One of the major emerging issues for the CUPE electricity sector is the change precipitated by rapid turnover of the membership due to retirement. In many of the local unions the majority of members have less than seven years seniority and about five to ten per cent of members are young workers. Union locals establish young workers committees, but also give young workers ownership of the health and safety committees to pass on that knowledge and experience. One local aims to have half of committee members with less than ten years experience on the job.
Direct, personal asks by union activists to new workers to get involved in some aspect of the union are a must to foster engagement with new workers.
CUPE locals are taking the issue of new members to the bargaining table. Letters of agreement have been signed on training and access to educational sessions. The larger locals have negotiated significant roles in orientation for new workers. At these sessions, new members learn about the organizational structures of both the union and the workplace. Some locals use member leave time and the training centres for training which includes a whole history of the union, labour law, health and safety legislation, and members’ rights under the collective agreement. Local unions can also take this opportunity to place an emphasis on “protecting the work” against contracting-out.
Contracting-out is a larger issue at smaller employers than the largest utilities. Larger employers have the capacity to keep work in house. Small utilities have trouble even hiring full-time management who have the knowledge to run the utility. Those managers focus on contracting-out. Building membership understanding, with a focus on new members, needs to be a priority to maintain or make gains in contracting-out language during bargaining.
CUPE campaigns against contracting-out and other forms of privatization. Locals are engaged in email campaigns to outreach to members and the public. The general strategy is to get the public behind them keeping the work local and in house. Hiring halls are another option for dealing with contracting-out of work, so that the union represents all of the workers.