Transformation Through Solidarity and Action - Lessons from ATU Can-Am Kelowna 2018

In 2018 Local 1722 had the privilege of hosting the ATU Can-Am Conference in Kelowna, British Columbia - located in the picturesque Okanagan Valley. For our small local, this experience has become an inspiration to future labour advocates that may not have otherwise transpired. There are many effects of what the Can-Am can do for you and your local. Without a doubt, because of it, my community here in Kelowna will never be the same.

The Okanagan, unfortunately, is also the heart of conservative country. For my American Sisters and Brothers this would be prime Republican territory. The reason I mentioned “conservative country” is to explain how paramount hosting such a large and major Union conference like the Can-Am was for Local 1722. I will get back to this shortly.

Inclusion, Outreach and Engagement

At the conference we invited all walks of life to see who we are, what we do, share our topics of education, and the policies we try to promote for our members. We had First Nations leaders, regional municipal governance and the B.C. Federation of Labour on site, to name a few.

We had the honour and privilege of having a First Nations Elder, Elder Wilford Barnes, address and bless the delegation. The Okanagan Valley is on several unceded territories of First Nations lands. Where we were, in particular, was on the Syilx / Okanagan Nation. It was a powerful and awe-inspiring experience having Elder Barnes share his spirit with us. If you think about it, our Union advocates values and principles that mirror closely to many of the First Nations beliefs and traditions: Auspice of integrity, caring for the whole, action for the community, honouring those before us, doing what is right no matter the cost and not backing down. Truly inspirational!

The educational seminars and presenters were excellent. The best information I had seen yet. Up-to-date current issues whose information we could bring back and apply to our own locals. Of the several speakers we heard, the one I took away best was on how important social media and media engagement is for our causes. Zach Fleisher from the ATU 1505 office team (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) took us through a campaign they did using social media. The presentation was brilliant noting that although at times their cause was bleak, they stuck to their plan and ended up winning the day.

Many of our Local membership volunteered to help with the different events and were invited to attend the seminars and social events. This was well received and was a great opportunity at continuing the internal organizing efforts of our local. ALL of those who attended remain fully involved in our local today.

Showing real ‘Solidarity’

The region learned first-hand what real ‘solidarity’ looks like and put the ATU in the forefront!

There had been a labour dispute at the downtown Kelowna Casino. Members of the BCGEU (British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union – a powerful 60,000 member Union in the province) had been behind picket lines for 16 weeks at this point, with no results. The company refused to meet and had hired scabs which required many legal actions by BCGEU. Not many Unions were picketing in solidarity, and there was no public empathy. These people were the lowest wage earners in our region - restaurant workers, table game dealers, maintenance staff, janitors – who work in front of and behind the scenes to make hospitality great for the public at the casino. The greedy corporation, oozing with enormous profits, refused to offer even a minuscule living wage. This strike had severely dampened the workers’ spirits after so many weeks out.

During the ATU Can-Am Conference several delegates learnt of the labour actions and attended the picket line to stand in solidarity. The Can-Am organizers invited the leadership of the strike to attend and educate the delegation of the details surrounding the strike. A hat was sent around our delegation, and with help from some locals in addition to the delegates in attendance, we raised over $3000 towards the strike. We organized a rally at the picket line and to put it mildly ‘all hell broke loose’. We had a few hundred picketing where there were only a dozen before. The ATU and BCGEU marched proudly and disrupted the peace for a few hours. The Casino, the police, the media, the company itself were baffled with disbelief.

Making Powerful Impact

The Okanagan had not seen this kind of action in a generation. The heart of Conservative country was shaken by the ATU. The affect from that picket has changed the social environment in this community. Since then, CUPW went on rotating strikes and the ferocity and solidarity of that march added to the rise of labour.

Several discussions have been ongoing between the Unions which are starting to work together like never before. Next month a panel of labour leaders will hold a round table public meeting – the first of its kind here for major public engagement. The University of B.C. is moderating this. The ATU was the first to be invited.

If we had not held the ATU Can-Am in Kelowna, none of these things may have happened. The inspiration of future labour advocates may not have transpired. We are invigorated with a renewed sense of purpose and drive. Thanks to the Can-Am, ATU in Kelowna – is where it should be – at the forefront of its labour movement.

There are many effects of what the Can-Am can do for you and your local. For me, my community will never be the same. Thank you, Sisters and Brothers, for helping change our little bit of the world.


Scott Lovell, President / Business Agent, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 - “The Transit Union”, Kewlona, British Columbia

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