CUPE Action Plan
On the front line
The fight to defend our jobs and services, to safeguard our very way of life as a society, is the battle of the next century. Our union is uniquely positioned to take on this fight. We are on the front line in every way: as front line workers delivering services to the public, as front line defenders of the public sector, and as front line activists building a better, more caring society.
As we enter the next millennium, being clear about what we have to do, and how we can best achieve our goals, will be critical to our ability to protect our members and our communities from the ravages of the global marketplace and reverse the damage thats already been done. On the Front Line is about how we can best position ourselves to win this defining battle.
Its time to be positive
- Through our campaigns to defend jobs and public services;
- By organizing the unorganized;
- At the bargaining table.
This plan does not address everything our union ought to do, or every issue we should, and will, take up. It doesnt try to come up with one big quick fix to all of our problems. As we all know, that simply doesnt exist. But the plan does try to identify some new approaches and a different orientation for dealing with key challenges in the years ahead. How can we effectively fight rampant and new forms of privatization? How can we build the power of our union, unite public sector workers, and help increasing numbers of vulnerable, non-unionized workers? How can we bargain collective agreement provisions to make real wage gains and protect our members from the deteriorating working conditions in their workplaces?
We have new things to say
In 1993, CUPE delegates adopted a major paper on organizing the unorganized, and a policy paper putting equality back on the front burner. In 1995, the convention adopted the organizing the organized policy, calling on all of us to build union strength and militancy by actively involving rank-and-file members in everything we do. And then in 1997, we adopted a strategy and plan to stand up for jobs and services.
The past three conventions set a good direction for CUPE and laid the groundwork for our ability to hold our own and make some inroads in spite of the overwhelming odds against us. Its important to acknowledge the hard work weve done to keep our union strong and moving forward. This work is ongoing and must continue. It includes:
- Fighting the right-wing attack on our rights and living standards: resisting concessions; saying no to contracting out and privatization; mobilizing against cuts in public funding for social programs, services and education in order to strengthen the public sector and build caring communities;
- Helping locals to build strength from the bottom up by getting more active on every front and by involving more members in everything the local union does;
- Revamping CUPEs educational courses and programs so that our union activists can continue to expand their skills to deal with the many new and complex issues facing us;
- Making gains in the struggle for equality in the workplace and in the union by convincing every member to support the struggle because racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination divide us and make all of us weaker;
- Raising the public profile of CUPE by being out front for workers rights and by standing up for our members and our communities.
On the Front Line, our new action plan for the coming two years, assumes that we will work even harder to do all these things. We will continue to organize the organized that is, build union power by involving members in everything we do. But there are also some new and critical things we have to do to meet new challenges and make an even bigger difference in the lives of our members and society. Thats what this plan is about.
Weve got a lot going for us
In our short 36-year history weve grown from 76,756 members in 1963 to 475,000 members in 1999, making us Canadas largest and fastest-growing union. One in every 60 Canadians is a CUPE member; almost all Canadians know a CUPE member. Our union comprises more than 2,200 locals and has offices in 64 communities. CUPE members enjoy the solidarity, strength, benefits and resources that go with being part of a large union.
CUPE has a proud record of activism that is in large part the result of members exercising local control of their union affairs.
The strong grassroots democracy of CUPE encourages membership involvement in our union, making us a powerful force for change. With the adoption of our organizing the organized policy in 1995, weve been making greater efforts with growing success to involve members in everything we do. And as a result, weve won major gains not just for ourselves, but also for the communities we serve.
CUPEs membership reflects society as a whole. CUPE members include women (60%), racial minority and aboriginal workers, gay and lesbian workers and workers with disabilities. We have a strong record of fighting for equity issues employment and pay equity, and an end to racism and discrimination in all its forms. These struggles are an important part of our ongoing commitment to build worker and social solidarity, and resist the larger right-wing strategy to divide and conquer working people.
Were proud providers of services to the public
CUPEs membership is made up largely of workers who provide important front line services to the public. Were proud of the work we do. It is meaningful labour. CUPE members make a difference to the quality of life in our communities. We care for people. We keep our schools and towns clean. We teach. We contribute to public safety. We save lives. The work we do makes a difference to people, and it brings us into daily contact with the public and the communities we serve. Thats true of all members, whether we work in the public or private sectors.
The fact that CUPE members provide front line services makes us a better and more active union. CUPE members know from first-hand work experience that theres a lot more our employers and governments could do to improve our working conditions while also improving the quality of service, and the quality of life in our communities.
We know better than most what kinds of changes are needed.
Most importantly, the vast majority of our members are willing to take action to bring about these changes, by whatever means make sense and whatever means will work.
Our young union has a remarkable record of achievement. Its a record that serves us well as we move into a new century and new millennium.
Compare a typical CUPE collective agreement signed in 1963, the year CUPE was founded, with the same collective agreement today. What are some typical gains?
- In 1963, pregnant women did not have the right to maternity leave. Today, almost all women CUPE members are entitled to a minimum
17 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, and both mothers and fathers are entitled to a minimum 16 weeks of fully paid parental leave on the birth or adoption of a child. Many of our collective agreements provide longer periods of leave, of up to one year.
- In 1963, many of our members had no pension coverage. Today, many of our members have access to the best pension plans in the country.
- In 1963, workers had access to minimal health insurance coverage. Today, they have an extended health care plan, covering dental, vision care, chiropractor fees, and other specialist services and providing full family coverage.
- In 1963, most CUPE members were entitled to 4 weeks vacation after 25 years of service. Today, the vast majority are entitled to 4 weeks after 6 years of service.
- In 1963, the typical agreement was silent on the question of human rights protection. Today it provides protection from discrimination on all grounds and further provides that all rights and benefits conferred on the basis of spousal relationship shall be equally conferred to same-sex partners.
- And today the agreement requires the employer to reintegrate employees who have suffered an occupational or non-occupational injury or illness.
Weve also helped bring about major legislative reforms that have made an enormous difference to the lives and families of CUPE members.
- The inclusion of public sector workers under occupational health and safety legislation the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to have joint health and safety committees, the right to conduct workplace inspections, and the right to be informed about workplace hazards;
- Human rights laws providing at least some protection against discriminatory labour practices;
- Equal pay for equal work laws, and pay equity in some provinces;
- Labour law reforms in most provinces that make it easier to organize;
- Improvements in employment standards, including the right to maternity and parental leaves;
- Changes in laws giving access to benefits and pensions for same-sex spouses.
None of these successes at the bargaining table or in the legislatures could have been achieved without struggle, and without a vision of what the world should be like.
Our history has taught us that we can make gains by fighting hard and fighting smart. But weve also learned that to make headway we need to know exactly what were after. We need to set concrete goals, develop strategies, take action and then, evaluate and adjust.
Goals, strategies and action to win back whats been taken away from us, particularly in the last decade, and to keep building the kind of society we want: thats what we have to turn our attention to at this convention. Thats what this action plan will address.
Throughout our history, CUPE has fought hard for quality, accessible, public services.
Public services are what make life in Canada so special. They enhance the quality of life of all Canadians. They are particularly essential to the health and welfare of those with medium and low incomes including CUPE members in both the public and private sectors. They are even more important now with the decline in real incomes for many years.
Public services also help the economy run, providing an infrastructure that is essential to everyone, including to the daily operation of businesses large and small.
And, public services are in almost all cases of higher quality and more efficient than services provided for profit.
In the last decade, our union has been out front opposing the concerted attack on public services led by powerful business interests and supported by right-wing governments.
Weve been actively campaigning against funding cuts by every level of government, affecting every kind of service across the country.
Weve fought against the deregulation of industries critical to the safety and health of Canadians and to the efficiency of the economy, such as airlines, road transportation, power, and telecommunications.
Weve fought against contracting out and privatization, going out on strike in many cases to win protection against the selling off of public services to the private sector.
National anti-privatization campaign
And now were in the middle of a major national campaign against privatization, putting CUPE on the map as a formidable and highly visible opponent of privatization a campaign thats put us in the faces of the privatizers and all their friends in government.
Its been an exciting campaign involving all kinds of national, provincial and local actions. Weve organized demonstrations, press conferences, community events, postcard campaigns, occupations all drawing attention to the consequences of privatization. Weve carried out extensive research to show the inefficiencies of various privatization schemes. Weve helped expose public-private partnerships as nothing more than partnerships for patronage and profit.
The 1997 release of our first annual report on privatization, Hostile Takeover, got more media coverage than any other CUPE publication.
It was put into the hands of thousands of elected politicians everywhere across this country. And the public response has been overwhelming. Weve received thousands of requests for copies of our report, and hundreds of telephone calls urging us to keep up the fight.
As well, our national campaign against privatization has taken on some very strategic battles such as:
- The privatization of a section of the TransCanada highway in New Brunswick;
- The privatization of the provincial Waste Watch recycling program in PEI, and more recently the move to build a new PEI hospital as a public-private partnership;
- The threat by the Halifax Regional Council to privatize the regions water commission, as well as the decision to contract with a private consortium to design, build, operate and own new wastewater treatment plants;
- The decision to hand over the construction and ownership of all new schools in Nova Scotia to private consortia;
- The attempt to privatize social housing in Newfoundland;
- The decision to centralize and attempt to privatize the food service operations of Winnipegs hospitals;
- The privatization of Hamilton-Wentworths wastewater treatment system;
- The attempt by the Alberta government to pass legislation allowing public funding of private, for-profit hospitals;
- Public-private partnerships in the health and municipal sectors in British Columbia.
Time to say what were for, not only what were against
Clearly, our work and campaigns must continue. Privatization continues to be the major threat facing our members. But to make major gains in the coming years, we are going to have to shift from a defensive position to a more proactive stance:
- Were going to have to campaign even more aggressively for public ownership and control of services, not just against privatization;
- Were going to have to demonstrate even more clearly that public is better for the majority of Canadians;
- Were going to have to convince a lot of people including a lot of our members that keeping services public is a viable and exciting proposition and worth fighting for.
This will involve continuing and expanding our national anti-privatization campaign. It will mean reaching out to members, convincing each and every member that public is worth fighting for.
It will involve taking on privatization in every forum, including at the bargaining table. It will involve mobilizing, mobilizing and more mobilizing. But in the coming two years we must also:
Develop an inventory of public success stories
Weve been collecting a lot of good, useful information in recent years about the horrors of privatization in Canada and around the world. We should continue to do so. But when it comes to information on quality, public services and programs, our research files are much thinner. This isnt because there arent lots of good public services in place. Its because we havent paid enough attention to them. Its time to start doing that research. Its time to start making known that there are viable public alternatives to contracting out, public-private partnerships, and all the other forms of privatization being sold as the only way to go.
Be clear that in promoting public alternatives were not supporting the status quo
The public sector has suffered terribly this past decade from deliberate neglect. It has also suffered because of the pervasive competitive business agenda, adopted by employers and governments, that says all services must be provided as cheaply as possible. Jobs have been lost, staff workload has skyrocketed, the level of services has been greatly reduced, accessibility to services is increasingly restrictive. When we promote public alternatives, we have to recognize that the publics confidence in the public sector has been shaken. Its not enough for us to say public is better simply because its public. Whenever privatization of a public service or public facility is being considered, we have to explain how we think the public sector could and should deliver that particular service, or how the public sector could and should finance, build and operate that particular facility.
We have already done some excellent work along these lines. For example, when the new City of Toronto decided to shut down their major incinerator used to burn up wastewater sludge and pursue private alternatives for disposing the biosolid material, CUPE responded by organizing a conference of experts to discuss public, environmentally sound alternatives to incineration. We invited city politicians and officials not just from the City of Toronto, but from all the surrounding communities. The conference came forward with comprehensive recommendations that address public sector involvement in the treatment of the sludge itself. They also proposed ways for the City to reduce the toxicity of the waste, because clean biosolids can be disposed of more safely, and in many more ways, than poisonous biosolids.
Force governments particularly local governments to promote public alternatives
A most disturbing and damaging phenomenon of the last 10 to 20 years is that fewer and fewer elected officials and governments actually support the public ownership and delivery of services to the people. Public government has for the most part given up on public services. This is truly amazing when you stop to think about it. Its like the Board of Directors of the Bank of Montreal deciding it doesnt like money.
This phenomenon has been driven home to us at one sectoral conference after another for instance, at business-sponsored conferences dealing with education, health care and social services. The most glaring example was at the recent annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held in Halifax last June.
The annual general meeting of the FCM brings together local government representatives elected and senior officials from across Canada to address the major issues facing our municipalities and communities. At one time, FCM meetings provided a forum for sharing ideas about what local governments can do. But the conference last June focused almost exclusively on what the private corporations want to do.
The conference consisted primarily of a trade show, with every major multinational corporation trying to sell its municipal product. They were all there the big water companies, the big waste management businesses, transportation companies, financial consultants, insurance brokers, banks, telecommunication industry representatives, etc.
They were also chairing and convening conference sessions. For example, United Water Services Canada organized the water services session a panel of corporate representatives, mostly from the United States, extolling the virtues of handing over public municipal water systems to the multinationals. There was no one on the panel to speak for public ownership and operation of water. CUPE had tried to get the FCM to allow our National President to address the conference. But it seems the FCM would rather have its sessions turned into a sales pitch from those most interested in profits, not service.
The FCM conference was a terrifying indication of how deeply the privatization virus has penetrated into the municipal sector. But it was also interesting to find out that a significant number of local government politicians and officials dont like whats going on. Many of the delegates approached CUPE representatives at the conference to let us know they oppose privatization of municipal services. Many also told us how isolated and helpless they feel trying to combat it in their own often small municipalities.
CUPE is not alone in believing that public services should stay in public hands. We must find ways to identify our allies in local government those who sit on school boards, municipal and regional councils, community boards of directors. We must find ways to help bring them together so that they are no longer working isolated. We must help them develop sound public alternatives to privatization proposals, sharing with them our invaluable front-line expertise. CUPE has a strong tradition of taking political action. Working with local officials to promote the public sector must be moved to the top of our political agenda.
Debunk tax cuts and argue for public investment
Right-wing governments and private corporations have tapped into the widespread discontent of working people over declining real incomes
and are promoting tax cuts as the cure-all to everybodys financial woes. But the across-the-board tax cuts that have been implemented in some jurisdictions so far have mainly benefited the wealthy and further reduced government revenues. This in turn has led to a reduction and/or privatization of public services and a burdensome form of indirect taxation for lower and middle income people through various forms of user fees.
CUPE also believes we need tax reform. But we believe the way to reform the tax system is to ensure that those who do not pay their fair share begin to do so. The way to deal with real declining incomes is to give workers wage increases and to invest in the public services that people need and use.
We must argue against tax cuts, and for progressive tax reform and investment in the public sector, which now stands at a paltry 2% of the Gross Domestic Product. Now that governments are beginning to have surpluses, we must make a strong case for reinvestment in the public sector to rebuild and expand the critical role of public programs and services in our economy for the collective good. Government investment is sorely needed to stimulate economic growth and job creation, and to build communities which reflect our social priorities. According to the projected surpluses of most jurisdictions over the next 10 years, governments could double current public investment without raising taxes or incurring deficits. This means that governments could not only begin to undo the damage theyve done to public services, but also actively invest in other much-needed social projects that the private sector will never undertake because the profits arent there.
Address equality issues when we argue public works
The facts are undisputed.
The public sector has been the largest source of good jobs for women, racial minorities, Aboriginal People, and people with disabilities because it is highly unionized and it is where weve had best success in narrowing the wage gap and bringing in employment equity programs.
As well, public services help distribute wealth more evenly among Canadians, thereby raising the standard of living of those most disadvantaged.
The critical role of public services in redressing inequalities and, conversely, the damaging impact of public sector cuts on equality-seeking groups gets little public attention. But its not something CUPE can ignore if were serious about building a country and world where all workers are entitled to decent working conditions and a decent standard of living.
Weve already done some good work exposing what is happening to public services and social programs for what it is: an assault on democracy, an assault on our human rights. But there is more to be done. Over the next two years, we must continue to help CUPEs national equality committees, as well as provincial committees, organize and mobilize equality-seeking members in CUPEs campaigns for public services. But we must also:
- As part of our national anti-privatization campaign, identify and target privatization initiatives that will have a particularly disastrous impact on one or more equality-seeking groups in order to expose and campaign against the anti-women, racist, and discriminatory character of the attack on services;
- Use the opportunity of the International Womens March 2000 (taking place in the Year 2000) to involve more women members in our national Public Works! campaign;
- Build links between CUPEs aboriginal activists and the leaders and members of aboriginal organizations so as to be in a better position to promote public alternatives for service delivery when First Nations achieve self-government;
- Continue to develop larger and more effective networks of CUPE members from equality-seeking groups, and increase dramatically the active involvement in CUPE of women, racial minority members, aboriginal members, members with disabilities, and gay and lesbian members.
Fight the privatizers internationally
The multinational corporations trying to gobble up our public sector have already wreaked havoc in other countries, working hand-in-hand with governments, and in many cases, institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to privatize public services and natural resources.
For example, the same companies that now own Britain and Frances water supplies are competing with American firms to control our water. In many developing nations, multinationals have gutted the public sector and encouraged governments to strip away workers rights, including the right to collective bargaining and to organize, and the freedom to fight for social change. Public institutions and structures are being dismantled at a rapid pace, and people live in poverty and have little access to the fundamental necessities of life.
Our members have also experienced an erosion of rights and attacks on their collective agreements that helps pave the way for privatization, although not nearly to the same extent as workers in poorer countries. And weve seen a big push in both the public and private sectors to drive down wages and benefits so that we can remain competitive with countries of the South, where workers are exploited and paid less than subsistence wages.
Clearly, privatization is a worldwide plague. And in order to stop it, we must fight it both at home and abroad.
To begin with, we must fight against the current push by many countries, including Canada, to further liberalize global trade by broadening the mandate of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Whats at stake for CUPE members in the WTO trade talks set to begin in November is the very existence of the public sector in Canada. These talks are aimed at expanding the reach of trade agreements to include services such as health and education, and the ability of local governments to act in their communities best interests. For example, our governments would lose control over education services if these services end up being treated as a commodity. Policies that preserve education as a public, universal service could be seen as being anti-competition or anti-trade and ruled against by the WTO, which can enforce its rules with economic sanctions. We must do everything we can to stop this attempt to give the multinationals free reign in our country and the rest of the world.
We must also build stronger links with public sector unions in other countries so that we can learn from their experiences with privatization. As well, for their sake and our own, we need to intensify our active support for the struggles of our sisters and brothers internationally to defend workers rights and public services.
Organizing the unorganized
CUPEs organizing record is second to none in the Canadian labour movement.
At the founding convention of our union in 1963, delegates adopted a resolution calling on the incoming executive board of CUPE to take all the necessary steps to further unity within the unions jurisdiction by:
- Encouraging existing independent groups to join CUPE;
- Further mergers with other unions;
- Organizing the unorganized.
Since then our net growth as a result of organizing and mergers has averaged an impressive 11,100 members a year. Over the last two years alone, even with the loss of members through attrition and downsizing, CUPEs net membership increased by an incredible 23,575 members due to aggressive organizing, mergers and successful representation votes following massive school board and municipal restructuring in several provinces. Our membership now stands at 475,000.
Yes, were doing a great job. At the same time, a number of developments and trends require us to intensify our efforts.
A hostile climate
The current anti-labour climate requires us to be stronger than ever. The only way to counter the powerful forces at work undermining everything we want and stand for, is to increase our unions power. Unions get more powerful by organizing, both because of the strength in numbers and because employers lose their ability to divide and conquer.
The labour force is changing
While it is true that we are Canadas largest union, with members in thousands of workplaces and communities, unprecedented workplace changes of the past decade have created many groups of unorganized workers who should be in CUPE.
An analysis of trends (who is working, which sectors of the economy are experiencing growth, which are experiencing decline, who is unionized and who isnt) tells us that employment in the highly unionized public sector is dropping, while employment in the mostly unorganized small private service industries is on the rise. Many of these private service industries are a growing presence in CUPE sectors.
Take health care as an example. The private share of health care in Canada is already 32% and growing. Weve lost a lot of public sector health care jobs that used to be in CUPE bargaining units. And at the same time, the private health care industry which is primarily non-union has grown by leaps and bounds.
Between 1998 and 1999, union density (the percentage of workers in a sector who are unionized) in public and private health care services dropped dramatically, from 57.4% in 1998 to 53.8% in 1999. This is a huge drop of 3.6%! (Compare it with the very worrisome, but far less severe drop of .6% in overall union density during the same period, and the alarm bells really start to go off.)
At the same time, the number of health care support staff workers increased by 26,000, suggesting that new health care jobs are being created in non-union workplaces likely in the private sector. We simply havent been able to organize non-union jobs as fast as theyre being created.
Also, if we look at what is happening to jobs in Canada today, we can see that highly unionized, full-time, permanent jobs continue to disappear. They are being replaced with non-union, part-time or casual jobs with few if any benefits. Concentrated in these insecure, low paying jobs are women, racial minorities and younger workers. Younger workers in particular are highly vulnerable according to Statistics Canada, only 11.5% of the workforce between the ages of 15 and 24 belongs to a union.
The truth is, the labour movement in general and CUPE in particular will see a major drop in net membership over the next ten years if we dont step up the pace of organizing. The labour movement cant afford to be complacent. And even though our recent organizing efforts have made our union grow, the above statistics clearly show that CUPE also cant afford to be complacent.
The competition among unions for members
Changes in the labour force are also leading to growing competition among unions for new members. The competition is particularly stiff within CUPEs traditional jurisdictions.
Public sector restructuring has forced a process of recertification in many provinces causing unions to compete with each other to retain their members.
Employment levels in the manufacturing, resource and construction industries have dropped, motivating a number of unions traditionally based in those sectors to go elsewhere looking for members. Federal and provincial government cuts have prompted government employee unions to seek out a new membership base in the community and municipal sectors. Some of the teacher unions in Ontario are organizing support staff.
In short, just about every major union will now organize anyone no matter where they work. Most unions no longer have any respect for jurisdiction. We have argued repeatedly and unsuccessfully at the Canadian Labour Congress that workers will be better served if unions organize in the sectors where they already have experience, expertise and members. But since it is unlikely that we will succeed in getting other unions to respect jurisdiction in the short term, we must counter by being even more aggressive in our own organizing.
Why should we care?
For CUPE, organizing the unorganized is not a numbers game.
Organizing the unorganized is about strengthening the position of all workers to get a better deal for all workers. Its about building solidarity among workers building workers power to take on the employers and those in power.
The whole idea of unionization the purpose and function of unions is to eliminate competition between workers so that our labour has to be bought at a fair price. If we allow the unionization rate to drop in our traditional sectors, the bargaining power of all CUPE members will be eroded. If we sit back and allow a whole lot of other unions to move in and organize the unorganized in our workplaces and sectors, we lose the potential to build one strong and united front to confront our employers. We also risk having our collective agreements undercut by weaker unions like a few who have organized workers in some privatized services at lower wage rates.
The only solution is to pursue an organizing strategy to reduce harmful competition between workers and between unions. First and foremost, we must intensify our organizing efforts with the goal of representing 100 per cent of the unorganized workers in each of our traditional jurisdictions and occupations.
We must strive to represent all the unorganized in our traditional sectors, regardless of whether they are employed by public or private employers, regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time, regardless of whether they are casual or permanent, and regardless of whether they are part of a group that has the legal right to organize. In CUPE New Brunswick, for example, the division, staff and locals have embarked on a major campaign to win the right in law for casuals to organize.
We must also be diligent in following our work and organizing the workers of private employers whenever CUPE services are contracted out or privatized. Otherwise, we risk losing unionized jobs to the lowest, non-union bidder, as was the case in Windsor when a CUPE employer the Victorian Order of Nurses lost its contract to provide home care services and the work was given to non-union firms instead.
We need to organize all of these workers because helping them win and keep the union advantage is the right thing to do. But we also have to organize these workers because not to do so will be detrimental to our existing membership and will weaken our union.
The goal we are setting for ourselves is very ambitious. Enormous challenges stand in our way.
We will be attempting to organize some of the most difficult groups of workers to organize: workers employed by private contractors; workers employed by large multinational corporations; part-time and casual workers; young workers; recent immigrants who have been forced into casual, precarious jobs and who could get fired or laid off at any time.
We will be facing tremendous employer opposition. Many of the groups of workers we need to organize work for private contractors, many of which are large multinational corporations with lots of resources to fight off union drives. Many groups of workers work in small workplaces, where supervisors quickly hear of union drives and where workers face reprisals for signing a card.
We will also be organizing in sectors where money is tight. Many of the workers we will be trying to organize work in the broader public sector, employed by community boards or agencies totally dependent on government funding. These workers need to be convinced that joining a union can help them that the union can make a difference in their work lives through collective bargaining even during times when government funds are being cut.
These are only a few of the obstacles we must overcome to organize new members and bargaining units. There are also many challenges once a new group is organized. If the group is small (which it is likely to be), how will it function effectively? Many of the hard to organize workplaces experience very high turnover of staff. How will the new group ever develop union leadership experience in such circumstances? How will the new group be able to fund itself?
What about servicing at CUPEs end? How will CUPE provide service to the newly-organized groups? Our servicing staff is already stretched thin. How can it be expected to service still more groups?
And what about collective bargaining? If these groups are hard to organize because of strong employer opposition, or because the workers are in precarious jobs, or because government funding is insufficient, arent we going to have a tough time negotiating a first collective agreement? What about subsequent agreements? What will we have to do to ensure that these new groups of workers have meaningful bargaining power to negotiate real gains?
If were serious about organizing the unorganized in our sectors, we have to answer all these questions and many others.
An organizing plan
To significantly increase our unions density in our traditional sectors we must develop and take action on a comprehensive organizing plan for each region and for CUPE overall. These plans must answer the difficult questions:
- Who is organized, who is not?
- Which unorganized workers should we organize?
- How should we go about it to maximize our chances of success?
- How do we intend to service the new group once we do succeed?
- What makes most sense for this new group of members: joining an existing local or forming a new one?
- How will we go about building a strong unit that is able to represent the workers effectively on a day-to-day basis?
- What do we have to do, at the bargaining table and beyond, to negotiate a good first collective agreement, as well as improvements in the future; how can we integrate this new group into existing coordinated bargaining structures?
Mergers with other unions
As well, our regional organizing plans will identify every union that represents workers in our traditional jurisdiction and include strategies for building alliances and solidarity with these unions wherever possible and appropriate.
In 1963, the founding convention of CUPE directed the new incoming national executive board to encourage independent unions to join our union, and to actively seek mergers with other unions. Thirty years later, mergers were also a key action point in our 1993 national convention policy paper on organizing.
The issue is simple. We believe the interests of workers are generally better served if all workers in a particular sector are represented by the same union particularly if the union is CUPE. And history shows that mergers have also strengthened our union overall. Working together in one union has given us more power to protect and advance the interests of our members. There is absolutely no question that our mergers with unions such as the British Columbia Hospital Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Education Workers, the Canadian Airline Flight Attendants Association, the Vancouver Municipal and Regional Employees Union, the Alberta Hospital Employees Union, and more recently, the Halifax Civic Employees Union and several locals of the Independent Canadian Transit Union, have made us a better, more dynamic union.
We must also look at other ways to consolidate our strength in our traditional jurisdictions. Uniting public sector unions would ultimately eliminate competition between unions and strengthen workers power and that remains our goal. But the reality is that right now, other established public sector unions exist and they are also fighting to protect their members interests. In cases where its not possible to seek a merger, there are still ways we can cooperate, such as through coordinating our bargaining with other unions in the same sector. Whether its Ontario hospital workers negotiations, where OCHU and SEIU recently coordinated their bargaining, or CUPE-Quebecs long-standing participation in Common Front public sector bargaining, or the joint B.C. social services bargaining involving CUPE, HEU, BCGEU and other unions, our experiences with this strategy of solidarity have been that it gives us much more clout than we would have going it alone.
A strong commitment to organizing
In agreeing to adopt this action plan, we are making a commitment to intensify our organizing efforts. We are agreeing that each region will develop and carry out a detailed organizing plan: one that identifies specific goals and strategies for organizing groups of unorganized workers, and one that identifies unions with which we should pursue the possibility of merging.
It sounds simple, but it will not be easy. Organizing in the new millennium is going to require energy, new and creative strategies and techniques for reaching workers, and putting all our new technology to use to track down, contact and communicate with potential members. Most of all it requires a tremendous commitment and understanding on the part of CUPE members that bringing new members into CUPE is as important as providing union representation for those who are already members, and that it strengthens the position of all CUPE members. It is one of the best investments of time and resources that we can make to protect our existing membership as well as fulfill our mandate of bringing the strength of unionization to benefit unorganized workers and their families.
Since the adoption of our 1993 policy paper on organizing, weve increased our financial commitment to organizing. Weve put more full-time organizers in place. Weve involved local unions and rank-and-file members more directly in identifying organizing priorities, and in the recruitment drives themselves. And weve trained hundreds of members as organizers.
Weve done incredible work in this area and weve organized thousands of new members. Its time to recommit to making organizing a top priority; to set some specific organizing goals; and then evaluate in two years at the next convention how far weve come.
Were back back at the bargaining table, back making real gains. Finally, after years of wage freezes, wage rollbacks, and virtually no improvements in benefits or working conditions, were seeing some action at the table as well as lots of action on the picket lines.
Our members know that the banks and the corporations are getting obscenely rich, and that governments are in a much healthier financial position than before. Theyve had it up to here with attacks by right-wing governments, downsizing and privatizing by their employers, and watching their standard of living go down the tubes.
Our members see where their interests really lie. They know that there are two sides in the workplace and that workers have to choose which side theyre on. And they are choosing their union. Theyre becoming more active and more involved and its paying off at the bargaining table. Our members are choosing to take control over their lives and to exercise their power by harnessing it for the solidarity of working class people. They are more involved than ever in collective bargaining, and this process is politicizing them in a way no other union activity can.
Yes, were back at the table, making gains, because we have the solid backing of the members the power and strength that only membership involvement can bring.
Across the country our members are saying, Its time for a raise!. And were finally getting a raise. At last, were getting real wage increases an average of 2% across the country and improvements to benefits and other areas. At the same time, were fighting to fend off concessions and improve job security. Just in the past few months weve seen:
- Three thousand Nova Scotia CUPE nursing home workers make history and significant contract gains.
They forced the provincial government to sit down and bargain with nursing home workers as a single entity. Reaching an agreement after threatening to strike, the workers made inroads on all five of their major goals: wage parity with the acute care sector, improved job security, job guarantees, and improved benefits and staff ratios.
- CUPEs 14,000 Toronto Board of Education members (Local 4400) win big after a two-week strike.
The workers secured a wage increase, improved contracting out language, first-ever seniority and layoff language, and successfully contracted back in custodial work in North York.
- More than 1,500 Toronto Hydro workers (Local 1) walk off the job to resist major concessions around some of the best collective agreement language and highest wage rates in CUPE.
The local stood its ground, protecting its hard-won contract language, strengthening job security and harmonizing wages upwards, not downwards.
- Ontario hospital workers join forces with SEIU to form a 50,000-member block to threaten a strike and put on the pressure for a fair arbitration process.
Their strong solidarity succeeded in forcing the Ontario Hospital Association to submit to a mutually agreed upon arbitrator, and eventually led to an arbitration award protecting their job security and providing wage increases.
- More than 8,500 health care workers in Manitoba belonging to CUPEs Provincial Health Care Council win wage and benefit increases of 9.55% over three years.
All 24 bargaining units voted in favour of strike action to back their demands.
- Saskatchewans 12,000 CUPE health care workers wage a one-day provincial strike to demand parity, job security and equal treatment of health care workers in the wake of sweeping health care reorganization in the province.
Their new agreement includes a wage increase, better benefits and job security as well as providing for parity in hours of work and wage parity for home care workers.
- A three-month strike pays off for community social services workers in B.C. who won parity with their counterparts in the community health care sector.
More than 3,300 CUPE members, including 800 members of HEU, joined with 6,700 workers from other unions to end the historic wage discrimination between them and their sisters and brothers working in hospitals and institutions. The workers also won pay equity, a long-term disability plan, a special leave plan, vacation leave, and health, welfare and pension benefits.
And these are just the bargaining victories of some of our big CUPE groups. Across the country, locals and bargaining groups of all sizes are using their membership solidarity to demand, and get, wage increases and other improvements. They are telling employers in no uncertain terms that concessions of any kind are a non-starter. And they are making no bones about taking strike action if they have to as a means of forcefully pressing home their case.
The momentum for real monetary gains has started and we have to keep it going. We have to build on the successes and create a ripple effect across the country across every sector. Its time all CUPE members got a decent wage increase. More than anything else, this will restore our members confidence that their union power can deliver. It will strengthen members resolve to get behind and stick with their union. And it will help us organize new members.
Sectoral bargaining is working
If we look at where weve been able to achieve the best settlements in the last year, we can see that many of the best and far-reaching settlements are being won by large groups by large locals created as a result of smaller locals merging into one, or by groups of various-sized locals bargaining together on a sectoral basis.
Weve always said that the way to make a difference at the bargaining table is to coordinate and centralize bargaining wherever possible. And as a union weve made significant progress in this area. Weve also increasingly coordinated our bargaining with other unions, with excellent results. As many of the above examples show, the trend toward sectoral bargaining is growing, whether its bringing together CUPE locals in one sector or CUPE and other unions from the same sector. There are other recent and exciting examples:
- CUPE locals representing ambulance workers in New Brunswick have formed the new Council of Ambulance Service Unions to try to move to province-wide negotiations;
- After months of discussions about a coordinated approach to bargaining, CUPE members in Ontarios nursing homes and homes for the aged held a founding convention to form a provincial bargaining council;
- Ontario school board workers agreed on a provincial bargaining campaign to fight job and program cuts and successfully settled all contracts without concessions and with monetary and contracting out language improvements;
- Forty-four school board support staff locals in B.C. agreed for the first time ever on common bargaining issues;
- CUPEs paramedics in B.C. joined those from other unions in a province-wide job action to press for a first-time provincial agreement;
- In the college sector in B.C., a provincial table has been established with the involvement of BCGEU and CIEA;
- And in Quebec, which has the longest standing tradition of coordinated bargaining, public sector unions in the Common Front are poised to take escalating job actions starting next week.
Broadening the bargaining agenda
Now that were back at the table and making headway on wages, its also time to go on the offensive on other bargaining issues as well. Its time to break some new ground. There is a wide range of problems our members are experiencing in the workplace and we have to get them addressed.
For example, collective bargaining remains our first line of defense and our priority must be to stop the juggernaut of privatization and save our members jobs. We must negotiate provisions to stop contracting out. But we must also negotiate successorship protections to ensure that when our work is tendered, our members keep their jobs.
As well, many of our members jobs now require different skills because of the introduction of new technologies. Clerical work, predominantly done by women, has been transformed by technological change. Our members in these jobs want and need training to acquire the skills to keep pace with new technology, and as a way of obtaining wage equity. We need to negotiate programs that will help our members increase their skills so that they can get job upgrading, as well as have opportunities for promotion into higher classifications.
Pensions are another issue that our members are more and more concerned about. Pensions represent the biggest asset that most of our members will have during their lifetime. But its an asset thats vulnerable to employers seeking contribution holidays or moving to grab pension surpluses for themselves. In most instances, these surpluses have grown because wages have been frozen or rolled back. We need to make sure every member becomes an active shareholder in his or her pension plan by bargaining provisions giving our members a voice in managing this critical investment.
Tackling the key issue of workload
After years of downsizing and cutbacks, workload is also a huge issue for our members. Although we have been successful in getting provincial compensation boards to acknowledge the epidemic of workplace injuries caused by excessive workloads, there is much work to be done. Stress and burnout are rampant. More and more is heaped on our members in the workplace. At the same time, more and more responsibilities are being thrust onto them at home.
Many CUPE households include young people who cant find a steady job. Many CUPE members or their spouses have to hold down more than one job to make ends meet. That doesnt leave a lot of time for household chores. And then there is the added stress for many CUPE members of trying to look after young children or elderly parents without adequate support. Its a struggle economically and its a recipe for tension.
Our women members in particular are feeling the pressure. So are our union activists, who speak of the triple burden: work, family and the union. But, really everyone these days is running, running, running. And almost everyone is complaining about it.
Workload and stress are becoming the number one health and safety issue of our union. We have to get this issue addressed in health and safety forums, but we also have to put it onto the bargaining table and get it resolved.
Its been a long time since weve been able to even think about putting demands on the table that go much beyond wages and benefits. But, if we dont start taking on these other issues, we run the risk of losing touch with our members of not addressing what is really on their minds. Yes, our members continue to be undervalued and underpaid. We need to continue to fight for wage increases. We need to continue to fight particularly hard to bring up the wages of our lowest-paid members, most of whom are women, racial minorities, and young workers. We need to keep fighting for job security. We need to fight to improve all-important monetary benefits such as pensions, and to gain control of our pension funds. But we also have to fight for decent working conditions, an end to impossible workloads, an end to the numerous unpaid overtime hours that many of our members put in because if they dont get their work done, a child or patient or person in distress might suffer.
Back-up and support
CUPE must help locals and staff make new inroads in negotiations and continue to build the union to increase its bargaining clout. We must:
- Actively support the establishment of sectoral bargaining structures for specific sectoral groups, whether its a committee structure, a council or a joint initiative with other unions;
- Provide critical research support, such as our new computerized collective agreement information system that will allow immediate on-line access to up-to-date collective bargaining data and a quarterly bargaining bulletin;
- Encourage locals to reach out to their members, listen to what their biggest concerns are these days, and find ways to address those concerns at the table. We cant assume we know what they want or need unless we ask them. To help locals do this, we will support them with tools on face-to-face and two-way communications;
- Continue to provide support for organizing the organized in order to build the union in the workplace and so that employers will feel the full force of our members resolve at the bargaining table.
On the front line in the next century
We can enter the new millennium with our heads held high. We have fought hard against strong anti-worker, anti-public sector forces. Weve been through so much, and throughout it all, weve never, ever given up. No doubt about it, weve had some setbacks, and it hasnt been easy on our members or our union. But we also have a lot to show for our unwavering solidarity and our ability to tackle critical new challenges by fighting smart. We have many successes to build on.
The momentum is with us now. Our members are strong, united and determined to defend their jobs and the services they provide. More than ever, they are committed to the struggle.
In the coming century, CUPE will continue to be on the front line fighting to rebuild the public sector. We will take on the privatizers wherever and whenever they appear. We will continue to strengthen our union and unite public sector workers. With the support of our members, we will make new, important gains for working people at the bargaining table.
We are fighting for workers. We are fighting for justice. And we are fighting for a better world. Theres too much at stake to allow the next century to be hijacked by the multinationals and those who worship at the altar of the almighty dollar. Together, we must ensure that the next century belongs to people like us.