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A Tale of Five Heroes

At midnight on August 15th, management locked out nearly 5,500 members of the CMG at the CBC. At CBC Regina, we quickly found out we weren’t alone on the picket line. Five members of the Retail Wholesale Department Store Union of Saskatchewan had joined us. They are our building cleaners. We were amazed and very pleased by this show of solidarity.

Greg and Marquita walk the picket line in Regina in support of CMG

After a couple of days, we told them they didn’t need to stay out on our behalf. They told us very politely, “We don’t cross picket lines and we are out for as long as you are.” We were deeply moved.

These five people don’t earn much more than minimum wage. They didn’t really know us, and yet they were willing to give their pay and quite possibly jeopardize their jobs as a matter of principle. A lot of us were asking ourselves if we would do the same.

Most of us didn’t know Crystal, Marquita, Greg, Linda, or Kristen, before the lockout. Like most building cleaners, they would come to work about 4 pm and don their blue smocks. They would then go around the building emptying out our garbage, cleaning the bathrooms, sweeping and vacuuming the floors, while we wrapped up our busy days and put the afternoon shows on radio and the supper-hour news show on TV. Some of us would nod cordially and exchange the occasional greeting. But we never really knew them.

That quickly changed. We shared the donations of food we received on the picket line and we made sure they were invited to all of our events.

At one point we were told their employer was going to fire them for not working. The Guild’s national bargaining committee informed the Corp that the cleaners were to keep their jobs and that no action was to be taken against them. We were told a few of days later that their employer, Omni Facility Services, had a change of heart. Omni is under contract from SNC-Profac to supply cleaning services in our building. One point for our side.

Somewhere around week 6, we discovered that their picket pay paled in comparison to ours, about half of what we were receiving. None of them ever complained, but we knew they were starting to feel the pinch of being out for such a long time.

On behalf of our location unit executive, I asked Guild president Lise Lareau if the national union could donate some money to help them out. Lise and I chatted back and forth a bit, and she decided the best thing to do would be to top up their picket pay to the same as ours.

The Tuesday after we went back to work, we called the five cleaners up to the Galleria at CBC Regina and gave them some gifts of appreciation. Then I had the honour of giving each of them a cheque for approximately $1,000.

I have been involved in the union for all of my 29 years at the Corporation and I’ve never been as touched as I was by these people and what they did for us.

They taught me a lesson about what it means to be a union member.

I always felt that one of the tennets of unionism is ” the Big help the Small.” I have now learned that “the Few can teach the Many.”

It was a good lesson to learn.

I offer my thanks to Crystal, Marquita, Greg, Linda, and Kristen for their dedication. And a big thank you to Lise and the National Executive for helping our five new friends.

Kenn Sunley is the Guild’s CBC location president in Regina and the Western Director of the CBC branch executive.

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