The “Sarnia & District” division of the Canadian Labour Congress represent 7,000 local union members including chemical workers. Their primary goal is to assist labour representatives in attaining positions of power, such as seats on Municipal Councils. Many cater to industries relevant to chemical workers such as plumping, piping, mental, auto, and steal. There are many organizations affiliated with this division of the Canadian Labour Congress that are primrily concerned with public health (The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Workers Health & Safety Centre).
There are two major unions representing workers employed in Chemical Valley. The Chemical, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) is an industrial union, focused most directly on plant workers. Second, there is the Building Trades union, which encompasses occupations such as pipefitters, carpenters, and electricians. Generally speaking, the Building Trades are more politically conservative and are not affiliated with the broader labor organizations such as the Local Labour Council. The Building Trades are connected with the Liberal Party while the CEP is associated with the New Democratic Party, who are much more keen on social justice issues.
Significance and Role
The Building Trades union had almost no history of occupational health advocacy. It was not until the relatively recent arrival (in 2003) of the Occupational Health Clinic that they even assigned anyone to assist their members with compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. The consensus amongst those active in the field of environmental and social justice in Sarnia is that fear of job loss unfortunately shapes both unions’ attitudes towards and involvement in occupational and environmental health issues.
CEP and Dow Chemical
In the 1970s, the CEP made a compelling and effective case against Dow Chemical. They exposed them for the poisoning of the air and water, and in the same effort fought for their union to be nationalized because of the chronic irresponsibility of the chemical industries. This movement suffered some defeat as the companies downsized. thus promoting fear of unemployment among workers.