Manitoba teachers’ union votes to join labour federation

Members of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with the Manitoba Federation of Labour this weekend.

It’s a step that formalizes a longstanding relationship between the two unions, said teachers’ society president James Bedford.

“It’s certainly not something that just came out of nowhere,” he said.

“You want to create that solidarity with others across the province. And we’re all facing many of the same challenges right now. Let’s face those challenges together.”

Roughly 80 per cent of the teachers’ union’s members voted in favour of the partnership at its annual general meeting, Bedford said.

He said many teachers in Manitoba are becoming increasingly frustrated with the province — a feeling that stems partially from the government’s handling of schools during the pandemic.

James Bedford is the president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society. (Nelly Gonzalez/CBC)

“One of the frustrations that our membership is seeing these past years is that the current government of the province is just not listening,” Bedford said, adding that teachers have felt increasingly like they’re shouldering most of the burden to keep schools safe. 

“When you’re trying to shoulder the weight of the world on your shoulders, what’s the best thing to do? You try to spread some of that load out.”

Bedford said the teachers’ union has always been a non-partisan organization, which won’t change when its members join the labour federation on Sept. 1.

Joining voices against proposed legislation

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said he’s excited to have the teachers join his organization.

They’ll bring the federation’s membership from just over 100,000 to 120,000 people, he said.

Kevin Rebeck is the president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

“This shows significant growth of union members, of workers democratically saying, ‘We think our voice is stronger together when we can unite,'” Rebeck said.

“There are a lot of games being played by this government and I think unions want to hold them to account and show Manitoba what this government is doing and how they are attacking working families.”

That includes working together to lobby against legislation various labour groups have taken issue with, such as one that proposes a massive overhaul of the education system and another that would attempt to make it easier for employers to fire striking workers, Rebeck said.

CBC contacted the province for comment, but a response wasn’t immediately received.

Rebeck said the labour federation won’t take over the teachers’ union’s role in dealing with workplace issues.

Once the teachers officially join the federation, they’ll be able to serve on its executive council and any of its committees.

They’ll also become voting members who will help steer which issues the federation focuses on, from workplace safety to poverty reduction, Rebeck said.