Ensuring security for all
Jack McCann believes the best way to make a difference is to have a stake in the decision- making process. Consequently McCann, a maintenance carpenter of 13 years at York University, sought and won the office of president for Locals 1356, 1356-1, 1356-2, of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
For the last 11 years he has also been a member of the joint health and safety committee. And of these years, he has spent eight as the worker co-chair, representing workers from the maintenance, grounds, housekeeping, transportation, parking and security departments.
Further, McCann sits on CUPE’s Ontario Division Health and Safety Committee representing university workers from campuses province-wide. His duties on this committee include input on health and safety conferences, conducting workshops, researching injured workers’ issues, drafting joint committee terms of reference — in short, doing whatever he can to protect his members and others in the university sector.
To stay current in his capacity as worker co-chair, McCann spends much of his own time taking health and safety courses. These courses are vital, since McCann has had to deal with many issues.
One of the largest issues for his co-workers is back injuries sustained from lifting of heavy loads. During the winter months especially, injuries resulting from slips, trips and falls are also of concern. However, the biggest challenge McCann and co-workers face is the issue of workplace violence for campus security officers.
“We are like a small city and as such our security workers have been used as a pseudo-police department. They are sent out to deal with domestic disputes, traffic accidents, weapons calls, suicides, trespasses and bank alarms. And yet they do not have the same protections a regular police officer has,” says McCann. Things like handcuffs, collapsible batons and a silent partner (shield between driver and passenger) in the security car are some of the tools security officers need, but have not been provided.
McCann and the union have been working tirelessly with the Ministry of Labour (MOL) to secure these protections. To date, representatives of the MOL have informed the employer that security officers have the right to refuse unsafe work. If the officers are in a situation they perceive to be potentially dangerous, they have been advised by the MOL to disengage themselves from the situation and call for police assistance. Reflecting on this victory McCann says, “This is the first time the employer has been directed to recognize the threat of violence as a legitimate health and safety issue.”
Donna Wright, CUPE’s national health and safety representative, is appreciative of all McCann’s efforts, but is particularly struck by his progress on safeguarding the well-being of security guards. “We have been tackling the violence problem for 10 years,” observes Wright. “However, it wasn’t until Jack decided to take this issue on that we started to make some inroads. The employer has been forced to recognize that our security officers have the same rights and protections as any other work group. Jack has done a lot to make this happen. He is an asset to his local and to our union.”