Colleen Butler | CUPE Staff
In March 2021, CUPE’s National Executive Board (NEB) formed the Safe Union Spaces Working Group (SUSWG). The group, made up of the women members of the NEB, conducted member surveys, held focus groups and organized listening sessions. They discovered that many CUPE members, especially women and those from equity-deserving groups, weren’t fully participating in the union due to safety concerns.
After gathering information from members, the SUSWG collaborated with experts to determine next steps. They outlined their recommendations in an interim report and action plan, published in April 2022.
Since then, CUPE has been putting these recommendations into practice. Here are some highlights!
Supporting new and women leaders
CUPE organized a women’s conference in Vancouver last March. This event was CUPE’s first National Women’s Conference in 14 years and attracted over 500 participants. During the conference, members explored how to promote fairness and strengthen women’s leadership through bargaining, politics and member engagement.
The SUSWG is also bolstering leadership programs across the country. This has included improving CUPE’s leadership training and backing the Women in Leadership Development Program (WILD) in Ontario.
The SUSWG re-examined our conflict resolution processes. As part of this, CUPE organized training on restorative practices at several events, including the All Committees Meeting in Vancouver and CUPE Manitoba’s convention. Participants learned about the potential restorative practices hold for unions and developed key skills, like active listening.
The working group’s interim report revealed a serious issue: many CUPE members and staff don’t step in when they see violence, harassment or discrimination. This can make it seem like such behaviour is accepted or even supported.
To tackle this issue, CUPE’s Union Education Branch created a 3-hour bystander intervention course open to all CUPE members. CUPE has also provided shorter bystander intervention training at several national events like the 2022 Sector Council Conference in Ottawa and the National Women’s Conference.
The SUSWG introduced a Safe Walk program at recent events to help members who are travelling alone. In addition, the working group has developed resources for locals, including a checklist for safer, more inclusive union spaces. At a structural level, CUPE is setting up an independent office to handle complaints about sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in our union.
The effort to make CUPE safer and more inclusive continues. Other safe union spaces initiatives, including pilot projects, are coming soon.