Emily Turk | CUPE Communications
Mylene Holmes is no stranger to the labour movement. Her father was a union man and activist back in the Philippines, working for the Marcelo Steel Corporation for 37 years.
“I remember when I was six or seven, there were always people in our house. There were always rallies,” Mylene says. “My father tells his friends, ‘When I was young, I was involved in the union and now my daughter is retracing my footsteps.’”
Twenty years ago, Mylene was one of the first immigrants to arrive in Winnipeg under Manitoba’s pioneering Provincial Nominee Program. The program was the first of its kind in Canada and is credited with attracting 130,000 people to the province. Winnipeg now has one of the largest Filipino communities in the country.
When Mylene arrived in Canada, she had a degree in accounting and was leaving behind a cushy job in finance, but she came here to help her sister raise her two young nieces.
After working a mix of full- and part-time positions for a few years, Mylene decided she wanted to work at the local hospital for better job security. So, she studied to become a Health Unit Clerk and got a job at the Grace Hospital, where she stayed for three years before finding an opening in their finance department.
Mylene has now been a CUPE member for 16 years. She belongs to two locals, CUPE 500 and CUPE 204, where she serves on the executive as Secretary Treasurer. CUPE 204 represents over 7,000 health care workers across Winnipeg and Manitoba and has been fighting against government cuts to health care funding, restructuring and layoffs, emergency room closures and more.
“I thought that if you worked under the provincial government, your job was secure. But I guess I was wrong,” Mylene says.
In May of last year, the Pallister government also proclaimed that it would force health care workers into disruptive votes on union representation—creating uncertainty and stress in an already burdened workforce.
Mylene says CUPE Manitoba and local 204 have been working hard to connect with the Filipino community about the representation vote and attacks on health care. Filipinos represent a large segment of health care workers in the province, and CUPE has been consulting with the community, producing campaign materials in Tagalog, supporting cultural events, and making sure members know what is at stake.
Supporting the Filipino community was one of the reasons Mylene got involved with her union in the first place. And in her case, union work is a family affair—five of her relatives are in the same local, working at the Health Sciences Centre. “I really want them to know that CUPE is a good organization. There are people behind them that will support them and help out when they need it,” she says.
Mylene’s dad is now 92 years old and living in Canada. Sometimes he still talks about his life in the union. “He was very proud when I told him about what we’re doing, about fighting for health care,” she says.
“My dad was always a strong supporter of his union and he still loves his members. Maybe I got that attitude from him.”