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Construction starts on new CUPE National headquarters

CUPE broke ground this week on construction of its new national headquarters in Ottawa.

Today we start the ball rolling on this exciting new chapter in our union’s history,” said National President Paul Moist.

The new head office will be located on Tremblay Rd. and St. Laurent Blvd. in the city’s east end. It will house the 153 staff members of CUPE National as well as the 14 staff members of CUPE’s Ottawa area office. The project cost is $20 million. CUPE expects to move into its new space in the fall of 2007.

This state-of-the-art, ‘green’ building will provide the space and amenities our staff need to serve our membership and will allow us to accommodate future growth,” said National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux.

CUPE has outgrown its buildings at 21 Florence St. and 20 James St. in downtown Ottawa, which it has occupied since 1980. After studying several options, including retrofitting and expanding the existing space, it was decided that purchasing land and erecting a new, custom-designed building would be the most practical and economically sound solution.

Among the new building’s outstanding features:

  • Five story office building totaling 82,000 square feet of usable space.
  • Will be one of only a handful of Ottawa building projects registered under the Canada Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
  • Garden and sustainable green spaces.
  • News conference, media theatre and videoconferencing facilities.
  • Walking distance to public transit.
  • Barrier-free design for people with disabilities.

CUPE’s partners in this project are Ottawa architectural firm Bryden Martel, project managers Jackson-Brown Associates and general contractor Massicotte Construction Ltd. Engineering services are being provided by the Ainley Group and Genivar.

United Way thanks CUPE members

CUPE members gave more than $1 million to the United Way this year. But because they gave through their workplaces, their locals or other organizations, the union’s support of the charity hasn’t been recognized–until now.

United Way labour representative Ken Clavette presented CUPE National President Paul Moist with a plaque honouring CUPE members for giving to the United Way this year.

Because their donations come from so many different places, CUPE members don’t normally show up on our honour roll,” Clavette told CUPE staff and national executive members. “We’ve taken steps to correct that and to honour CUPE members for their generosity.”

CUPE BC focuses on water

CUPE members were among the 650 participants at Victoria’s Water in the City conference, Sept. 17-20. The conference brought together people who help make decisions about water, including politicians, water workers and the environmental community.

CUPE BC was a major sponsor of the event. The CUPE water booth was a popular spot. Delegates picked up water bottles, buttons and information about protecting public water and sewer systems.

CUPE’s Island Water Watch campaign sponsored three community participants at the conference. While several members attended on behalf of their municipalities, CUPE 1048 in the City of Prince George also sent two delegates of its own.

Dave Smith, a water worker for the City of Prince George, said his local wants to keep informed about what is happening around the province and be prepared to keep all the city’s water and sewer services public should the need arise.

Dave has been with the city for 12 years and said that like many communities, Prince George will need to repair and replace its infrastructure in the not too distant future. He noted that the city is currently upgrading its water supply and has installed one of the largest collection wells in North America.

Another CUPE participant was Justin Schmid, president of CUPE 374, which represents employees in several southern Vancouver Island communities. Schmid said CUPE’s presence at the conference was important.

We have made a lot of connections with water activists and technical specialists,” he noted. “Many participants who are CUPE members have said they really appreciate seeing their union here.” CUPE BC also co-sponsored the Sept. 16 Water is a Human Right - Water Warriors for Life conference. Its partners were the Halalt First Nation and the Council of Canadians.

More than 200 participants and presenters explored the many aspects of water privatization and the struggles that First Nations face maintaining control of their water and sewer systems.

Willie Seymour of the Halalt First Nation chaired the event. Keynote speaker Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, spoke about the importance of protecting public water. Other speakers included Island Water Watch’s Rodger Oakley, Chief James Thomas of the Halalt First Nation and Chief Gary John from the Seaton Lake Band.

Carleton University members picket to prod contract talks

Teaching assistants (TAs) and contract lecturers at Ottawa’s Carleton University held information pickets this week to push for contract talks.

Carleton management has refused to sit down with us for contract negotiations, and we are concerned they are setting the stage for a lockout,” said Jessica Squires, president of CUPE 4600, representing 1,700 TAs and contract lecturers at the university.

The members’ contract expired Aug. 31, 2006. “For over 100 days we’ve been trying to get this employer to the table, and they’ve yet to sit down with us,” said John Gillies, a CUPE national representative.

The information picket highlighted bargaining issues and warned students of a looming labour crisis at Carleton. Academic staff and faculty, who are also in conciliation with management, as well as students, showed their support.

Labour relations crisis for Women in Crisis

CUPE 4393, representing Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis workers, will enter conciliation talks on Sept. 27 in a bid to avert a strike or lockout at the women’s shelter and its seven offices. The workers are fighting concession demands and their employer’s refusal to address workplace safety issues.

Management must show leadership and provide a safe working environment for the sake of workers and clients,” said Jill Smyth, a CUPE national representative. “Workers who provide emotional support and counselling to abused women must be able to feel safe in their own workplace.”

The workers recently voted 96 per cent in favour of strike action if contract talks fail to reach a settlement. Management wants to cut bereavement leave, stop paying workers when they attend labour-management meetings, and reduce sick leave, among other concession demands. They are refusing to address the workers’ health and safety concerns.

Health and safety issues need to be addressed,” said Smyth. “Management has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment, free of harassment or the threat of physical or psychological abuse. Unfortunately, this employer has not lived up to that responsibility. Health and safety issues take on an even greater importance in a women’s shelter, because our members are helping clients who have escaped abusive environments to seek refuge.”

The 35 workers offer emotional support and counselling services in and around Guelph, including a shelter program for abused women and children. They have been without a contract since March 31, 2006.

Management negotiators need to take conciliation talks seriously and they must come to the table prepared to deal with the outstanding issues,” said Smyth. “Otherwise, the shelter will face a disruption that will hurt our clients and our communities.”

New collective agreement for UQTR support staff

Support staff at the Université du Québec in Trois-Rivières have signed a new collective agreement with their employer.

Denise Béland, president of CUPE 1800, said she was satisfied with the contract. “The changes are positive for our members, particularly those whose positions aren’t secure,” she said. She also praised the solidarity shown to the clerical workers by other university workers represented by the same local, including trades and technical staff.

The new agreement will be in effect until May 31, 2008.

CUPE welcomes Ontario’s new education minister

Ontario’s new education minister, Kathleen Wynne, has experience as a parent activist and trustee that could make a difference to the province’s schools, says CUPE.

Wynne replaces Sandra Pupatello, who was shunted to the less important economic development portfolio in this week’s Cabinet shuffle.

This appointment brings the potential for a new, positive relationship between this government and vital education support staff,” said CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan.

Wynne will be better able to appreciate the tough job local trustees have in defending public education in their communities. She’s had first-hand experience in coping with an inflexible education funding formula that fails to meet the needs of large urban school boards, not to mention northern and rural boards,” Ryan added.

Our preliminary research suggests a province-wide shortfall of at least $300 million for 2006-07,” said Frank Ventresca, chair of the Ontario school boards coordinating committee (OSBCC). “School boards are coping with the funding shortages by laying off staff, gutting programs and depleting reserve funds.”

CUPE and the OSBCC have been pointing out the shortfalls for support staff in the funding formula since it was first designed.

Because of an artificial distinction between classroom/non-classroom funding and a lack of clear funding lines for support staff positions, support staff have borne the brunt of funding shortages.

Every one of our members has been affected,” said Ventresca. “Educational assistants and library techs across the province have had hours of work reduced in recent years. More and more now they are being asked to supervise students so that teachers can use their negotiated preparation time.”

Budgets for secretaries, computer techs, and administrative staff have been stretched to the limit. Facility maintenance has been postponed to the point where many schools are in poor shape and cuts to custodial staff have led to decreasing standards in cleanliness and safety.

We look forward to meeting with the new minister at the earliest opportunity to discuss our concerns,” Ventresca said. “The previous minister never met with us, despite repeated requests, and no one from the government attended our annual conference last spring in Hamilton.”

CUPE represents 45,000 Ontario education workers.

Cape Breton continuing care workers ratify contracts

Continuing care workers at two Cape Breton facilities have ratified new contracts.

Members of CUPE 3513 at Braemore Home and CUPE 3008 at Resi Care have voted to accept the new deal.

Both groups were voting on a tentative agreement which the union reached with the provincial government for its approximately 1,000 members employed in Nova Scotia adult residential centres, residential care facilities and small options and group homes.

The Braemore Home group consists of 130 residential care workers, dietary workers, housekeeping, laundry, developmental programmers, occupational therapists and maintenance workers. The Resi Care group consists of 100 residential rehabilitation workers.

CUPE 5500 ratifies three-year agreement

CUPE 5500, representing 130 transit supervisors, garage supervisors and security personnel at OC Transpo in Ottawa, has ratified a new three-year collective agreement with the city.

The new collective agreement will be retroactive to April 1, 2005 and will operate until March 31, 2008.

The agreement was reached after two days with the assistance of a federal conciliation officer and an additional two days with a federal mediator.

Highlights of the agreement include three wage adjustments over the term of the agreement of 3 per cent each, better vision care benefits, a new court duty premium, improvements in seniority, and employer-paid leave for union conventions.

Hamilton Children’s Aid must end two-tiered employment scheme

CUPE warns that the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, Ont., must put an end to a two-tiered employment practice affecting 60 clerical workers.

The workers are trying to achieve a new collective agreement that will offer the same benefits enjoyed by other CAS workers.

It’s an issue of fairness and respect,” said Cheri Dobbs, a CUPE national representative. “Clerical staff, just like child protection workers, are here to help clients who need the services of the agency. There is no reason why management should treat them differently from their colleagues. After all, they are on the same team, working for the same employer, serving the same clients.”

The workers are fighting management’s current practice of offering inferior benefits to clerical employees compared to other staff at the agency. The workers’ last contract expired on March 31, 2006. Conciliation talks were scheduled for Sept. 21.

It is unacceptable for management to treat clerical staff as second-class citizens,” said Dobbs. “Management must come to conciliation willing to discuss the outstanding two-tiered employment issues. Otherwise our members will have to take labour action that will be detrimental to clients and the agency.”

Strong strike mandate at Highland Community Residential Services

In case there was any doubt about how serious employees of Highland Community Residential Services (HCRS) in New Glasgow, N.S., are about ending the practice of working half their overnight shifts for free, a second strike vote has put that to rest.

Under the province’s labour laws, a strike vote only lasts for six months,” said CUPE 2330 spokesperson Margie Daley. “Ours had expired so we held another one. The first vote was 80 per cent. The latest one is 91 per cent. Our members are determined to bring an end to this unfair practice.”

Daley said the agency’s practice of paying workers for only five hours’ work on a 10-hour overnight shift should be against the law.

What makes it even worse is that employees doing the same work with the same qualifications in homes funded through adult residential centres get paid for a full shift. But both agencies get their funding from the same place, the Department of Community Services. It doesn’t make sense.”

CUPE 2330 is mounting a public campaign throughout the area to highlight the unfair practice.

French student leader to address CUPE university workers’ meeting

French student activist Bruno Julliard will be speaking at CUPE’s national university workers meeting in Montreal Oct. 12-14.

Julliard is the president of l’Union nationale des étudiants de France (UNEF), France’s biggest student union. He was a prominent activist in the fight against a two-tiered employment law that France tried to introduce in March 2006.

Julliard condemned the First Employment Contract (CPE), which would make it easier for companies in France to terminate employees under 26 without just cause.

Convinced that the CPE would turn today’s youths into a “Kleenex generation” of disposable workers, Julliard sent activists to university campuses to drum up support while forging an alliance between student and workers’ unions.

He will be speaking at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m.