More than 250 CUPE members from the education sector across Canada (school boards, school divisions, K-12) met in Winnipeg, in October 2016, to discuss issues of common interest and share experiences.

Discussion in the sector break out sessions were focussed on the themes of the sector council plenary sessions: union advantage (organizing and strong union locals) and violence in the workplace.

Participants talked about the potential of provincial bargaining to strengthen locals in the sector. Members from provinces where provincial bargaining takes place spoke about their experiences, the pros and cons and the challenges. Provincial bargaining in Ontario led to the first ever province-wide work-to-rule campaign in the last round. Locals came out of the experience more united, in better communication with each other and invigorated by the common struggle.

CUPE’s wide experience with provincial bargaining is an example of the advantage of belonging to a strong, national union. Not only does it bring locals in a province together, it allows for common issues to be dealt with at one table.

Participants spent a full day exploring the issues related to violence in the workplace and working on solutions. The day revolved around three break-out sessions: what is the nature of the problem, what are locals and provincial organizations doing about it, and what more can be done? Participants heard about efforts to bargain language to protect education workers, and efforts to amend health and safety regulations to better protect workers, as well as the need to better document violent incidents and generate statistics that can be used in lobbying efforts.

There was a discussion about the fact that small union locals sometimes struggle to participate in the campaigns and political action of the national union. Organizing drives can strain the resources of small locals, as can sending delegates to convention and other meetings.

More than anything else, participants returned again and again to the value of communicating with others in the sector. Members in this sector want to take full advantage of electronic media to stay in touch, keep up-to-date on developments in other jurisdictions, and to have a means of asking others in the sector how they deal with particular issues.

CUPE is better positioned than any other union in Canada to facilitate communication among workers in the education sector. It is by far the largest union in the sector, with a large presence in every province. CUPE members in this sector really value the flow of topical and pertinent information, and value the sector council structure as a forum to promote sharing experiences and ideas.