Bonnie Chislett organized Aspen Co-op to win respect

Bonnie Chislett was a force to be reckoned with.

After months of bullying and poor treatment from management at the Aspen Co-op, she knew there was only one thing to do: unionize.

That was in late 2011. Bonnie and her co-worker Lynn Smith had been working at the Co-op since it opened in 2005. “Man, who wasn’t being picked on?” recalls Lynn. “We weren’t going to put up with that anymore. We decided to unionize.”

Bonnie called the Port Alberni Co-op and asked who their union was. Then she made another phone call – this time to UFCW 1518. “When we informed management that we were going to have a union vote – they were horrified!” says Lynn. In early 2012, the workers at Aspen Co-op won the certification by a landslide. After unionizing things got worse – but only until the company realized UFCW 1518 was there to stay. Bonnie and Lynn both became stewards and filed upwards of 15 grievances in the first month. “People were getting written up for all kinds of things!” remembers Lynn. They put in a group grievance for bullying, which had caused some members to go off on stress leave.

After the company lost at arbitration, things began to improve. Two general mangers and a manger were fired. UFCW 1518 stayed in close communication with the employer to ensure the collective agreement was being followed. “It’s been smooth sailing ever since!” comments Lynn. “We have a really good manager now; she’s willing to work with our union rep. We did our second contract last year and there were wage increases on both ends. That wasn’t why we unionized though – we unionized because we wanted fair treatment.”

It was that same manager – the really good one – who told Bonnie to go to the hospital last month. Previously diagnosed with cancer, Bonnie had returned to work after almost three dozen radiation treatments. But she couldn’t shake what seemed like a bad cold. At the hospital, Bonnie found out the cancer had spread to her lungs. “She spent her last month at home,” Lynn says. “A previous manager came out from Saskatchewan and we visited her every day we could. A bunch of regular customers wrote her notes and I took them to her. They said what Bonnie meant to them and how much they would miss her.”

Bonnie chose medical assistance in dying. On March 16, with her family, friends and co-workers at her side, Bonnie passed away. “She was in a lot of pain. In the end, she was ready to go,” says Lynn. “It was really nice – we got to say goodbye. We got to see her go peacefully. She had a smile on her face.” Bonnie’s advocacy for her co-workers will not be forgotten. “She was always there if someone needed her. She was an awesome shop steward,” Lynn says.  “We lost a good person.”

The Aspen Co-Op will hold hot dog sales to raise money for a bench to be placed outside in Bonnie’s memory, as well for the annual Cops for Cancer – Tour de Rock. The Co-op is also accepting cash donations at the till.