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CUPE praises members for response to Montreal tragedy

The national officers of Canada’s largest union joined their concerns with those of citizens of Montreal, Quebec and Canada horrified by the tragic events that took place at Montreal’s Dawson College Sept. 13, 2006.

It is with a mixture of sorrow and frustration that we express condolences to the families of victims of the Dawson College shooting,” said Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). “We join countless others in lending our support to the families whose children lie wounded in hospital.”

Hundreds of CUPE members were affected by yesterday’s events. The daughter of a City of Montreal employee, a CUPE member, was injured in the shooting.

While this young woman is doing well, it is hard not to think back to the tragic death of another CUPE member at l’École Polytechnique in 1989,” Moist noted.

Throughout yesterday’s events in Montreal, CUPE members were active, both on the front lines and behind the scenes, in civilian roles in support of police, ambulance and firefighters,” said National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux.

Généreux praised 911 dispatchers. “We are so proud of Montreal’s 911 dispatchers,” he said. “They took hundreds of calls from distraught students, teachers and support staff. Many reported to work without being called in by their employer. And many evening shift workers came in early to support their colleagues.”

Monique Côté, president of CUPE 429 (Montreal municipal workers), reinforced the important role played by civic workers behind the scenes.

Citizens know so little about the dedication and energy civic workers bring to their jobs on a daily basis,” she said. “It takes a tragedy like this one to demonstrate how quickly and efficiently civic workers come together to make our public system work for people.”

CUPE’s national officers also condemned violence in our society. For CUPE, effective gun legislation is only part of the solution. What drives someone to pick up a gun and shoot innocent students? What safety checks are missing? What mental health or social supports have been cut back or eliminated? These are some of the questions we are asking ourselves in the aftermath of this tragedy. We believe these are some of the questions Prime Minister Stephen Harper must consider in the next session of Parliament.

Anne McGrath elected NDP president

It was a proud day for CUPE when convening federal New Democrats chose sister Anne McGrath as their new president.

I pledge to build on our many strengths and to continue our tradition of bringing our progressive vision to the national stage,” said McGrath, who won a landslide victory. “I’m extremely proud of Anne and congratulate her on behalf of all CUPE,” said National President Paul Moist. “I know she will be a strong, effective leader.”

We are thrilled that Anne has been elected president,” added party Leader Jack Layton. “Her ideas will bring new energy and momentum to our party.”

McGrath has a long history as an activist in the labour, student and feminist movements. She has run as an NDP candidate in Alberta and was most recently Layton’s director of operations.

Two more CUPE sisters were re-elected to their labour seats on the NDP executive: British Columbia Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager Judy Darcy and national organizing and regional services managing director Julie Davis. Barry Thorsteinson, staff advisor to CUPE’s national political action committee, was elected to the party executive for the first time, also to a labour seat. And Sylvia Sioufi, national literacy program coordinator, took centre stage as one of the convention chairs.

More than 1,800 party delegates, staff and observers met in Quebec last weekend, the biggest NDP convention since 1987.

Jack Layton received overwhelming support and a strong mandate from his members, with well over 90 per cent voting against a leadership election. Layton capped off the convention with a rousing speech that set the tone for an ambitious campaign to persuade Canadians to elect an NDP-led government.

CUPE 15 calls City of Vancouver on alleged discriminatory actions

Just how much does the City of Vancouver have to hide? That’s what Paul Faoro, president of CUPE 15, is wondering.

The union says visible-minority staff at Vancouver City Hall were asked to move up to the front counter and pretend they worked there during a visit by the federal labour minister two weeks ago.

On Sept. 8, Faoro flagged “extremely questionable actions” with respect to the treatment of the employees. Faoro wrote to city manager Judy Rogers requesting an immediate investigation of allegations that city workers of colour were asked to be more “visible” during an official visit by Minister of Labour Jean-Pierre Blackburn.

Blackburn was in Vancouver to meet with Mayor Sam Sullivan and the mayor’s Working Group on Immigration to discuss diversity and multiculturalism. Blackburn also toured several city departments. The city’s news release about the visit said it was honoured to “demonstrate the City of Vancouver’s commitment to providing an inclusive workplace.”

Faoro is calling on city officials to apologize to the workers and to the minister. Faoro’s letter, which was copied to Vancouver mayor and council, quickly became the subject of a flurry of news stories right across the country, including CBC Radio’s As It Happens. Faoro told CBC News that Vancouver is so multicultural, there’s no need to fake it.

Not only are we going to continue to probe into what happened here, using freedom of information requests and other measures, we are also going to step up our campaign to get whistleblower protection for city employees,” says Faoro.

While no grievances or human rights complaints have been filed, Faoro says that CUPE 15 staff and stewards are working with members to ensure all rights are protected.

Nova Scotia hospital workers allowed to bargain better pensions

Five unions representing more than 20,000 health care workers in the Nova Scotia Association of Health Organizations (NSAHO) pension plan are calling a ruling from the Labour Relations Board a “landmark decision”.

The ruling has reaffirmed that the workers have the right to bargain pensions in the health care sector. This is what the unions have been saying all along, and the employers’ groups have been denying. The decision stems from a complaint filed by the District Health Authorities, the employers, that CUPE was bargaining in bad faith by trying to negotiate improvements to the pension plan.

CUPE and the Canadian Auto Workers are in bargaining with the DHAs, who have almost full control over the NSAHO pension plan. The other three unions involved in the dispute are the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union and the Service Employees International Union.

The board ruled that the employers’ assertion of bad faith had no merit. The four other unions had intervener status at the hearings because they would be directly affected by the ruling.

Use of the pension plan surplus is a major bone of contention with the unions. The NSAHO’s own numbers show that since 1998, health care employers across the province have used tens of millions of dollars of the plan surplus to make their own contributions to the plan.

The unions claim the partial contribution holidays were not only unfair to plan members but were also taken in breach of the plan contract. They have joined together in this round of bargaining to make sure the practice is brought to an end and other improvements to the plan are put in place.

Bus drivers, public suffer from Montreal transit woes

Public transit drivers in Montreal say they are picking up more and more short-tempered passengers irritated by late and overcrowded buses, long waits and packed shelters.

CUPE 1983, which represents Montreal drivers say that on any given day, there is between 100 and 120 buses missing from city streets. The union lays the blame squarely on management disorganization and is asking the public to not take their frustrations out on the drivers, who are also inconvenienced. Some 400,000 pamphlets were handed out on buses informing passengers of the situation and suggesting they complain directly to Montreal Transport Society brass.

It’s intolerable,” said CUPE 1983 president Claude Benoît. “The lack of working buses affects all routes and schedules. Residents are dissatisfied and we don’t blame them, but it’s our drivers who are paying the price, even if it’s not their fault.”

Bus drivers in communities on the South Shore of Montreal, members of CUPE 3333, are facing the same issues and have launched a similar appeal.

The union has called for the transit authorities, the cities and the Quebec government to deal with the problem.

Delta, B.C., launches City Watch

This week Delta, B.C., saw the launch of City Watch, a crime prevention program combining the efforts of municipal employees and local police. The event drew about 150 civic workers, thanks in no small part to perfect weather and barbequed hamburgers served up by members of CUPE 454.

The program, which promotes community safety through employee awareness, is designed to prevent and reduce crime by encouraging municipal employees to be alert to activities they might witness in the course of their jobs. Employee participation is voluntary.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson and other municipal officials and staff were on hand, along with municipal police chief Jim Cessford, several local police officers and CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill.

Jackson praised the municipal workers for their “commitment to each other and to our community,” while Cessford said City Watch would enhance Delta’s reputation as one of the safest communities in British Columbia.

Our members know what a community is supposed to look like from day to day,” added O’Neill, “so when something doesn’t look right, we make sure it gets noted. It’s an extension of what we already do on our jobs.”

Robison encouraged members to use non-violent intervention in response to suspicious activities, repeating O’Neill’s comment that City Watch is “not a vigilante program.”

Delta is one of 30 communities in B.C. participating in City Watch.

New Brunswick nursing home workers asking for commitment

CUPE is asking for a real commitment from the leaders of New Brunswick’s three political parties toward improving the level of care for seniors in nursing homes.

The situation with nursing homes is too serious to be answered by vague promises during an election campaign”, said Valerie Black, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions (NBCNHU), which represents workers in 38 nursing homes.

The facilities are understaffed and the workers are unable to meet the basic daily needs of seniors,” she said. “Nursing homes are in a crisis and adequate funding must be immediately implemented into the system to ensure our seniors receive the care they deserve.

Since 2002, the New Brunswick government has funded an extra nine minutes of care per resident, bringing the hours of care to 2.65 hours at designated peak periods of activity in the day.

It is still far from the three hours of care per patient recommended in a government-funded study,” Black noted. “The needs of seniors admitted to nursing homes today are more complex; they require professional health care and 24-hour supervision. The demand for specialized equipment, procedures and treatments has also vastly increased.”

She described how nursing home workers struggle daily to meet these needs. “The critical role these workers play in the health care system must be recognized,” she said. “These workers and residents deserve more than election promises.”

Fort McMurray school staff mull strike

The 260 non-teaching staff at public schools in Fort McMurray, Alta., are considering a strike after twice rejecting offers for a new contract.

The issue is the monthly cost of living allowance. The school district has offered incentives of $60/month in the first year of a contract, rising up to $100/month over three years.

But the CUPE Alberta president D’Arcy Lanovaz says it isn’t enough when you look at the high cost of living in a city experiencing an oil boom and a labour shortage. The offer is less than what other public sector employers are offering, noting that the local municipal government is paying $750/month and Keyano College is paying $525/month to hold on to employees.

The fact is that the school board can’t keep its employees,” said Lanovaz. “The competition for wages is just too severe.”

Lanovaz put the blame squarely on the provincial government, saying they have no idea how to deal with the city’s growth.

CUPE 2545 president Lorna Tollman says employees don’t want to strike, but feel their options are running out.

We want to work, but we also have to be able to live in this city,” said Tollman. “There is a lot of work elsewhere, and it’s going to draw our members away.”

The starting wage for a custodian at the school district is $16.44, while for a teaching assistant it’s $17.22.

HEU marks passing of former president Bill Black

Members of the Hospital Employees’ Union in British Columbia are remembering former union president Bill Black, who passed away peacefully on Sept. 8, 2006 at the age of 90.

A trades worker at Royal Columbian Hospital, Black served as a provincial trustee on HEU’s provincial executive from 1956 to 1968, and then as president from 1968 to 1980.

Speaking at the union’s 50th anniversary convention in 1994, he told delegates, “The strength of any union is at the local level. When HEU was formed in 1944 it was designed so that the policy of the union would be established and controlled by those who toil in hospitals. Workers are the real representatives of their union and should guard this right jealously.”

HEU president Fred Muzin said Black was a progressive leader, dedicated to improving the lives and working conditions of health care workers across the province.

Brother Black was also known for his strong belief in the important role unions play in the broader struggle for social justice,” said Muzin. “He understood that we are only truly strong when we join with others in standing up for our communities as well as workers’ rights. His dedication to people and our members helped establish the proud legacy of our union and he will be sorely missed.”

The family will hold a memorial at a later date.