ONIWG’s Christine Nugent and Dianne Baddeley report on a new injured workers’ group in northern Ontario. The group will provide education on rights in the workers’ compensation system and peer support for injured workers who all too often face isolation and loneliness as well as financial insecurity following work-related injury or illness….
On Monday May 28, a spirited organizing meeting culminating in the launch of the new Sudbury Injured Workers Group was held at the Sudbury Steelworkers Local 6500 Union Hall.
In the afternoon a planning meeting brought together a force of organizers determined to create a group to end the marginalization of the many workers injured or made ill on the job and their families.
Of concern in the Sudbury and surrounding region are the many miners suffering from the effects of occupational diseases and the non-unionized workers that are left to fend for themselves. They and the unionized injured workers are facing a tsunami of benefit denials from the compensation board due to their draconian methods of treating workers: Denying claims due to “pre-existing conditions”, deeming whereby they cut benefits based on workers having jobs that they do not have, and an ongoing refusal to listen to the injured worker’s medical practitioners, favouring their own ‘paper doctors’ who are paid to deny, deny, deny!
The four day prior events organized by the Ontario Network of Injured Worker Groups (ONIWG) brought enthusiasm that lit a spark for the founding of the Sudbury group: the conference featuring the Macintyre Powder Project in Elliot Lake and reception in Massey, the 110 km 4th Annual awareness Bike Ride from Elliot Lake to Sudbury with meetings focusing on Occupational Disease – that other Workplace Fatality.
The afternoon brought together organizers from Ontario, with specifically a broad Sudbury community base. J. P. Mrochek, WSIB worker representative from the United Steelworkers Local 6500, initiated the work joined by Mélodie Bérubé, Outreach and Campaign Organizer with the Sudbury Workers and Education Advocacy Centre.
From the legal community were: Catherine Boivin-Girard, Northern Regional Injured Workers’ lawyer, Timmins Temiskaming Community Legal Clinic (TTCLC); staff lawyers Laura Lunansky of Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic (IWC) and Rachel Weiner of IAVGO Community Legal Aid Clinic Toronto.
In addition were Nicole Ayotte, – Director of Labour Community Services, United Way Districts of Algoma, Cochrane, Manitoulin, Nipissing, Sudbury and Timiskaming; Pat Striewe, Worker Health and Safety Centre Representative; several organizers from the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Group (ONIWG) including Willy Noiles (President) and Christine Nugent (ONIWG Outreach Committee), Dianne Baddeley (VP Central Ontario) and Gary Hrytsak, president of the Manitoulin Northshore Injured Workers’ Group (MNSIWG).
Each community will bring forth a focus on its needs in terms of ensuring the rights of workers are realized and Sudbury organizers are setting their targets to build bridges especially with the injured workers and their families. Given the closeness to the provincial election there was discussion of the need for a new government and confirmation that the governments of the past 20 years are responsible for the demise of the compensation system. We must take our compensation system back! This is the spirit that existed all throughout the 5-day Bike Ride events.
The evening meeting began with the legal representatives outlining the important processes workers need to follow when injured or made ill on the job, with discussions about the many ways that the compensation board frustrates those processes. Which leads to mental stress for the workers.
Willy Noiles outlined his own struggles personally as an injured worker and encouraged the participants to take a political stand by joining in on the Workers’ Comp is a Right Campaign which generated the new faces of injured workers to burst into lively discussion of their injuries, struggles with the compensation board and denial of rights.
The comradely support there that night was testimony to the success of the evening and one-on-one legal advice added to the care of the meeting.
The next meeting is planned already for June 19 with monthly meetings to follow.
For more information contact: Sudbury Workers’ Education and Advocacy Centre email: firstname.lastname@example.org