Want to end precarious employment? Make care work the new manufacturing sector.
That’s the message prominent American labour activist Mary Kay Henry delivered to Premier Kathleen Wynne on Friday, in a meeting between two of the continent’s most influential female and openly gay leaders.
Henry, who visited Toronto ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, is the first woman to head the Service Employees International Union. It’s one of North America’s largest and represents 2 million workers in fields such as personal support and home care.
But its overwhelmingly female membership has become the new face of undervalued, poorly paid and erratically scheduled employment, activists say.
Given the needs of Ontario’s aging population, Henry argues that changing the circumstances of care work will help create decent middle-class jobs — and boost gender equality.
“Around the world, these are poverty-wage jobs,” Henry said in an interview with the Star. “What we’ve got to do is make a breakthrough in making them the foundation of the next middle class, because the care sector is the growing sector in the global economy.
Sharleen Stewart, president of the union’s Ontario chapter, helped lead the fight to increase the minimum wage for the province’s personal support workers to $16 an hour, which was introduced by the Wynne government. But Stewart says there is more work to be done.