, shorter hours, sick pay, vacations and overtime.
Local 79 and equity
As the war neared its end in 1945, the City prioritized the hiring of war veterans and sometimes even displaced women to do so. Thousands of European immigrants arriving in Toronto created a more diverse Toronto and union membership. As a result, Local 79 needed to increasingly confront issues of workplace equity.
In 1954, Local 79 successfully blocked a discriminatory City proposal that stipulated that when a woman married, she would be transferred to temporary status and lose her sick pay benefits. The City’s use of “temporary employees” can be traced back to its approach to women employees at this time, which deemed them temporary and permitted their dismissal no matter their length of service.
In 1964, Local 79 negotiated a non-discrimination clause that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, political or religious affiliation and union membership. In 1981, it would add a ‘no sexual harassment’ clause into the Collective Agreement. In 1972, Local 79 became one of the first unions to negotiate maternity leave into its contract.
In 1974, Local 79 initiated the creation of a Job Evaluation system that awarded female-dominated job classes, including Public Health Nurses and Children’s Services staff, the wages those jobs merit on the basis of skill, responsibility and working conditions. A permanent Job Evaluation process to combat gender-based wage and employment discrimination was negotiated into our 1978 Collective Agreement. In 2007, Local 79 worked with the City of Toronto to establish an annual Equity Symposium to tackle issues of inequity in the workplace.
Significant dates in our history
1952 – Local 79 bargains its first pension plan into the Collective Agreement.
1956 – Local 79 negotiates the grievance procedure into the Collective Agreement.
1980 – 1982 – In 1980, Local 79 began establishing Health & Safety Committees for its members and held its first Health & Safety Recognition Event in 1982. This was a pivotal moment that, for the first time, recognized non-physical risks and gave members a say in their workplace conditions.
1983-1985 – Local 79 fights for recognition of workers inHomes for the Aged (now Senior Services & Long-term Care), receiving an arbitrated settlement for its first contract with the homes’ 1100 part-time workers.
1994 – Local 79 sponsors a non-profit housing co-op named after Muriel Collins, one of the Local’s most powerful activists in the fight against racism and discrimination.
1998 – 2000 – The Greater Toronto Area’s six municipalities are dissolved into an amalgamated ‘megacity’. Local 79 brings together 27 different contracts and harmonizes wages, job descriptions, seniority and promotions. The Local goes on strike and bargains for over a year to negotiate its first post-amalgamation contract in 2000, which leads the way for later victories in achieving the fundamentals of job promotion and protecting job evaluation in the new city. By the end of 1999, Local 79 had over 10,000 members in 800 workplaces.
1998 – Local 79 organizes part-time workers (Part-Time Unit B), and Recreation Part-Time workers, the latter group now making up our largest membership unit at around 10,000.
2001 – Despite being outnumbered, Local 79 wins a representation vote at TCHC and later negotiates the unit’s first Collective Agreement in 2006.
2002– Local 79 strikes again to protect employment security against an employer attack that would have led to huge losses, including the privatization of Toronto Water.
2007 – Local 79moves to its offices at 34 St Patrick Street where elected officers, Local 79 staff and CUPE servicing representatives assigned to the local have been supporting members in the five-story structure that is a far cry from the local’s modest first digs at Old City Hall.
2008 – Local 79 members celebrate Toronto’s LGBTQ communities and show pride in our diversity with our first annual march in the Toronto Pride Parade.
2009 – For six weeks Local 79 members stand strong to defend sick pay and severance provisions during the longest strike in Local 79 history.
2013 – The new Bridgepoint Active Care hospital opens. Bridgepoint has evolved from the “House of Refuge” constructed on the same site in 1860 to shelter Toronto’s “poor, needy and disabled”, into the single largest organization in Canada to focus exclusively on research, care and teaching for people with complex health conditions.
2020 – On March 14, Local 79 signs a tentative agreement for a 5-year Collective Agreement with the City of Toronto, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Local 79 members keep the City running, including in hard-hit long-term care homes, shelters, child care centres, housing and public health.