Cutting her teeth
At first meeting, one gets the impression Cynthia Kazadi can tackle almost anything. You get the sense she has just rushed from one activity, has several more awaiting her attention and is more than able to deal with a few more. “I am not the kind of person who sits on the sidelines,” she says, “I would much rather be in the thick of things.”
Kazadi works as a dental assistant at the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry. The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) organized her workplace in 1998 and she has been the worker co-chair of the joint health and safety committee for almost as long.
She had her chance to get into “the thick of things” at one of their very first union meetings when she addressed a long-standing health and safety issue in her workplace. “There were a lot of people there, some I didn’t know, but I just stood up and told everyone about the problem.”
The problem was an old autoclave used to sterilize dental equipment. “It was placed too high causing us to reach when loading and unloading it and because of the high temperature we would get burns. I still have this scar on my wrist from one of my burns,” says Kazadi.
It took some persistence on the issue, but a new autoclave is now installed in the workplace.
Following her first foray it did not take long for Kazadi to get involved in other activities. Last May for instance she joined other USWA activists in a two-week lobby of federal members of parliament in support of Bill C-259 or the Westray Bill. The bill if passed will amend the Criminal Code to include the crime of corporate manslaughter. It will also impose criminal liability on directors or other responsible corporate agents who fail to ensure an appropriate standard of occupational health and safety in the workplace.
Kazadi admits all this is new to her. However, she says the experience taught her a lot. “I learned much about how our political system works and that as citizens we often have the power to make change. All those fellow steelworkers, miners losing their lives in the Westray disaster — it is criminal, someone should be held responsible.”
This past October 17, Kazadi also joined others in the World March of Women 2000.
The USWA was one of the sponsors of the march. “We are living and working closer in today’s global economy,” says Kazadi. “There are many issues specific to women especially in the workplace that must be addressed.” For example she says, “Violence, sexual harassment plus other health and safety conditions and wages for the predominantly women workers in factories of developing nations, these are just some of the issues the march focused on. I was very proud to take part in this event.”
Nancy Hutchison, health and safety coordinator for the United Steelworkers of America, District 6, says she is encouraged to see a young, energetic activist of Kazadi’s calibre coming forward. “She has proven to be an activist who is committed, capable and willing to take on any task or mission that will benefit the well-being of working people. I look forward to working with Cynthia for many years to come.