At CUPE, we never back away from a fight. That was the message of strength that National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury delivered to the 1,200 delegates present at the National Sector Council Conference. “We are seeing more and more strikes, and attacks at the bargaining tables,” said Fleury. “CUPE has the resources to stand behind each and every local across the country who is locked out, on strike, or facing essential services fights.”
Fleury reminded us that our members are our biggest strength when it comes to facing these challenges. The Fairness project was launched last year to connect directly with all 628,000 members to hear their thoughts on the value of belonging to a union.
“Many of us talk about less membership involvement and others say we have lost the direct connection with our members,” said Fleury. “Through the Fairness project, our challenge is to increase the number of engaged members.”
By helping us reconnecting with our members, the Fairness project will also make a difference at our bargaining tables and beyond. “I know that when we do this we will see more changes in our workplaces, in our union, and on the political front,” said Fleury.”
Conference participants also heard about the Fairness project from Kathy Johnson, Assistant Director of Regional and Organizing Services, who said: “If you asked your members to wear this button to work tomorrow, or to wear a red shirt, or to come to a demo, or to give you a 100 per cent strike vote, would they be there for you?” She encouraged members to think about using the Fairness project to stay connected.
Four CUPE members who’ve been involved in the Fairness project then shared their experiences, successes and lessons learned.
Nova Scotia hospital worker Cheryl Burbidge explained how five locals in that sector used the ‘one in five’ Communicator model to reach out to 4,600 members. They used the model to get bargaining surveys out and back from members and reached a 60 per cent return rate, double what they normally get.
Tena Creamer, a CUPE 1775 school board worker from PEI, described how the four CUPE locals in her sector created a ‘go to’ person in each of their 63 schools across the island. “We tried to find an approachable, friendy person in that workplace that members would be comfortable talking to and bringing their issues and concerns to.”
Anna Clauser, an Air Canada flight attendant and member of CUPE 4095 member, said they had 1,000 flight attendants participate on a recent telephone Town Hall meeting. “Another one of our goals is to have member mobilizers at every base across the country,” she said.
“The conversations we’ve been having with members have prepared us for this new round of bargaining,” said Heather Skolly, a CUPE 7474 school board worker from Ontario. “Our outreach to locals and across the sector has helped us create a feeling of unity.”
Sioufi summarized the panel discussion by suggesting, “Locals simply need to find something that members can connect with and just get started. Start from where you are, go to the members, and change it as you need to.” Go, listen, build is the Fairness mantra.
Using the analogy of a hot water tank, Sioufi said, “Think of it as keeping the membership warm. You can’t expect to go from cold to hot. But going from warm to hot is a lot easier.”