Black History Month is a time to honour and celebrate Black people’s past and present accomplishments, their contributions to Canadian society, and their ongoing struggle for equity. This is a time to reflect on the strength and resiliency of people of African and Caribbean descent in Canada, while committing to fight against systemic discrimination and racism in our communities.
From creating one of Canada’s first trade-labour schools in 1842, to launching a class action lawsuit challenging racism in Canada's public service today, Black workers and labour activists were instrumental in shaping the Canadian labour movement from which we continue to benefit.
Workers’ rights and workplaces in Canada have been greatly advanced through their courage and perseverance, and Black History Month is a time to recognize and give thanks for their leadership and those victories.
Wins against workplace anti-Black racism
In 2020, PSAC won a landmark case representing Christian Reeves, the only Black man in his mechanic program at the Canadian Forces Base in Halifax. Reeves experienced anti-Black racism and was terminated in 2015 for “poor performance.” After he filed a grievance, PSAC launched an investigation that revealed a coordinated plot against him, and he was awarded damages and four years of back pay as a result of a termination based on anti-Black racism.
PSAC member Levan Turner, a Black man who applied for numerous positions with the Canadian Border Services Agency, filed a complaint in 2005 with the Canadian Human Rights Commission due to discrimination. Despite working at CBSA with good performance evaluations he was nonetheless disqualified for the positions. Fifteen years later, Turner was found to have been discriminated against due to racial stereotyping by the hiring board.
If you believe there is anti-Black racism in your workplace, contact your PSAC local for more information about how to get your union involved.
Black Class Action Lawsuit
The fight for equity in the workplace continues with Black workers today. PSAC proudly supports the 1,300 plaintiffs of the Black Class Action (BCA) lawsuit, many of them PSAC members and union activists, including lead plaintiff Nicholas Marcus Thompson.
Black federal public service workers have faced decades of Black employee exclusion — the systemic practice of limiting skilled Black workers from career advancement opportunities. The result is disproportionate underrepresentation in management positions of Black federal public service employees, with only 1.6 per cent of Black workers in executive roles, despite Black people making up 3.5 per cent of the federal public service. The class action is seeking remedy for the financial and psychological harm this has caused thousands of Black federal public service workers.
The BCA has also filed a motion for the government to implement a mental health fund to address the mental health injuries caused by the racial trauma experienced by Black public service workers. The Liberals made campaign promises to create the mental health fund, and to provide more support for the career advancement of skilled Black government workers, but we are still waiting for them to put this into action.
If you identify as Black, Caribbean or of African descent and currently work or have worked for the federal government in the past 50 years, you are eligible to join the class action.
Black workers leading change in the workplace
As a result of the work of many Black, Indigenous, and other racialized activists, there have been many important victories for all equity-seeking workers. They have recently influenced the call to action from the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet to appoint, sponsor and support the recruitment and leadership of Black, Indigenous and other racialized employees, amendments to the Public Service Employment Act to address systemic barriers for equity-seeking groups in public service staffing, and a review of the Employment Equity Act.
Black workers have been at the forefront in the fight against racism and discrimination time and time again. Their coordinated efforts have benefitted not only racialized people, but all workers. PSAC is honoured to fight for justice at their side.