For the first time in 148 years, union leaders and members did not march along the streets of Toronto for Labour Day but instead took their message online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Toronto and York Region Labour Council cancelled its annual Labour Day parade due to ongoing health and safety concerns.

In lieu of the march, the council recorded a virtual parade and issued a city-wide transit and digital ad campaign to mark this year’s theme “A Just Recovery for All,” which calls on all levels of government to tackle economic and racial inequalities faced by workers.

Union leaders gathered for a media availability outside of Steelworkers Hall on Monday to discuss their call to action and said this year is particularly difficult for workers due to the pandemic.

“We’ve seen millions of people lose their jobs, lose their incomes, we’ve seen families under huge stress because of the impact of COVID and hundreds of thousands who have no idea if they’ll ever go back to work,” Toronto and York Region Labour Council President John Cartwright said during the news conference.

The Labour Council’s campaign has been sponsored by 39 individual affiliates representing workers across the public and private sectors.

The pre-recorded virtual parade, consisting of performances and past parade footage, is posted on the Labour Council’s YouTube page.

The group also took its message to the streets with ads that will be plastered on over 130 buses in Toronto and York Region this month.

According to a news release from the Labour Council, the theme “A Just Recovery for All” is inspired by the “Six Principles for a Just Recovery” endorsed by hundreds of civil groups in Canada and around the world.

The six points needed to achieve a fair and sustainable recovery include putting people’s health and wellbeing first, strengthening the social safety net, prioritizing the needs of workers and communities, building resilience to prevent future crises, building solidarity and equity across communities and upholding Indigenous rights.

Labour Council Secretary Abdi Hagi Yusuf was also at the media availability on Monday and emphasized the need for a reform to workers’ rights.

“We need a recovery that covers for the workers’ rights, workers’ health and safety and does not leave anyone behind,” Yusuf said.

One of the hardest hit industries impacted by the pandemic is the hospitality sector.

Shelli Sareen is the secretary-treasurer of UNITEHERE 75 and said 90 per cent of its members have been laid off because of COVID-19.

“We’re calling on all levels of government to enact legislation around three key areas for our members, which are income support for our members during the entire crisis, job protection and the safe return back to work,” Sareen said.

The Labour Council represents over 220,000 women and men who work in all sectors of the economy, including healthcare, education, childcare and food and hospitality.