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Statement on youth
Building for tomorrow today

It doesnt take a crystal ball to know that a union without young, active members is a union without a future. Or that a country that denies young people stable jobs and economic security is a country without a future. As Canadas biggest, strongest and most diverse union, CUPE has a key role to play in shaping a brighter future for young people.

Our union must enter the next century with a plan. A plan that gives the next generation economic and social security. A plan that rejuvenates the public sector. A plan that will attract and involve more young people in CUPE.

That means fighting for decent jobs and accessible education. It means fighting the tide of part-time, casual and temporary jobs that rob young people of hope and security.

It means focusing on young people in our organizing drives, at the bargaining table and in our public campaigns. It means promoting our alternatives to the mean-spirited agenda of privatization and public sector downsizing. It means proving to governments and employers that Public Works! best for young people. Our future depends on it.

Bleak present, mortgaged future

The situations critical for Canadian youth. An acute shortage of jobs. The jobs that do exist are mainly low-wage, dead end jobs without union protection. Post-secondary education is being priced out of reach. And the public sector, a once-plentiful source of good jobs, has been downsized and privatized.

Its no exaggeration to say the attack on public services is an attack on young people. Quite simply, every job that is eliminated through downsizing, early retirement, attrition or layoff is a job that will never exist for a young person. With the official youth unemployment rate sitting at 15 per cent and a real youth unemployment rate more like 25 per cent the lack of public sector jobs for youth is as serious a concern as the erosion of the services themselves. An entire generation of young people is being frozen out of well-paying, unionized, secure jobs.

With few other options, the vast majority of young people are being forced into the private service sector workforce retail shops, the hospitality industry, food services. These workers often hold precarious positions part-time, casual, temporary or shift work. More often than not, theyre not unionized, which means low wages (an average of $7.00 an hour less than their unionized counterparts!), job insecurity, no benefits and serious health and safety risks. Jobs that used to be considered student jobs to help a young person get through school are fast becoming the only available source of income well past graduation.

As tuition fees go through the roof in almost every province, student debt loads are spiraling out of control. Since 1991, tuition fees have risen an average of 56 per cent and debt loads have tripled, now averaging $25,000. Yet young people continue to enroll in college and university, knowing full well that even though their degree or diploma may not help them get a job, its their last and only hope. We are facing the prospect of an entire generation who have mortgaged their futures to try and build a better present young people saddled with a debt that will last them the rest of their lives.

And for some of the most vulnerable, post-secondary education is no longer an option. While full-time enrolment is stable and even growing slightly, part-time enrolment often low-income people, single parents and people with disabilities is declining. This is a warning sign that higher education is being priced out of reach for those who need it most.

The solutions public

Young peoples issues are key issues for CUPE both as a union and as a force for economic and social change. We are well placed to take a strong stand on these issues. At the heart of our argument is the simple, indisputable fact that public works best for young people.

When it comes to wages and working conditions, theres simply no comparison. The public sector is over 70 per cent unionized. Our contracts offer young workers the health benefits, sick leave, paid vacation, maternity leave and higher wages they can only dream of in the private service sector. Yet less than 6 per cent of young workers are able to find work in the public sector. We must work to change that.

Public solutions to the crisis facing young people benefit the entire country because the jobs were calling for are jobs on the front line in public services. That means more health care and nursing home workers to care for our aging population. That means more education and social services workers to strengthen and support our communities. That means more municipal workers to keep our towns and cities working. It also means relief for todays front line workers, who are stressed to the max and juggling unmanageable workloads. Helping reduce their overtime and stress load goes a long way toward building healthy public services.

Public solutions are also green solutions, providing goods and services that are friendly to the environment. Public solutions can make existing workplaces more environmentally friendly, and can create new, environmentally sound jobs that are safe and sustainable for the next millennium.

Public solutions also benefit the union movement as a whole. Bombarded with right-wing rhetoric about the irrelevance of unions, many young people grow up never having contact with, or membership in, unions. We need to show young people that unions are on their side and have never been more relevant. Reaching out to young people and working to create decent jobs for them is a concrete way of showing that commitment. Broadening the role for young people in CUPE also shows how much we value their knowledge and experience. Its vital to take this step. In doing so, we are building the next generation of union activists.

Building for tomorrow today

The renewal of public sector jobs and services will create hope for youth while building a better future and stronger communities. We need bold new strategies and bold new thinking to accomplish these goals.

We must show the link between the renewal and expansion of public services, and the future for young people. For CUPE, it also means taking action to ensure our union is responsive to young workers. We must tap into the energy and ideas of the young members we do have, and increase their presence in our union. These goals are at the heart of CUPEs Youth Action Plan. Its a plan that will unfold at the bargaining table, in organizing drives, in our locals and divisions, and in our communities. Its a plan that can work, and will work.

CUPEs youth action plan

CUPE will continue to fight privatization while at the same time campaigning to strengthen and renew public services. A central part of this campaign will be to make the link between public sector renewal and youth employment. Specifically, CUPE will:

  • Call on governments and employers to expand apprenticeship programs beyond traditional trades into other public services, providing meaningful entry for youth into the public sector.

  • Press public sector employers to implement job creation strategies such as contracting in, replacing part-time jobs with full-time employment, shorter work weeks with no reduction in pay, and reduction of overtime.

  • Develop and promote a green jobs strategy for environmentally sound public sector jobs that can be filled by young people.

  • Encourage locals to run campaigns to strengthen public services fill vacant jobs with youth.

CUPE will also take the following steps to encourage and increase the role of young people within the union:

  • Establish a National Youth Working Group to guide and build on CUPEs youth action plan and encourage CUPE divisions to do the same.

  • Support locals in carrying out workplace audits to find young members and identify ways of involving them in the local union.

  • Take concrete action to increase youth participation in CUPE education programs and conventions. This will include finding ways to involve families in union events and campaigns.

  • Establish a mentoring program so that young activists can work with and learn from CUPE activists and servicing representatives.

CUPE will build organizing and bargaining campaigns to give youth job security and improved wages and benefits. Specifically, CUPE will:

  • Undertake a study to determine where youth is represented and organized in public services such as child care, municipal recreation services, universities and social services.

  • Train young CUPE members to assist in drives to organize youth.

  • Provide support for locals to include young peoples issues at the bargaining table, such as:

    • resisting attrition and other workforce reduction schemes that eliminate positions which could go to young people;

    • ending two-tier pay scales that discriminate against youth and others holding part-time jobs within the same workplace;

    • fighting the creation of two-tier workforces and agencies (youth job ghettos) with a huge gap in wages and benefits between groups of workers doing essentially the same jobs;

    • improving job security and benefits for part-time, contract and other precarious workers;

    • negotiating education subsidies to help workers cover the rising costs of post-secondary education for family members.

CUPE will launch outreach programs to inform young people about their rights as workers and about the benefits of joining a union. Specifically, CUPE will:

  • Increase the unions profile in the alternative press by contributing articles, and through paid advertising.

  • Set up information booths at employment fairs, staffed by young CUPE activists.

  • Sponsor CUPE activists to present talks on health and safety and workers rights in high schools.

CUPE will continue to work with the Canadian Federation of Students in the fight for increased and stable funding for public education, the elimination of all user fees for post-secondary education, and a system of grants to cover students living expenses.

Finally, CUPE will pressure governments to increase the minimum wage, and we will work to eliminate the legislated two-tier minimum wage standards in Ontario and Nova Scotia that set out lower rates for young workers. As an example, the Quebec government has tabled legislation that prohibits two-tier wages and working conditions for newly-hired workers. Provisions like this will do much to protect young workers from discrimination.

Taking on the future

Its an aggressive plan. Its an ambitious plan. But whats at stake is so critical we must move forward now.

This plan is all about building the next generation. The next generation of CUPE activists. The next generation of front-line public service workers. The next generation of Canadians. Its a task everyone in CUPE can be proud were taking on.

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