Over 75% of Local 79’s members are women.
Our Status of Women’s Committee is consistently working towards improving equity in our workplaces and in our communities, organizing workshops throughout the year and planning our International Women’s Day activities.
The Legacy of Local 79 Women
Take a moment to read about the remarkable lives of some of Local 79’s women labour activists. We thank the members of our Status of Women Committee for putting these profiles together.
May 19, 1933 – November 12, 2013
COLLINS, Muriel Jean
(Written by Valerie Joseph)
Muriel Collins was a CUPE Local 79 activist who contributed in many ways to improve working conditions, especially for women.
Collins worked as a nursing attendant at Kipling Acres Long-Term Care Home, and became a union steward in order to address issues such as understaffing, supply shortage and intimidation. Her efforts resulted in the City of Toronto improving staffing levels and addressing mismanagement is some of its long-term care facilities. Collins also organized a campaign to unionize 600 part-time workers who previously had no representation. She eventually became Local 79’s Membership Secretary and also served on the Bargaining Committee.
In the late 1980s, Collins became Chair of CUPE’s National Women’s Task Force and a founding member of its National Rainbow Committee, which aims to tackle racism, discrimination and employment equity. In the 1990s she was elected twice to the CUPE national executive as Ontario Vice-President and was the first Black woman to hold this position.
Collins was a recipient of the Toronto YWCA Woman of Distinction award, and in 1995, the Lombard St. Housing Co-Op, sponsored by CUPE Local 79, paid tribute to her by naming this project the Muriel Collins Housing Co-operative.
Upon her retirement in 1998, Collins was appointed to the honour roll of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and an OFL student scholarship was established in her name. CUPE Ontario also offers a scholarship in her name at its spring and fall schools.
MILLS, Barbara Ann (née Cadenhead)
April 11, 1942 – May 19, 2016
(Written by Valerie Joseph, Anna Galati)
In her history of the Muriel Collins Housing Co-operative, Barbara Mills notes “unions can do more than collective bargaining. They are part of the community in which it serves and where its members reside.” Mills worked as a methods analyst, and advocated and lectured widely on the impact of gender-based violence on women. Barbara Mills’ accolades are well documented. Among them was the 2005 “Above and Beyond” Award of Excellence, a City of Toronto Social Services peer-generated award. She won it in recognition of her 20 years of volunteer achievements in the area of domestic violence. It stands as a testament to the influence she had on her coworkers and the community she served as a CUPE Local 79 member.
One story that still leaves us in awe was Barbara’s response to a brutal attack against three Toronto-area women. In 2009, a man severely attacked Heather Stewart and her daughter, and killed Heather’s mother Helen Slichta.
With Barbara’s support through her advocacy foundation ‘Sisters in Solidarity’, Heather petitioned the courts for an amendment of the Criminal Code to better empower the judiciary and law enforcement to protect victims of domestic violence. The amendment is called Helen’s Law, to honour the memory of Heather’s mother. Heather found comfort in Barbara Mills, who helped Stewart draft the petition and accompanied her to Ottawa.
(Written by Anna Galati)
It’s late January 2021 and we are in a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and grappling with deaths and high infection rates. We are coming to terms that a majority of infections are arising from workplaces where employees feel they have no option but to go to work, even when sick. It is a phenomenon that has disproportionately affected female workers.
I am on the phone with CUPE 79’s first female president, Anne Dubas. She was the leader of Local 79’s 2000 strike and negotiated the first contract for City of Toronto workers since the imposed provincial amalgamation of six municipalities into the megacity. That work brought together 24 different contracts into four different subdivided contracts. It also brought under its umbrella full-time and part-time staff that were previously non-unionized.
Anne’s working life began in a union. She joined the Baker and Confectionery Workers Union as a worker in the Christie Brown and Company, just like her parents. She later began her career with the City of Toronto in Public Nursing in 1969, a job that followed her passion. She notes it was a time in which there was not a major wage gap between management and labour. A time when each Public Health office had a steward, a role she herself would take on in 1972. In 1974, when then Mayor David Crombie commissioned a task force on the Status of Women in Toronto, it was Public Health Nurses who were one of three groups of women used as comparators. Anne’s career and work life took place amidst a backdrop of an active pay-equity movement of which she took part with contemporaries like Jeff Rose, Steven David, Lynn Spink, and Pearline D’Oyle.
While balancing family and worklife, Anne moved up through the ranks of CUPE Local 79 as a executive board member, unit officer, treasurer, vice-president, and in 1993, as President.
During Anne’s tenure as President, Local 79 was impacted by the policies of the provincial Progressive Conservative government’s 1995 “Common Sense Revolution”, which saw an already beleaguered public union labour force be confronted with service cuts and privatization schemes.
As a District Public Health Nurse, Anne witnessed first-hand the effects of the City exploiting non-unionized, predominantly female staff as cheap labour in contrast to their full-time unionized counterparts.
She understood that the City needed to change its approach to its women workers who, prior to 1972, could be fired for being pregnant. Women were now increasingly working mothers and helping to support their families, but the constraints of a work-life balance often led to part-time work and a flexible work schedule. The subsequent contract acknowledged these staff and obtained the same protections and benefits as their full-time unionized counterparts. This allowed for a fluidity between full-time and part-time employment with family-friendly policies like staggered start times and flex-time. During our call, Anne empathized with today’s labour force. What might it take to reestablish a program that acknowledges burnout, stress rates and physical demands; to reintroduce sick and personal days?
Many forms of work remain precarious, and the jobs of part-time or temporary workers even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People aren’t valued, they are commodities” says Anne.