COVID-19 and Five Questions With: Unifor Local 222 president Colin James

Colin James, president of Unifor local 222, had to make the switch to working at home, along with his staff, due to COVID-19. Photo credit: Colin James

The Chronicle is checking in with people in the community during the COVID-19 crisis, in an ongoing segment called ‘COVID-19 and Five Questions With’.

Colin James is the president of Unifor Local 222, a general trades union which is also the largest private-sector union in Canada. Locally, Unifor has represented workers at Oshawa’s General Motors (GM) as well as other sectors, including Durham Region Transit.

1) Chronicle: How do you compare where we are with your initial thought process regarding COVID-19?

James: “Trying to keep on top of everything, listening to all of the releases from [the] Canadian Healthcare Association. But, we’re trying to stay a step ahead. Going back to the second week in March, I had everybody working from home, including myself. We’ve been keeping in touch with the units that are working, which is probably 60 per cent of our units, making sure that they’re following all the proper protocols.”

2) Chronicle: How has your work life been impacted?

James: “I’m not used to being at home so much, quite a drastic change. It’s kind of nice to be at home, but I have been keeping my same schedule. Even though I’m working from home, conference calls and everything are scheduled around the time we would be working because we have units that do shift work. Some of my calls I am accepting at night. My calls have gone up drastically.”

3) Chronicle: Outside of work, tell us how your daily routine has changed since this has started?

James: “I’ve been getting some of the chores done at home, like painting that I didn’t have the time to do so in my spare time. There’s a benefit to being at home.”

4) Chronicle: What do you miss the most since having to socially distance?

James: “Contract meetings, conferences – even when we’re dealing with issues with members and the workplaces. Traditionally, I go into the workplace and I’ll have the member and management there and then, more or less, be the mediator and try and get issues resolved. Over the phone or over video, you don’t have that same contact or impact.”

5) Chronicle: What do you think of the way our leaders have responded?

James: “For the most part, they’re doing a good job. I mean, I compare to other countries, there’s a lot that has been dealt with [and] they have stepped up. Some of the response was a little bit slow. Overall, I think they have done the job that needs to be done.”