There are several things we can do to make sure our education program helps locals overcome the challenges we’re facing.
Develop new workshops, programs and educational material
As our world changes, so, too, does the content of our education program need to change. Members are asking for workshops on issues like globalization and trade agreements, combating racism, pride in CUPE, new forms of work reorganization, aboriginal rights, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, union based literacy programs, reaching young workers about their rights, etc.
We need to explore new ways of reaching members, for example, through theatre, art, video, film and internet technology. We need to develop skills and capacity in all these areas.
We need to build an even more participatory and action-oriented education program.
And we need to make our program even more flexible by expanding the ways that we can adapt it to a local union’s particular needs and circumstances.
All facilitators should undergo equity training. A module on equity issues should be developed for staff and elected leadership.
Continue to build greater inclusion in our union, and make sure we are reaching all our members with our message
We need to continue the work that has started to integrate equality issues into all aspects of our education program – workshop writing, resource materials, facilitator training, and workshop delivery. This includes offering courses in flexible formats such as half day and two day courses, the development of modules, and flexible courses tailored to reach out to more members.
We need to involve members from equity seeking groups and young workers in ensuring that our education program meets the needs of all members of the union.
We need to find better ways of ensuring that all our union activists and leaders gain a better understanding of the root causes of inequalities, and that they learn to identify systemic discrimination and how to address it.
Make literacy a union issue
Union literacy programs are key to ensuring that all our members can participate fully in union education, as well as face the demand for increased literacy skills at work, at home, and in their community. Literacy and basic skills classes can provide the upgrading these members need, and open the door to union education and/or other education and training.
CUPE is in the second year of a national project to help locals negotiate and set up union-based literacy programs. Union education is one of the focuses of this project. We have already started work on new workshops that will help local unions put in place union-based literacy programs – workshops that will help us address the diverse literacy and language skills of our membership. Our literacy project will also help ensure that our education program and other CUPE programs (including the materials we produce) are accessible to members at any literacy level.
Integrating literacy into the work of the union, including union education, can help us reach beyond active members to those who don’t yet feel connected.
Do systematic and regular audits of union education needs
Not all locals, committees, and councils are accessing our education program to meet strategic needs. For example, in some locals, attending workshops is treated like a reward with the same members being sent and others overlooked again and again.
Some newly organized locals are not receiving education when they need it the most when they’re just starting out, getting organized, and preparing to negotiate their first collective agreement.
We will start doing “education needs assessments” for local unions, district councils, divisions, bargaining councils and committees. These needs assessments will identify what members are facing in their workplaces, and what particular kind of education would help strengthen our capacity to take on these challenges.
In addition to identifying education needs in the union in a more systematic way, we will start to systematically track use of the program. This will help ensure that education is meeting strategic needs in the union, and help us target specific needs as they arise.
Increase access through internet-based union education
Across the country, there are CUPE members who don’t have access to our workshops. The reasons vary. In some cases, locals are too small or too isolated to attend union educationals. In others, local leaders and activists are just too busy balancing home, work and union activity to take time out of their schedules to attend a weekend or weeklong workshop.
Internet-based education can help bring education to CUPE members who can’t attend workshops now. Our distance union education program will not replace face-to-face learning opportunities, but will provide a way for more members to participate.
While we know that many members still don’t have access to the internet, we also know that internet access is increasing rapidly in Canada. We need to start putting an internet-based program in place that can grow as access increases.
In developing this program, we will draw on the expertise of CUPE members in the public education system who work in the field of distance education. We will seek their advice and assistance, both to adapt our programs and materials for internet-based delivery, and to train “distance education member facilitators”.
Our goal is to launch our first workshop on the internet by fall 2002. Current development plans for CUPE’s web site will help ensure that it will be able to support a distance education program when we’re ready to launch it.
Create a new national leadership program
We will expand our current education program by creating a national multi-week residency program for CUPE leaders.
Right now, members can attend local and regional workshops organized by CUPE or the CLC for a range of skills building learning opportunities. Nationally, members can apply to attend the CLC’s Labour College, which brings together members from other unions to study in a more traditionally academic program. CUPE’s new program will complement these existing programs. But the program will be substantially different, in terms of both process and content.
The national leadership program will be a place in our union where CUPE leaders from across the country can come together to learn: sharing experiences and strategies, while expanding their leadership skills. Through this program, we will demonstrate how union education can build CUPE’s power as a union.
The program will cover such diverse but important areas as globalization, world trade, labour history, economics, politics, how social movements succeed, how to plan campaigns, racism, sexism, homophobia, aboriginal rights, human rights, government finance, poverty, discrimination against the poor and class discrimination. The program will be demanding, but very stimulating. It will reflect the specific context of CUPE members, as workers, community members and citizens.
It will build on the skills and expertise of the participants, as well as on the experience and knowledge of well-known guest speakers and skilled facilitators.
Details about the program, including curriculum, governance, administration, participant selection process, resources, location, etc. will be developed through discussions with regions, locals, bargaining councils and staff, to ensure it meets the needs of members in all sectors and regions.
CUPE National will organize the program as a pilot project in its first year. Participants will be selected from provincial and national leadership groups, in a way that reflects the diversity of CUPE’s membership. Recognizing the need to start building tomorrow’s leaders today, special emphasis will be placed on recruiting CUPE young workers as participants.
In subsequent years, CUPE National will review and expand the program to include more participants. We will explore providing financial support on a cost-share basis with local unions, bargaining councils, provincial divisions and other groups in CUPE that want to nominate members for leadership training. Groups in CUPE might also be given the opportunity to participate in the program at their own expense.
To help cover these costs, local unions and bargaining councils will be encouraged to establish union education funds (see below) and bargain employer contributions to these funds. Groups that have established these funds will be encouraged to use them to finance participation in CUPE’s national leadership program.
CUPE’s program will take advantage of the highly successful models and curriculum developed by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian Auto Workers, but will reflect the specific needs of CUPE members. Paid education programs in both these unions have had a remarkable impact on members, expanding their skills and knowledge to both take on fights at work and participate more fully in their union.
Bargain funding for union education
CUPE has had policy encouraging locals to bargain for paid leave for union education since 1977. Many locals have successfully negotiated language in their collective
agreements in which the employer pays for time off for union business, including union education. Others have negotiated language for paid leave for jointly-controlled workplace training programs.
It has not proved easy to bargain paid leave for union education – this is not something employers want to see us do! But we need to make this a bargaining priority if we want to make sure members have access to the education they need to face the major challenges outlined earlier in this policy paper.
Other unions and some CUPE locals have done it. They have succeeded in getting employers to make significant contributions to union education funds that are controlled and administered by the union. We now have very large locals and bargaining councils in CUPE with the bargaining clout to take on the same fight. We must make a coordinated and concerted effort to win employer contributions to CUPE education funds, controlled and administered by the locals and bargaining councils.
Locals and bargaining councils will be encouraged to use their funds to participate in CUPE’s education programs and workshops, including our proposed multi-week national leadership education program (described above).
The funds could also be used to develop education programs to meet the specific needs of specific locals and groups of members. CUPE National will offer special assistance to locals that successfully negotiate education funds to help make these programs as effective as possible.
Our goal will be to establish a few very successful models of employer-financed, union-controlled funds. These will demonstrate what union education funds can accomplish, and serve as a model to assist other groups in CUPE in their negotiations for similar funds.
Continue to build and strengthen our member facilitator program
CUPE has had a policy supporting the use of trained member facilitators (first called Occasional Instructors (OIs), now called Occasional Facilitators) – along with staff instructors – since 1979.
Member facilitators bring a wealth of experience and skills to CUPE workshops – our program would not exist without them. Occasional facilitators are trained facilitators who can speak from personal experience. As peers, they create a comfort level in a workshop; they are not perceived as “authority figures”.
We need to strengthen our commitment to recruit, train and support member facilitators so they can work closely with CUPE staff to meet the needs of the members in their workshops. We also need to continue efforts to recruit, train and support member facilitators who represent the diversity of the CUPE membership.
Do what we’ve been doing even better
This policy statement sets out a number of new educational initiatives that we will take in the coming years. But we also have to commit to doing what we’ve been doing even better. We must continue efforts to update existing workshops and materials to ensure they remain relevant to the needs of CUPE locals and members.
As part of our program to revitalize and update our existing program, we will reorganize CUPE’s union education certificate program. Our education workshops and courses will be grouped together in four streams: advocacy, leadership, personal development and humanities, instead of the current (and more traditional academic) approach of grouping courses into levels. Under the new system, members working through the certificate program will be required to participate in certain core workshops, including equality workshops, to receive a program certificate. Of course, members currently working on certificates under the current program will receive full credit for the workshops they have already taken and these credits will count towards the new certificates.