A group defending sex workers unions, a 1st in Canada

Note: Radio-Canada uses the pronoun ial and inclusive writing in this text to reflect the identification of the non-binary people who took part in this report.

Outside the offices of Maggie’s in Toronto, a few days after the news broke, Andrea Werhun, Jassie Justice and Jenna Hynes, three employees who have worked for months to achieve this result, are all smiles. 

Maggie’s is a peer outreach organization that advocates for sex workers and led by sex workers for sex workers, explains author Andrea Werhun, who works as an outreach agent for the organization. 

Jenna Hynes, Jassie Justice and Andrea Werhun are staff at Maggie’s in Toronto, which supports and advocates for sex workers. 

Photo : Radio-Canada / Rozenn Nicolle

And the road to get there has not been smooth. 

A long-standing project

Jenna Hynes coordinates program development, but also works to reach out to sex workers in the city. From the outset, he says that this victory is the culmination of a lot of work that the Indigenous, Black and Colored (PANDC) people who worked for Maggie’s

There have been a lot of people who have tried to unionize Maggie’s before and there wasn’t a union that wanted us. A quote from:Jenna Hynes, Program Development Manager and Outreach Officer at Maggie’s

In July, several Maggie’s staff, motivated by several recent human resource issues within the organization, joined section 7797 of the SCFPCanadian Union of Public Employees. It took a little while, but they joined us and decided, after a vote, to accept us, Jenna recalls. 

It was then necessary to campaign within Maggie’s on the benefits of unionization, and submit the decision to join the SCFPCanadian Union of Public Employees to a vote. 

Jenna Hynes is one of the employees who campaigned for Maggie’s staff to unionize. 

Photo : Radio-Canada / Rozenn Nicolle

The Ontario Labor Relations Board (OLRB) has issued a decision upholding the unanimous vote of these workers in favor of unionization, finally indicated a CUPE press release issued on September 20. 

Combating systemic racism

The three employees believe that this historic unionization is a first step towards more rights. Still on the outskirts of the building that houses Maggie’s offices, Jenna and Andrea prefer to fade away for this part of the interview, in order to make way for Jassie Justice. 

Jassie identifies as a non-binary queer person and is a person of color. He says that while all sex workers face discrimination, those who are PANDCIndigenous people, black and colored suffer more, and that the biggest problem in this industry remains white supremacy and systemic racism.

I wear two hats in terms of work experience: sex work and outreach to support the sex work community, and in both cases I have experienced and seen different types of racism., says Jassie. 

He cites as an example experience of a higher level of police surveillance and police brutality, even disparities in terms of who gets what types of clients, in terms of opportunities

There can be no justice for sex workers without fair working conditions. And there cannot be fair working conditions if anti-black racism is not addressed. 

According to them, this systemic racism also shines through within Maggie’s. When I was first hired at Maggie’s, I looked around and noticed that the majority of the workers here are white., reports Jassie Justice. If the focus in our work is on the most marginalized and racialized, why isn’t this reflected in the staff at Maggie’s?, he asks. 

Jassie Justice says she has suffered from racism, especially when it comes to job opportunities in the sex worker industry, but also within Maggie’s. 

Photo : Radio-Canada / Rozenn Nicolle

He also indicates that despite the goodwill of the organization, there are certain situations that can be difficult for the staff. PANDCIndigenous people, black and colored. You constantly burn yourself out of having to educate your white co-workers or having to go to your white boss and try to bring up these issues

Even if they care or take issues of racism seriously, they are unable to understand how these issues not only make work difficult, but also interfere with my ability to work and feel safe in the place. of work. A quote from:Jassie Justice, sex worker and outreach worker at Maggie’s

For Jassie, improving working conditions at Maggie’s for the most marginalized employees will improve working conditions for everyone. Organizing won’t solve everything, but I think it gives us tools and processes to be able to discuss these issues in the workplace., concludes the activist. 

Improve working conditions throughout the industry

While securing jobs at Maggie’s and continuing to provide support and advocacy services for sex workers was the primary goal of this unionization, Maggie’s staff believe that this advance could, in the future, serve to the whole industry. 

Because we’re an organization of sex workers who work for sex workers and help sex workers, it kind of puts our movement at the forefront of a national conversation., Judge Jenna Hynes. 

Have the SCFPCanadian Union of Public Employees behind us it’s a phenomenal thing, he launches, recalling in passing that it is the largest union in Canada. It represents more than 700,000 workers in the education, health, municipal, social services, universities, transport and communications sectors. 

And this imposing organization will, at some point, have positions to take publicly, especially with regard to the decriminalization of sex work, notes Jenna. 

vast network and resources

At the end of the line, the president of the SCFPCanadian Union of Public Employees for Ontario, Fred Hahn does not hide his enthusiasm and is proud to see Maggie’s join its members. These employees now join a vast network, and this network comes with resources in particular to campaign and raise awareness., he emphasizes. 

Jenna Hynes also notes that the union also represents professions that sometimes make life difficult for some sex workers, such as law enforcement, and that some discussions within the SCFPCanadian Union of Public Employees will be interesting.

This puts pressure on the SCFPCanadian Union of Public Employees to recognize the labor rights of sex workers as a whole, adds Andrea Werhun. Because by unionizing, Maggie’s also wants to pave the way for other groups and establishments. 

We want our work to be recognized and we want to have the same dignity and protection as other workers. 
A quote from: Andrea Werhun, author, sex worker and outreach worker at Maggie’s

Andrea Werhun is the author of the best-selling book Modern Whore, which chronicles her personal experiences as a sex worker in Toronto. 

A goal that seems to please the provincial president of the union. I think it would be incredibly exciting if our union were part of a project to help solidify the organization of sex workers across the country., he says, noting that he cannot speak on behalf of all members of Canada. 

However, one observation must be made within the SCFPCanadian Union of Public Employees, according to him : Sex workers are workers and their more vulnerable condition makes the unionization of this industry all the more important.

Sex work is very varied, comments Andrea Werhun. There are those who are at the top of the whorearchy who work as indoor escorts with comfortable salaries, and others who live in much more precarious situations: dancing bars where the rules are sometimes very vague and where the bosses can take a share of the employees’ income, to prostitution in the street, without any protection. 

This is where the fight to decriminalize sex work could be a game-changer. We don’t hurt anyone, assures Andrea with a smile. 

In the meantime, having such an important union to defend these rights remains a first giant step. Next step: the collective agreement.

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