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Cape Breton union leader Carmie Erickson was ‘at her best fighting for people’

From her hospital bed, Erickson made countless phone calls until she was sure the union rally would go ahead, and that it would be done right.
Carmie Erickson, left, and her best friend Sharon Bona share a happy moment representing the Cape Breton District Labour Council during a rally in Sydney for members of the Halifax Typographical Union earlier this year. (Facebook)

From her hospital bed, Carmie Erickson made countless phone calls until she was sure the union rally would go ahead, and that it would be done right.

Once again, the Cape Breton District Labour Council president came through for the two Sydney-based Chronicle Herald reporters, and by extension the Halifax Typographical Union they belonged to, that had been enduring a seemingly endless 17-month-long strike.

The George Street barbecue did go ahead in early July. She saw to it that a crew of local union people showed up for the cause, and the labour council’s vice-president arrived in her absence. Erickson even orchestrated the barbecue’s arrival.

She passed away Saturday, the same day it was announced the Chronicle Herald and the Halifax Typographical Union had reached a tentative deal to end the strike.

“She was with them the whole way, walking the picket line when she could, organizing rallies, distributing pamphlets," recalled her best friend Sharon Bona, who serves as the labour council’s sergeant-at-arms.

“She loved it, loved helping people. She loved fighting for people and their rights."

Family, friends and colleagues are paying tribute to a proud Ashby native who dedicated much of her adult life to the province’s labour movement, and a mother of two who left her community better than she found it.    

She was a woman of action. Erickson’s more than two decades-long devotion to her union, CUPE Local 5050, speaks for itself — she served twice as vice-chair and belonged to numerous committees over the years.

She was at her best in a crowd, fighting for the cause, said Bona.

"She loved the rallies. Her passion was contagious. We were partners in crime and she was at her best fighting for people, fighting for fairness and workers’ rights."

Bona can recall one especially memorable rally back a few months before the province’s teachers strike last February. The pair travelled to Truro to join a group of about 200 teachers and supporters who were protesting in front of then education minister Karen Casey’s constituency office.

"She was so excited to be there, so fired up. She had laryngitis by the time we left. You could call Carmie and say, 'The bus is ready, we’re going to a picket line or a demonstration.' Right away, she’d be looking for a drum to make more noise."

Erickson showed the same sort of gumption back in 2014, after the federal government closed the Veterans Affairs office in Sydney. She was the one behind a series of protest rallies that quickly followed after the news broke. The office was reopened last year.  

The annual National Day of Mourning was another cause especially close to her heart. Year after year, she took an active role in organizing a local ceremony that paid tribute to people killed or injured on the job.

"Her passing is a massive loss to the province’s labour movement," said Tony Tracy, Atlantic representative for the Canadian Labour Congress.

In their roles, the pair communicated almost daily on a range of files. He said Erickson always looked for ways to do more.   

"She was always ready to do anything for workers, to stand up for workers at a drop of a hat. She was incredibly dedicated to the cause of workers in general."

He said Erickson also took a keen interest in local politics, and during the last municipal election didn’t hesitate to put her support behind two young female candidates — Kendra Coombes and Amanda McDougall  who were running for seats on Cape Breton regional council.

"She believed in those two women, she campaigned with them, and was awfully proud to see them elected.

"She fought for equality, good public education. That’s why she was so active in helping to set up town hall forums in Sydney on issues that teaching assistants in the school system were facing."

As her obituary shows, Erickson’s contribution went well beyond the labour movement.

She was a longtime Girl Guides leader, eventually serving as district commissionaire for the group. Erickson was also a founding member of Ashby T-Ball, which eventually evolved into Sydney Minor Baseball. Naturally, she had a passion for cheerleading and served as staff adviser for Sydney Academy Cheerleaders.

Dancing and country music were among her great passions. She earned an associate teacher of dance diploma from National Association of Teachers of Dancing in London, England. She would put that training to good use, teaching at Doris MacDonald Dance Academy for several years before co-founding Variations Dance Studios.

Her absence will be felt at this year’s annual Labour Day Picnic at Open Hearth Park. It was the highlight of Erickson’s year. For months, she would work to arrange musical acts, donations for the barbecue, children’s face-painting and prizes.  

“She loved that it was a family event, and it was all free," said Bona. "That there was so much giving."


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