Langley woman seeks top labour job

Michelle Laurie is a union president and former B.C. Fed executive member.

Michelle Laurie is running for president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

A Langley woman is seeking the top job at the B.C. Federation of Labour.

Michelle Laurie is challenging longtime BC Fed president Jim Sinclair. The election of Fed officers will take place at its annual convention on Nov. 29.

Laurie, who has lived in Langley for the past 12 years, is president of local 258 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. She has been in the B.C. labour force for over 35 years, living in many communities, and has worked at jobs from mining, fish processing and electrical utilities to part-time paramedic.

She has experience as a BC Fed executive, being appointed to the executive council in 2002 and as a vice-president from 2005 to 2010.

Laurie is running as part of a slate with Trevor Davies, who is running for secretary-treasurer. Davies is a general vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in B.C. and president of CUPE local 374, which represents over 600 members in six Greater Victoria municipalities.

Laurie and Davies are running on a platform of renewal. She says that she “is a little concerned about our strategic process and the public perception of the labour movement.

“We are a lot more than a voice of protest,” she said. “We’ve talked a lot about engaging youth, but haven’t been showing them leadership.”

She says she and Davies make a good team, as she represents private sector  unions, while he comes from the public sector.

“There is a lot of reasons for change now,” she says. “The labour movement has felt kind of beaten up over the last decade. It’s been a difficult time under the Liberals. We have gotten good at protest. But we are a lot more than that. To be seen that way is dangerous.”

Laurie says unionized workers are the backbone of many communities. They often have better work-life balance and are paid good wages, with which they can support families and small businesses. They have time to contribute to the community.

The BC Fed offers workers “a distinct voice” and is an important provincial institution, she says.

The BC Fed needs to push for better skills training, she says, citing the recent decision to allow Chinese miners to come on work permits to develop a northern B.C. mine.

“Yes, we need immigration, but we need to prepare young people for jobs like those.”

Laurie believes her candidacy offers hope to under-represented sectors of the B.C. workforce, women and First Nations. She says First Nations people in particular have suffered “horrible poverty and under-employment. Why aren’t we investing in that?”

Laurie appreciates the work the BC Fed did in raising awareness of conditions that immigrant farmworkers endured at a Langley mushroom farm where three workers died and two others were permanently injured, but says it could have done more.

“We raised awareness of the lack of enforcement of regulations, but what did we accomplish? If we could organize all farmworkers, we could protect them all.”

Laurie and her husband Jeff have four grown children. A Walnut Grove resident, she is active in the Fort Langley-Aldergrove NDP constituency association, where she serves as treasurer.

She has been chair of the United Way of the Lower Mainland and president of B.C. Citizens For Public Power.

The BC Fed represents about 500,000 unionized workers in B.C.

For mire information on the Laurie-Davies campaign, see www.renewthefed.ca.

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