Jordana Feist​ | CUPE Research

As a researcher, I regularly read the agreements that come into the office. Sometimes, it makes for encouraging reading – like when I read about the changes negotiated in the latest round of bargaining between CUPE Local 387 and the City of New Westminster in BC.

Their new agreement featured a long list of improvements, including:

  • Provisions to reduce the use of seasonal workers by converting workers in that classification to regular full-time employees over two years.
  • Benefits for all temporary full-time and temporary part-time workers.
  • Two new letters of understanding addressing the issues around the auxiliary workforce and continuing the work to convert those positions to regular part-time and regular full-time.
  • Benefit improvements and wage increases.

These would be excellent outcomes in any day, but Local 387 achieved all this in a climate where employers are pushing the use of temporary and seasonal workers and trying to restrict their access to health and benefit plans.

How did they get there?

I sat down with the local to find out how they had bargained these changes. The business agent George Habib and president Hardeep Maghera were happy to share their experiences at the bargaining table and in their local.

They told me that success at the bargaining table starts well before any bargaining takes place and builds on three key pieces.

Key #1: Build the local’s capacity

The first key was to build their own local and its capacity. They have a very strong executive and they work as a team with their business agent. They have invested in education around financial literacy and labour management skills for the whole team, and everyone on the executive has a role to play in the running of the local and representing their members. They have very deliberately built a system where everyone has a purpose and each role is essential.

To the extent possible in a democratic organization, they have also invested time and resources into succession planning. This means identifying members who have the drive and passion to work for the improvement of the local – and engaging them in opportunities for growth such as education, conferences and hands-on experience with the work of the local.

Key #2: Build relationships for bargaining

The second key is building relationships with the people they work with, starting with their CUPE National Staff Representative.

A significant part of this is the local’s relationship with their employer, the City of New Westminster. Over the past ten years the local has worked towards creating an environment of respect and trust when working with management and human resources staff at the city. Although they frequently disagree, there is level of respect between the two parties that allows them to come to agreement on many issues.

The relationship with the employer has also changed the tone at labour management meetings. Many of the items that come to the bargaining table are issues that have already been discussed and largely worked out through the labour management process.

Hardeep says this is the secret to their bargaining success. “Bargaining is not to negotiate everything but it is the culmination of all the work done in months and years previous.”

Hardeep says Local 387 got the employer to agree to extending benefits to temporary full-time and temporary part-time workers because of the consistent work and messaging by the local about fairness in benefits during labour management meetings – long before bargaining officially started.

Key #3: Political action

The final key to their bargaining success is political action. Local 387 works hard to communicate the concerns of working people during the electoral process. Currently, every member of the New Westminster Council, including the mayor, is endorsed by the local labour council. The local maintains regular communication with councillors.

Building and maintaining these political relationships is an ongoing process. It is hard work. But it’s this kind of work that enables this CUPE local to protect members’ rights and build a fairer collective agreement for everyone.

Building the local, building relationships and taking political action – that’s how CUPE 387 builds a strong local, and secures better working conditions for its members.