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LILLOOET—A signing ceremony held here this week marks the end of a long organizing drive for CUPE staff and a new beginning for the six employees of the T’it’q’et Daycare and Preschool, who are fresh from achieving their first collective agreement with the T’it’q’et Band Council.

CUPE invested time, energy and resources to ensure that a first collective agreement was achieved and it was the right thing to do,” said CUPE National rep Rob Limongelli.

But the real heroes are the six sisters who—despite a lot of internal pressure—never gave up on their goal. In addition to improving their working conditions they wanted to be treated with respect and be valued as employees. This agreement goes a long way to achieve that goal.”

The six members of the new CUPE sub-local 173 are Beth MacLellan, Stacey Alec, Peggy La Rochelle, Phyllis Doss, Caroline Peters and Corina Tom.

Limongelli said it was clear from the first meeting, held last year on February 23, that this would not be like most rounds of bargaining he had experienced.

Things had to be done differently,” he said, describing some of the unique cultural aspects of holding contract talks in an aboriginal community.

It was important to first focus our attention on establishing a relationship with the society and the chief and council. There was a need to educate and to be educated.  We had to take the time to demonstrate that CUPE was interested in more than a collective agreement. So at every opportunity we talked about CUPE, our structure and our work in other aboriginal communities.”

Eventually the chief and council agreed to meet with the bargaining committee and hear a presentation about the union. Limongelli said there was clear agreement among the CUPE representatives that the agenda would have to be focused on the union’s role in the community rather than just the bargaining process and collective agreements.

At the meeting, held earlier this spring, CUPE National Equality representative Conni Kilfoil delivered a two-hour presentation for the chief and council that highlighted in detail CUPE’s work in the aboriginal sector. This proved to be a turning point in the union’s relationship with the band council, recalled Limongelli.

The chief and council were very impressed with the presentation and at the end of our meeting the chief confirmed to the committee that there was a commitment to recognize the wishes of the workers and that a collective agreement would be reached,” he said. “That afternoon, Chief Machell took Sister Kilfoil and I on a tour of the community, detailing his vision for the future.  The tour included taking us into his home to show us the work of local artists.”

The June 4 signing ceremony began with an opening prayer followed by remarks from Chief Machell, the councillors, union members and staff representatives. Then the contract signing was held, followed by a catered dinner, gift presentations, closing prayers and a visit to the community’s newly built pit house.

This has been a touching experience. These new members have demonstrated so much patience, strength and courage.  To see their smiles as they held the signed documents for their first collective agreement was truly priceless and certainly something I will not forget,” concluded Limongelli.

CUPE shined this evening. We demonstrated that we truly care.  We not only achieved a collective agreement but, more importantly, we built a solid relationship with the chief and council, and that speaks volumes.”