Sisters and Brothers:
With one Division convention left in 2013, I would like to begin my report by thanking all of you for making time and space available for the special session I hosted for local secretary-treasurers and trustees.
Through these sessions, we were able to meet directly with close to 1,000 members to discuss concerns and share experiences. The local financial officers also had the opportunity to speak directly to our staff from Per Capita. Sister Linda Marcoux ably answered technical questions. We also received good feedback on some of the tools that are available, such as the new electronic ledger, and comments that will be fed into a review of the financial officers course offered by Union Development.
There is a keen appetite for the ability to conduct electronic transactions. We will continue to explore these possibilities with staff in Finance and Administration as well as our auditors to seek a balance between convenience and the checks and balances that are part of our financial accountability to members.
Bill C-377 remains a concern for local secretary-treasurers, of course. Until we see regulations, however, we will not know exactly what CUPE National and our chartered organizations will have to do to comply. Our staff will be ready to prepare the necessary training materials to assist locals when the bill comes into effect. In Saskatchewan, we are also waiting to see regulations for Bill 85, which imposes requirements such as an audit that could create a huge expense for smaller locals in particular.
Government interference in our union operations and in the collective bargaining process is becoming more common. In addition to these financial rules, we have seen our flight attendants prohibited from exercising their right to strike and school board workers in Ontario negotiating under the gun of Bill 115. We are waiting for the other shoe to drop in that province, where the government intends to introduce changes to the fair and independent system of interest arbitration. And, without a doubt, there is more to come from the Harper government.
All of this was foreseen when delegates to our 2011 National Convention adopted A Blueprint for the Future, our Strategic Directions document that has framed our work over the last one-and-a-half years. It committed us to forming a working group to review ways in which the National Strike Fund and the National Defence Fund may be accessed in a more restrictive bargaining environment. That working group has met and made recommendations that I will bring forward to this NEB meeting.
Our National Strike Fund is healthy with a balance of more than $65 million. Members have survived on maximum strike pay of $200 per week since 1997, the longest period in CUPE history without an increase. The cost of living has increased significantly in the last 16 years. For that reason, we will ask the National Executive Board at this meeting to approve a resolution to take to National Convention increasing strike pay to ensure that members have adequate financial support when they are on the picket line.
We also have other resources at our disposal, such as the Fightback Fund that this Board created some years ago. Last fall, you approved a significant allocation for the Bill 115 fight in Ontario. At our last meeting, you gave Brother Paul and I the authority to approve another Ontario campaign on interest arbitration should the need arise between NEB meetings. I am bringing a motion to this meeting to formalize a fightback campaign led by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. The Ontario government has been under intense pressure from employers, particularly municipalities, to change the arbitration system in a way that will tip the balance in their favour. The government has left no doubt that legislation will be introduced. The victims will be our members in hospitals, long-term care facilities and emergency services – most of them women, most who do not have the right to strike – who have relied on arbitration for reasonable but fair settlements when negotiations fail. The fightback has to happen now because once the damage is done, it will be too late.
Also at our last meeting, we unanimously adopted the CLC resolution outlining a program in defence of union security and our right to free collective bargaining. In CUPE, the “fairness project” will not be a campaign like all others, with a beginning, middle and end. This is about re-connecting with our members and rebuilding a movement of working people right across Canada. Brother Paul and I recently held a telephone town hall with all staff to talk about their role in this initiative. If the experience in Ontario, where the “Stand Up for Fairness” initiatives has started to roll out, is any example, this work will be embraced by staff and local leaders alike. Reaching our members, one on one, will be a lot of hard work and will require resources, especially for our commitment to the broader CLC project that we have endorsed, but it must be done.
We have the ability to carry this out. Our 2012 audited financial statements will be presented at this NEB meeting, showing that we remain on a solid financial footing although the political and economic times require us to continue to exercise caution. Our National Trustees will also report at this meeting.
As you will see in the following report, we are on track with our 2013 budget. Locals, Divisions and District Councils are active, which is good news but also puts increasing pressure on various campaign envelopes, forcing us to be more focused and fight smarter.