Thursday, May 19, 2011


Muriel Collins was born in Georgetown, (the capital city) Guyana on May 19, 1933 and has nine siblings. Collins arrived in Toronto, at Pearson International Airport on May 16 1963, from Guyana accompanied by her two small children. She now has four children after her twin boys were born in Canada. As a sole support parent she successfully raised her daughter and three sons while working as a city employee. She worked in several Homes for the Aged (including Fudger House and Kipling Acres) for more than 33 years before retiring in September 1998. She was an active member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79 which represents inside workers in the City of Toronto. She was a founding member of the Rainbow Committee (which represented racialized workers) now the Racialized Workers Committee, at CUPE National.

In 1989 Collins was honoured with a YWCA Women of Distinction Award for her activism and advocacy in the labour movement. She also chaired CUPE’s National Task Force on Women and was a member of CUPE’s National Executive Board (NEB) representing southern Ontario. As a member of the CUPE Ontario Executive Board, Collins spent many years working on equity issues and contributed profoundly to improving the working lives of CUPE members and all working people.

She spoke at Queens Park before the Standing Committee on Resources Development - on September 01, 1992 making a presentation on behalf of 410,000 workers from coast to coast in the public sector, including approximately 220,000 women in public services.

Ms Muriel Collins, a worker from the Homes for the Aged, a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79, which represents inside workers in the city of Toronto:
As a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees for the past 25 years, there's much that I have witnessed and many horror stories I could recount about the struggles working Canadian men and women face on a daily basis.
For the purpose of today's presentation, though, I'm going to concentrate on just one incident back in 1983. I was involved with CUPE Local 79 in what was to be a long and bitter fight to organize the part-time workers in Metropolitan Toronto's seven municipally run homes for the aged.
You may be wondering, "How many part-time workers could there be working in these homes? A hundred, a couple of hundred?" Would you believe it was close to 900? It may also be hard to believe that it was less than 10 short years ago that this very local became the first unionized group of part-time workers in the country.
We were faced with a situation in the homes where we basically had two classes of workers: The unionized full-time workers who enjoyed decent wages, benefits and job security, and non-unionized workers who enjoyed none of the above.
What this meant in the workplace for the residents of the homes was a dramatically high turnover of what were then called casual staff, many of them racial minorities and immigrant women who were being forced to live from day to day never knowing if they still had a job next week. For many of them, the uncertainty was too much and they moved on.
When we finally decided to organize these workers, we could not meet or talk to them anywhere near the workplace. We were forced to meet them in restaurants, at bus stops and so on. Many of the workers had been threatened with termination if they were seen talking with a union organizer such as myself. But we persevered and we were successful in getting the percentage of union cards signed. That turned out to be the easy part.
What followed was a full year spent at the bargaining table trying to negotiate a first contract, with the employer using all the stalling tactics in the book. Then we spent another two years going to an arbitration board. Two years these workers waited for their first contract after exercising their democratic right to form a union.
What has it meant for these part-time workers in homes for the aged? They have now moved a lot closer to having full equality with their full-time counterparts. They're by no means all the way there, but they're closer and they now have a level of job security which they had only dreamed of. More than anything, though, this unionization has stabilized the workforce in the homes, which now number 10 across Metropolitan Toronto. It has radically reduced the staff turnover rates, so the workers have benefited, but the residents have benefited in a big way and the employer has also benefited.
Looking back to 1983 and that organizing drive, I believe I can speak for those workers when I say all the headaches, all the intimidation and disruptions in their lives were worth it, because we were able to improve the quality of life for 900 working women and men. I thank you.

Collins was also part of a team from CUPE Local 79 making a presentation at Queens Park in opposition to the Ontario Provincial Tory government’s Bill 49 to the Standing Committee on Resources Development on September 10, 1996.
"Whereas Bill 49, the Employment Standards Improvement Act, introduced by the provincial Tory government, will make it more difficult for Ontario workers to get their minimum employment rights enforced by making it more difficult for workers to be able to make claims for moneys owed to them by bad bosses;
Collins was named to the Ontario Federation of Labour’s (OFL) 1999 Honour Roll and an OFL scholarship was awarded in her name. The scholarships are awarded each year to children of unionists who are starting their first year of college or university.

This is information from the CUPE National website:

Collins named to Honour Roll

Aug 31, 1999 08:00 PM
Muriel Collins – a former member of the National Executive Board and longtime activist and member of the executive of CUPE 79 – has one more accomplishment to enjoy in her retirement. She’s been named to the Ontario Federation of Labour’s 1999 Honour Roll.
As well, an OFL scholarship will be awarded in her name. The scholarships are handed out each year to children of unionists who are starting their first year of college or university.
Local 79 president Anne Dubas says, “Sister Collins may have retired in 1998, but after 33 years of public service and labour activism she continues to receive recognition and is very deserving of this distinction.”
Livingstone Holder, a member of the CUPE Ontario Executive Board who spent many years working with Collins on equity issues, organizing and more says, “this is a sister who understood the struggle instinctively. In her own quiet but determined way, she was able to contribute profoundly to the working lives of CUPE members and all working people.”
The OFL Honour Roll can be added to Collins’ long list of achievements including the naming of the Muriel Collins Housing Co-operative in honour of her years of dedication and service to the community, CUPE regional vice president, co-chair of the CUPE Ontario Women’s Committee and a YWCA Woman of Distinction award.
As for Sister Collins, she says she’s thoroughly enjoying her retirement, spending quality time with her grandchildren and tending to her garden.

In May 1995 the Muriel Collins Housing Co-op named in her honour was officially opened and will be celebrating 16 years of existence this year, 2011. The housing co-op was named for Collins in recognition of her fight against racism and oppression. This amazing African Guyanese woman is one of our many unsung sheroes. I have only seen her name mentioned in one sentence in one book. There will be a celebration of Muriel Collins’ life and achievements on Monday, May 23 at the Muriel Collins Housing Co-op. The plan is to include singing of Guyanese folk songs, Kwe-kwe songs and Guyanese National songs. We shall have a fine time, fine time that night!

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