Collective bargaining continues to be the most important and central function of our union. It is through collective bargaining that we advance the interests of our members and of all working people. It is during the bargaining process that our members are most engaged in union activity. Collective agreement rights are what most members care about most.
Increasing our bargaining power must be our strategic priority over the coming two years so that we can effectively counter the measures that governments and employers are taking (spurred on by the corporate sector) to diminish our collective bargaining power. These aggressive anti-union and anti-worker measures are numerous and include:
legislating away our right to strike;
stripping our contracts;
cutting back funding for services and then pitting the rights and working conditions of workers against those who need the services we deliver;
forcing us into long, protracted strikes;
putting in place, through legislation and other means, fragmented, decentralized systems of collective bargaining in the public sector; and
eroding the size, strength and solidarity of our bargaining units through contracting out, privatization, and job cuts through attrition.
None of these measures is new. Throughout our history, we have often been the targets of such attacks.
What is new and different, is that the attacks are more targeted governments, employers and the corporate sector are going after one group of members at a time. They are going after specific services and job classifications, like public service support workers such as maintenance workers, security personnel, cleaners, food service staff, laundry workers, assistants in hospitals, homes, schools, municipalities, universities and virtually everywhere CUPE members are employed. They say that our members perform ancillary services rather than core services and that it doesnt matter if our work is handed over to the private and for-profit sector despite the fact that our members do work that is critically important to maintaining the quality of public services.
Employers and corporations are also determined to take over every aspect of public services, including turning public information systems. Private corporations are turning information systems and records into a source of profit for private call centre operators and other privately owned businesses specializing in information technology putting the privacy of personal information at risk. Universities and colleges are being targeted for massive privatization turning them into U.S.-style centres of commerce instead of education. And, increasingly, we are experiencing the handing over and downloading of municipal services to non-profit, private or charitable organizations that pay inferior wages and benefits.
Employers and the corporate sector are also going after specific collective agreement protections, such as our job security rights or any other obstacles to contracting out and privatization of support services. They are doing their very best to isolate groups of CUPE members in their attacks: to divide and conquer.
But what we are experiencing most of all is a fundamental shift in collective bargaining and labour relations. The employers we face at the bargaining table more often than not refuse to engage in real, meaningful negotiations. Employers arent bargaining with us because they know that the right-wing governments of this country are only too happy to help them out when we start exercising our bargaining power. The past few years we have had our bargaining rights and power legislated away through numerous laws laws that make it more difficult for us to organize workers; laws that restrict what it is that we can bargain; laws that take away our right to strike; and laws that force us back to work and impose collective agreements when we do take strike action.
Collective bargaining and labour relations have changed dramatically and its critical that we review our traditional bargaining approaches and change them, where necessary, in the face of this new reality so that we can once again win major advances.
Two-year strategic plan
We recognize that winning at the bargaining table, and that defending our collective bargaining rights, will take a massive mobilization of members and a massive show of strength and power.
To that end, each CUPE sector in every province will develop a strategic plan that has as its goal regaining worker and union power and the consolidation and/or effective coordination of collective bargaining. The strategic plans will include specific initiatives required to win membership support for consolidation and/or coordination of bargaining. As well, the plans will identify the internal union structures required to make measurable progress towards the goal of consolidation and/or coordination. The National Executive Board will monitor the progress in developing these strategic action plans and report back to the membership on a regular basis.
Coordinating and consolidated bargaining structures will be put in place in such a way as to ensure that the diverse needs and priorities of local unions will be reflected in our bargaining strategies and demands. We will work to ensure that our coordinated and consolidated bargaining structures are truly democratic with the membership of local unions having control over the bargaining progress because CUPEs strength at the bargaining table is greatest when members are fully engaged in, and supportive of, the bargaining process. We will also ensure that coordinated and consolidated bargaining structures are sufficiently resourced to ensure that they can work effectively (and that there are no communication breakdowns, for example). Most importantly, we must develop and put in place coordinated and consolidated bargaining strategies that allow all of our local unions to negotiate from a position of strength: where bargaining breakthroughs are made for others to follow. We reject coordinated bargaining strategies that allow employers to impose the lowest common denominator on local unions. Our coordinated approach to bargaining must be disciplined so that we can set the bar high and raise the bottom line.
Over the next two years, CUPE will provide tools and assistance so that local unions can win rank-and-file membership support for a CUPE Solidarity Pact. Such a pact will commit CUPE local unions to take action in direct support of any other CUPE local union under attack. In particular, we will win support for a pact, similar to that of CUPE New Brunswick, that commits every local union to win support for strike action in the event that any other local union in a province has its bargaining rights legislated away and a collective agreement imposed by law.
Over the next two years, CUPE will expand our efforts to coordinate activities with other unions representing workers in our sectors, as is deemed appropriate for each sector. Coordinating our bargaining, as well as bargaining-related initiatives (such as surveys and bargaining conferences) can strengthen CUPEs bargaining power and help us maintain good sector-wide collective agreement standards.
We will also put in place a new internet-based computer system (currently being developed) that will allow all local unions to access the collective agreements of other local unions, as well as collective agreement settlement information, so that every local union can build from the successes of others.
Over the next two years, CUPE will strengthen the capacity of our union to mobilize strike support for any group of workers (in and outside of CUPE) that finds itself in a difficult bargaining situation or that is on strike. CUPE district councils will be called upon to play a leadership role in coordinating strike support at the community level and provincial divisions will continue to do the same at a provincial level.
Over the next two years, CUPE will embark on a program, along with CUPE provincial divisions, to increase the number of local unions affiliated to CLC labour councils and provincial federations of labour. Through these affiliates, CUPE will help build a more militant and activist labour movement that is solid in its support for public services and the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.
CUPE will carry out strategic organizing campaigns to expand our bargaining power and strengthen our bargaining positions by organizing any unorganized workers in CUPE sectors and jurisdictions. This will include developing new and innovative approaches to organizing casual and part-time workers, and employees of contracted-out services. It will also include targeted and resourced organizing campaigns in the post-secondary sector. CUPEs National Executive Board, with input from all regions of our union, will develop a comprehensive organizing strategy and allocate the maximum funds possible to carry out the strategy over the next two years.
CUPE will also develop new and innovative approaches to organizing workers in small, public service agencies that are inadequately funded by government, such as child care centres and social service agencies. These new and innovative approaches to organizing will be developed hand-in-hand with new strategies to consolidate and coordinate collective bargaining for these workers. (We will not be able to effectively organize and keep representation rights for these difficult-to-organize groups of workers if they end up having to bargain in a fragmented way. These workers are in particular need of effective, coordinated or central bargaining structures in order to win good collective agreements.)
In order to go on the offensive and make some bargaining breakthroughs in key areas, CUPE will identify some union-wide bargaining objectives and priorities. We will carry out a national random survey of our members to help determine issues of primary concern. (This survey and how it is carried out will be designed in such a way as to take into account the full diversity of our members concerns and literacy levels, and so that the voices of our members are heard and reflected in the results.) We will carry out an internal campaign to encourage every bargaining unit and/or bargaining council to put these key priorities on the bargaining agenda. This campaign will include convening bargaining conferences to decide CUPEs key bargaining objectives and priorities. (CUPE has advanced national bargaining strategies in the past to win key advances. For example, in the 1990s we made major gains in paid maternity benefits as a result of a concerted national effort. By taking on the issue of workload and stress at a national level we have made significant gains through collective bargaining in recent years. As well, our national Up With Womens Wages! campaign has led to major pay and benefit gains for low-paid women members.)
We recognize that our collective bargaining does not happen in a vacuum. Our bargaining rights and our ability to make gains at the bargaining table are increasingly dictated by the legislatures. It is essential that our bargaining strategies be supported and supplemented by political action locally, provincially and at the federal level. This political action must take place 365 days a year. Our political action must include building allies with other organizations including other unions, civil society groups, community advocate groups, and non-profit organizations. Our political action must include working with the NDP and other labour-friendly elected politicians. Our political action program must include a comprehensive program at the local and community level so that we elect progressive, pro-union, democratically minded municipal councils and school boards. CUPE district councils can play a critical role to make such a program successful. Finally, our political action program must be supported by effective media and public relations strategies to help change public perceptions about public services and public sector workers. These strategies can be wide-ranging from providing media training to local activists to taking a more organized approach to getting our message out through media events.
The strategic plan set out above and in the next two sections of this document calls upon CUPE district councils to play an active role in organizing strike support, in supporting coordinated bargaining, and in community and political campaigns. To carry out this mandate, the National Executive Board will develop a plan, in consultation with all CUPE district councils (recognizing that they are not all the same) to strengthen the financial base of CUPE district councils so that they have the resources to build union solidarity at the community level and to carry out their educational work. As well, CUPE National will assist district councils in carrying out a vigorous campaign to increase affiliations by local unions.