How three illegal strikes established Kingston’s municipal workers’ union, CUPE 109

Between June 16 and 20, 1952, more than a hundred employees of the City of Kingston’s Board of Works went on strike for union recognition. On June 18, the City of Kingston fired the strikers, but two days later the City of Kingston capitulated, recognized the union, and rehired everyone they fired. The City of Kingston then began bargaining with the union, Local 9 of National Organization of Civic, Utility and Electrical Workers, the precursor of CUPE Local 109.

Kingston Whig-Standard, June 14 1952

The strike was a massive victory. It was also illegal. The 1950 Ontario Labour Relations Act’s Section 89 allowed municipalities and school boards to amend their bylaws to exclude their employees from union recognition and collective bargaining as outlined in the OLRA. The City of Kingston had passed such a bylaw.

Seventy-five of the union’s garbage collectors, carpenters and labourers struck again for three days in May 1955 to achieve a 40-hour work week with no reduction in pay. The strike ended when the union accepted a 10 percent pay increase and dropped its demand to end 44-hour and 48-hour work weeks.

Kingston Whig-Standard, May 25 1961

The union went on strike once more in May 1961 for five days. At this time, they were now Local 9 of the National Union of Public Service Employees. Garbage collectors won improved medical benefits and labourers won wage rates equal to their counterparts in the private sector.

The 1961 strike came after controversy earlier in the year when Kingston’s City Hall employees (ie: “inside workers”) formed their own union local, the National Union of Public Service Employees Local 141. Backed by the Kingston Labour Council president John McKinnon, a firefighter, local unions pressed the City Council to repeal their anti-union bylaw, including a new amendment allowing City Council to determine who could belong to Local 141.

“What right has an alderman to say whether a person shall or shall not join a union?” asked McKinnon at the formation of the new municipal union at the Ukrainian Hall on Bagot Street. “It amazes me to see people whom we supported in the recent municipal elections now supporting the amendment to the bylaw.”

Kingston Whig-Standard, February 22 1961

NUPSE and NUPE would merge in 1963 to form CUPE. NUPSE Local 9 and Local 141 merged to form CUPE 109 which exists today. It wasn’t until 1966 that provincial legislation was changed and municipalities and school boards were compelled to recognize unions and bargain collectively.

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