The 2019 Teamsters Women’s Conference kicked off today in Montreal. Over 1,200 Teamsters from across North America are in town for the three-day annual event, which provides the opportunity for empowerment and education for women in our union.
The theme this year is “Teamster Women: Shaping the Future.” It’s a reflection of the ever-increasing role of women in our union and in our economy. More and more women are entering non-traditional jobs in male-dominated industries. We have never had more women truckers, railroaders, warehouse workers and package delivery drivers. We have never seen more women on job sites, in factories and in union halls.
Participants will be able to take part in workshops on themes as varied as breaking barriers within locals, bargaining for women, mental health in the workplace, union history, organizing, helping shop stewards, and more.
Union leaders pledge support for Teamster women
Participants today also had a chance to hear from union leaders. They pledged to support women and to help them rise in their union and their workplaces.
François Laporte, president of Teamsters Canada, and Alain Michaud, president of Quebec Joint Council 91, were the first speakers of the day. They received a plaque from the US-based organizers of the event, in recognition of everything Canadian members did to help organize the conference.
President Laporte took advantage of the occasion to speak about the current elections in Canada.
“On October 21, voters will head to the polls to decide on the future of this country. The choice we have before us is clear: do we turn inwards and undo what Canada has accomplished, or do we choose to carry on with the progress our great nation has made and continues to make?” asked Laporte.
“Women might have the most to lose in this election. This country, and this province in particular, is a good place to be a woman. But don’t be naïve. Nothing we have was simply given to us. We’ve had to fight for it, and that fight is far from over. That is why we need a government that puts workers ahead of big corporations. That is why we need to choose to keep moving forward,”he added.
Brother Alain Michaud thanked everyone for the plaque. He promised to take the message he hears at this conference back to Quebec Joint Council 91.
General President Jim Hoffa spoke next. “We have done so much working together. We’re united across North America. It’s an honour to be here with our sisters and brothers from Teamsters Canada,” he said.
He went on to salute how Teamsters Canada changed its constitution to make sure there was a spot for women on the national executive board. That spot was filled by Sister Fernanda Santos, the president of Local Union 847 in Ontario.
On top of being the first woman on the Teamsters Canada national executive board, Santos is also the first woman to become a president of a local union in Ontario and the first woman to serve on the board of Ontario Joint Council 52.
“Forget about all the titles, none of it relevant. You don’t need to be special, you don’t need to be a superwoman, you just need to be passionate about standing up for people and their rights,” said Santos. “There’s no better feeling than getting someone rehired after being unjustly terminated, helping people get accommodations for medical and human rights reasons, and negotiating pay raises for members.”
Santos also called for more women to get involved. “Society needs gender balance. We need women leaders at every decision-making level, including in the union,” she told the room.
General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall also spoke. “If you want to get something done, make sure you have your Teamster sisters on your side,” he said. He went on to add that while “working people face challenges in both Canada and the United States, one thing that unites us is the fact that we are all Teamsters and we’re facing these challenges together.”
Quebec Teamster woman honoured
A Teamster woman from the host area is honoured every year at the Teamsters Women’s Conference. The award goes to a woman who is tirelessly dedicated to building a stronger union.
This year that award went to Jenny Mireault, member of Local Union 1999 and worker at Groupe Marcelle in Montreal. She is also a devoted union activist. Sister Miraud serves as a shop steward, representing 200 members while also serving on the health and safety committee. In her free time she volunteers as an FTQ Solidarity Fund representative and raises money for both breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Lots to do
On the sidelines of the event, the Teamsters Canada Foundation, Quebec Joint Council 91 and the Teamsters women’s caucuses from Ontario and Quebec set up booths to talk about the work they do, sell raffle tickets and give out promotional goodies. Trade divisions representing US-based workers also set up booths.
TEAM Art held an exhibit featuring artwork by Teamster members and allies. The artwork was being raffled off and to raise funds for the IBT Disaster Relief Fund, which aims to help members who suffer from a natural disaster.
It’s shaping up to be a promising three-day conference. Follow Teamsters Canada on social media to stay up to date, or follow the #teamsterwomen hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.