Tell me a bit about yourself, who are you and what is your day job?
My name is Simon Sung. I immigrated from Hong Kong to Toronto before 1997, where I received my post-secondary education and later became a graphic designer. After graduation, I worked for Ming Pao in Toronto for nine years, engaged in design-related work, and served as the chairman of Ming Pao’s employee union. Now I focus on graphic design and signboard design and work part-time at Toronto and York Region Labor Council to promote social, economic, climate, and racial justice among the Chinese population in the GTA area.
How did you find yourself in this field?
It all started with the labor movement. In 2010, I participated in Ming Pao’s union organization movement. The Labour Council invited us to attend the Labour Day parade that year. This allowed us to get media attention and strengthened team morale. After a 73-day strike, the Labor Council mobilized other unions and supported us at the picket line, so that we could continue to fight, and eventually succeeded in winning a union contract that significantly increased workers’ salaries and benefits. Since then, I have often participated in the activities of the Labour Council and its affiliated Chinese Workers Network, striving for social justice.
Was there an incident in your life that sparked a desire for you to pursue justice for yourself and others? (e.g. strike, discrimination at work, unfair treatment, etc)
I remember that in the early days of organizing the Ming Pao labour union, I wasn’t very determined. I believed that success or failure was not that important. My priority was not to affect my work and not to be personally targeted. My thinking was if the risk is higher than the cost, I would rather give up.
Back then, I didn’t get along well with one of the members of the organizing committee, because I thought he was very cunning, and often flattered his boss. However, during the organizing movement, it allowed me to change my perception toward him. It turns out that he is a very different person than I thought he would be. He often speaks for others and fights for them when he sees injustice. Unfortunately, being vocal in the labour movement has made him a target by the company. He has ever since been suppressed by the company, and thus he could only compromise himself for his survival at the company. I still remember he told me that organizing a labour union was his only way to fight back the company and regain his dignity as a worker.
At that time, not long after my son was born, I started to imagine that if I had encountered my co-worker’s experience in the situation that I had to compromise my will and dignity, I would have felt very guilty in my heart and ashamed of myself. I started to reflect on myself and realized that if I chose to remain silent when I saw injustice today, others will turn a blind eye when I encounter injustice in the future.
At that moment, my mentality changed. The labour union must be organized and justice must be addressed. Be one’s own, and pursue justice.
How do you see unions helping in the fight for workplace justice or social justice?
To put it simply, although labour laws provide basic protection to workers in the workplace, the protection is very limited. Furthermore, if you are not covered by the legal aid system, it will be very difficult for most people to seek justice given by the law due to the lack of financial resources or energy.
Take my own experience as an example. Nine of my co-workers and I were laid off by our employer for organizing a labour union. Yet, our employer claimed that they have to lay off 10 employees due to unknown operating issues. The legal provisions clearly state that this kind of activity is illegal! But the employer still insists on breaking the law. In that situation, what we can do is to sue the employer for illegal layoffs. However, considering the time, energy, and expense that will be spent, we have to choose to give up. Fortunately, we have the support of the labour union to fight for justice for us in litigation, and thus we finally regained the ten months of lost jobs and wages during the period. Here is the power of the union!
Labour unions not only protect the rights and interests of workers in the workplace but also link union members to strive for social justice, such as reforming and advancing labour laws and raising the minimum wage, so that workers who fail to organize a union can enjoy better basic protection. Today, there are many things that we take for granted, such as medical care, employment standards, paid holidays, health and safety laws, unemployment insurance, and paid maternity leave, which are the accumulated painstaking efforts of the workers in the past. This is the contribution of labour unions to a progressive society!
What other relevant things should the Chinese-Canadian community know about Canadian unions?
In a traffic accident, you need car insurance to protect your benefit. If you fall ill, you will need health insurance to protect your health. When your life is in danger, you need life insurance. Your job accounts for a very important part of your life, you will need a labour union as your insurance to protect your right as a worker.
In your opinion, what prevented Chinese-Canadians to participate in the labour/union movement?
Most Chinese Canadians have a limited understanding of labour unions. Many believe that labour unions only can guide you on how to go on strikes while other people think strikes can have a negative influence on our daily lives. Especially when public service sectors go on strikes, it will affect society as a whole. However, when you receive unfair treatment, you will understand how important labour unions can play a role in your life.
Some are already under the protection of the labour union. However, some of them have never participated in union affairs and haven’t experienced how the union protects workers. Therefore, they are not happy about paying the union fees and gradually become discontent with the union. Earlier, I mentioned that the labour union initiated legal proceedings for us. The union fees we had paid made everything happened. At that time, although we had established a labour union, we had not yet signed a collective contract and had not paid any union fees. The entire litigation fee was paid by other existing members from the union who had paid the union fees in the past. They have made us who we are today, and who we are today will also make others in the future. A labour union is the embodiment of collective power!
What would you recommend for people who are interested in participating in union actions, where to start?
Joining the Chinese Workers Network is a very good start. It is made up of union members and non-union members who agree with economic, social, climate, and racial justice. It is committed to raising the Chinese populations’ awareness of pursuing justice through organizing various types of activities to attract more Chinese Canadians who are interested in building a progressive society.