The people who keep Toronto running
Our goals have remained the same since our inception in 1942: to advocate for better wages and working conditions on behalf of the people who keep Toronto running. When our Charter was first dedicated, we represented 750 workers at Toronto’s City Hall and Riverdale Hospital. Today, we’re proud to represent more than 20,000 frontline workers in Toronto, both full- and part-time, at the City of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing, and Bridgepoint Active Care hospital.
We serve as nurses, childcare workers, planners, clerks, social service employees, cleaners, court services staff, ambulance dispatchers, and many other occupations supporting our neighbours and our communities. You’ll find us at civic centres, including City Hall and Metro Hall. We ensure that Toronto’s water is safe to drink, and our food is safe to eat. We inspect apartment buildings, homes and workplaces. Our Public Health members work to prevent infectious diseases, and we shelter those without homes. Toronto works, lives and grows thanks in part to the passion and commitment of Local 79 members.
Local 79 was established in 1942 while Canada was at war. It was a time when union membership soared as war industries created thousands of jobs. In response to the economic challenges of war, governments implemented austerity measures on workers’ wages and allowed employers to override collective agreements.
It was in this climate that workers for ‘The Civic Administration’ of Toronto, who had not received a pay hike for 12 years, organized. On March 23, 1942, the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada (TLC) granted the Charter for the Toronto Municipal Employees Union Local 79 (now CUPE Local 79), representing 750 workers of the Administration’s 1440 employees. Soon after, Local 79 successfully negotiated a new collective agreement, which was adopted on May 29, 1944.
In 1951, Local 79 opened its union office in Toronto’s Old City Hall and proceeded to create an extensive city-wide system of shop stewards to support its growing membership. By 1948, City workers earned an average of $35/week, slightly more than the national average. Over a few short years Local 79 made gains on higher wages, shorter hours, sick pay, vacations and overtime.
Local 79 and equity
As the war neared its end in 1945, the City prioritized the hiring of war veterans and sometimes even displaced women to do so. Thousands of European immigrants arriving in Toronto created a more diverse Toronto and union membership. As a result, Local 79 needed to increasingly confront issues of workplace equity.
In 1954, Local 79 successfully blocked a discriminatory City proposal that stipulated that when a woman married, she would be transferred to temporary status and lose her sick pay benefits. The City’s use of “temporary employees” can be traced back to its approach to women employees at this time, which deemed them temporary and permitted their dismissal no matter their length of service.
In 1964, Local 79 negotiated a non-discrimination clause that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, political or religious affiliation and union membership. In 1981, it would add a ‘no sexual harassment’ clause into the Collective Agreement. In 1972, Local 79 became one of the first unions to negotiate maternity leave into its contract.
In 1974, Local 79 initiated the creation of a Job Evaluation system that awarded female-dominated job classes, including Public Health Nurses and Children’s Services staff, the wages those jobs merit on the basis of skill, responsibility and working conditions. A permanent Job Evaluation process to combat gender-based wage and employment discrimination was negotiated into our 1978 Collective Agreement. In 2007, Local 79 worked with the City of Toronto to establish an annual Equity Symposium to tackle issues of inequity in the workplace.