Windsor panhandler union is SLOW

A panhandler holding out his hands for money. Stock photo by Getty Images.

“There is a union for everything!” the saying goes. Well, now it’s true — at least in Windsor, Ont. Panhandlers and street performers in the city have formed SLOW, which stands for Street Labourers of Windsor.

SLOW even has its own union mascot. A beautiful, black dog named Lucky who is owned by one of the union members.

See: What are unions?

The union was formed after one panhandler had it up to here with the hostility often directed at the city’s panhandlers. Richard Dalkieth started the union two years ago, because he had enough of people calling him a “drunken bum” and telling him to get off the streets.

Dalkieth wanted to make sure the city’s panhandlers and street performers protected each other.

“The union is here so that the members of SLOW can watch each other’s backs when we’re on the street and when we’re off the street.”

He reasoned that unions are not just formed to fight for better pay, but also to stand together in solidarity, such as the panhandlers of Windsor.

Though an inventive way to deal with street hostilities, does every panhandler and street performer have to join SLOW?

See: Do I have to join a union or pay union dues?

In Canada, no person has to join a union. The unions can require membership, but usually membership is on a voluntary basis. Provinces have labour codes that regulate unions and union memberships.

SLOW would be regulated under Ontario’s Labour Relations Act. Under the act, a trade union is defined as “an organization of employees formed for purposes that include the regulation of relations between employees and employers. . . .” However, under the legislation, there is no requirement that employees have to join a union even if their workplace is unionized.

But, SLOW is not really a union comprised of “employees” in the traditional definition, so how are they able to for a union?

SLOW’s members are part of the Industrial Workers of the World, which is a 110-year old union that doesn’t have a rule that requires their members to have a job.     

Still, a few people are slow to join SLOW. As long-time panhandler, Ben Bryant, told the CBC, “I just like to do my own thing and not have to go to meetings every week and stuff.”

Windsor’s mayor Drew Dilkens is also not so keen on the panhandler union. He is not a fan of “aggressive” panhandling, as he dubs it. He is also skeptical as to whether SLOW’s code of conduct, which is still being created, would make a difference to Windsor’s downtown environment in curbing aggressive panhandling.

SLOW’s membership is currently at 11. Its current membership fees are $5 per month, and union membership is open to anyone whose job involves working on the street in Windsor.

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