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VANCOUVER-Delegates at CUPE BC’s first ever Workers of Colour conference identified barriers and suggested solutions to help make workplaces more inclusive.

More than 75 delegates spent two days in workshops where they shared common experiences and looked for solutions. The final day of the conference began with an address to delegates by Yolanda McClean, CUPE National diversity vice president.

Members attended workshops based on the theme of “Walking the Walk” and also a workshop on “Combating Racial Profiling.”

Dileep Athaide, BC Federation Executive Council, and Vanessa Wolf, CUPE BC National Health and Safety Representative facilitated “Walking the Walk with respect to workers of colour and their allies in the union”. This workshop focused on identifying union issues and recommending steps the union can take for action to eliminate racism.

“Walking the Walk with respect to workers of colour in the workplace: an explanation of Employment Equity” was facilitated by Don Moran, Co-Chair of CUPE’s Saskatchewan Aboriginal council and a National CUPE representative; and Conni Kilfoil, a labour and human rights lawyer and CUPE’s Equality representative. This workshop focused on the issue of representation of workers of colour in the workforce and strategies to advance and support a truly representative workforce.

Harry Bains, MLA for Surrey/Newton and Raj Sihota, Director of Outreach and Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff to Carole James, Leader of the Official Opposition, facilitated “Walking the Walk with respect to persons of colour in the political arena”. This workshop explored ways CUPE members can be encouraged to, and assisted with, running for office at the union, community, and political level.

“Walking the Walk with respect to workers of colour in the community” was facilitated by Shashi Assanand, a registered social worker who has worked with immigrant groups for the past 30 years, and Sid Chow Tan, founding Co-chair of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada. This workshop explored ways CUPE can create and use its relationship with various community organizations to advance the interests of persons of colour.

The final workshop, “Combating Racial Profiling” discussed the many forms of racial profiling and how CUPE could be part of the struggle against it. Facilitators were Harsha Walia, an organizer and writer, and Tom Sandborn, who serves as a board member for the BC Liberties Association and is a Vancouver-based writer, organizer, and consultant.
All groups reported workshop results back to the plenary. Some of the barriers identified by CUPE members included language and communication, cultural differences, lack of employment equity legislation, existing prejudices and stereotyping, lack of time, and fear. Just a few of the solutions suggested were: reading the Equality Statement at all union meetings; providing translations of materials whenever possible; having an orientation with each new union member; developing mentorship programs; talking to members about what racism is and the various forms it takes; and negotiating employment equity in collective agreements. Throughout the conference, members shared personal stories and experiences as workers of colour.

The conference closed with an address by Secretary-treasurer Mark Hancock. Hancock thanked delegates for their work at the conference, “It’s impossible for me to walk in your shoes but attending these meetings gives me some insight and understanding into what workers of colour face. Challenges, solutions and barriers have been identified. Now we need to take action.”

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Janet Szliske, National Communications representative