RICHMOND—Close to 200 delegates from over 50 local unions in CUPE’s K-12 sector in British Columbia spent two days in Richmond to establish a provincial bargaining council, talk policy and show some solidarity.
CUPE national president Paul Moist gave the opening address to the group which represents CUPE’s 26,000 members in the BC K-12 sector. Moist applauded the work of CUPE locals and said that they are building on the work of many activists who have gone before seeking to build a strong and coordinated public education sector. “Those earlier activists would be very proud of what CUPE members in B.C. are doing,” said Moist.
Moist talked about the groundbreaking BC survey of the unpaid work of Education Assistants and said that others across the country are taking direction from it. He also acknowledged the work of CUPE leaders and activists who are speaking out against cuts to public education, and working with parents and elected trustees to fight funding cuts.
He strongly encouraged CUPE members to persevere in what can be a challenging process, pointing to significant gains made by the 50,000 strong K-12 sector in Ontario. The historic 2008 agreement that resulted from a provincial table in Ontario allowed both fair wages and working conditions settlements and a forum for addressing funding and policy issues from the perspective of those who support education and maintain facilities and grounds.
At noon on Friday, CUPE K-12 members enthusiastically joined with striking CUPE 873 paramedics in a strong show of solidarity, as some 500 people marched to and rallied at the Richmond Olympic Speed Skating Oval on Friday.
CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill chaired the founding convention of the Presidents’ Council. O’Neill, who comes out of the K-12 sector and is a member of CUPE 606 on Vancouver Island, said that he was very pleased to be able to assist in the historic founding convention.
“We face a difficult bargaining situation. The economy is in trouble and we have a provincial government that is not known for its progressive labour relations. If there ever was a time, it is now for us to work together,” said O’Neill.
Delegates formed a provincial Presidents’ Council, put in place a structure for a provincial bargaining committee and elected a provincial Administration and Communications Committee (ACC) to oversee the work of the Presidents’ Council. The ACC is: Terry Allen, CUPE 379 (Chair); Leslie Franklin, CUPE 703 (Vice Chair); Mark Olsen, CUPE 5523 (Treasurer); and Brigitte Couturier, CUPE 4227 (Recording Secretary).
Delegates heard from CUPE research representative John Malcolmson on a range of workplace, benefits and policy issues, and had a wide-ranging discussion following a presentation by CUPE Public Education Benefits Trust representatives Colin Pawson (CUPE 1091) and Rob Hewitt CUPE national representative.
Delegates acknowledged the work of CUPE activists and staff in making the historic conference a reality, and in particular, thanked CUPE K-12 sector coordinator Bill Pegler for his work.
The membership of the Presidents’ Council will be finalized through the early Fall and will work to prepare for the 2010 round of bargaining.