Members at CUPE's education sector meetingCUPE members from across Canada, attending their first in-person national convention since 2019, gathered by sector to share experiences, identify ongoing challenges, and work together to find solutions.

Child care workers: still being left behind

The federal government’s child care program is being implemented differently in every province, creating a patchwork of different problems ranging from low wages and recruitment challenges to longer wait lists. That was the conclusion of delegates attending Sunday’s child care sector meeting.

While many provinces have taken steps to lower costs for families, workers are being left behind. Only five provinces have implemented wage scales – and even wages in those provinces are not enough for the average worker to raise a family. Many long-serving members have been red circled, and wage increases are being implemented in a haphazard manner. Delegates also discussed the proliferation of for-profit child care and the challenges that this creates.

Sector members also addressed the need for more organizing in the sector, both to increase unionization rates and to build stronger connections between locals, parents and advocacy groups.

Winds of tech change wreak havoc in communications sector

The communications sector is constantly in flux, in large part because of technological change. The challenges posed by recent transformations were a main topic of discussion at Sunday’s sector meeting.

With artificial intelligence already revolutionizing the sector, delegates agreed, laws and regulations cannot be adapted fast enough. Members discussed a few recent bills, including C-11 (broadcasting), C-18 (communications platforms) and C-26 (cybersecurity). The sector is also facing major financial challenges that could lead to more job losses, jobs being sent offshore, automation, and sub-contracting.

Participants also discussed the need for anti-scab legislation for federally-regulated sectors such as telecoms.

Education workers unite against divisive right-wing attacks

In the wake of the Saskatchewan Party government passing Scott Moe’s anti-trans Bill 137 on Friday, the sector meeting for education workers began with a presentation on how to resist divisive attacks.

Participants received a fact sheet, produced by the Human Rights Branch, that illustrates how right-wing governments benefit from workers being divided when cutting public services, ignoring the cost of living crisis, and more. This led to a discussion on how trans and non-binary CUPE members have recently been the targets of hate in their workplaces – or have been made to feel less human than their coworkers, even through subtle anti-trans comments or jokes.

Conservative politicians and far-right groups have been trying to divide workers by spreading disinformation about 2SLGBTQI+ youth, participants agreed. They are targeting trans youth to distract us from their anti-worker policies, spreading hate about vulnerable people for political gain.

Joanne Lavkulich, chair of the Alberta Education Employees’ Committee (AEEC), submitted a written report explaining AEEC members’ current fight for a $2-per-hour pay increase to make up for years of government-mandated wage cuts and cost of living increases while the United Conservative Party hoarded surpluses. It’s a situation similar to what CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) workers faced in their central bargaining last year.

Emergency services workers address critical staffing issues

CUPE Emergency and Security Services (ESS) delegates gathered to discuss critical issues facing workers in the sector. Delegates reported on victories and challenges in contract negotiations across the country.

Reports highlighted concerns around compensation, governance, technology changes, staffing standards, and staffing shortages. Delegates discussed important convention resolutions, including those aimed at enhancing job evaluation language, and addressed strategies to ensure that governments and employers are held accountable for decisions that impact emergency and security services workers as well as patient and community care.

CUPE Health and Safety Specialist Andréane Chénier led a robust discussion on mental health, occupational stress, and psychological safety in the workplace – particularly for paramedic services and dispatchers.

Ending privatization in the energy sector

As we move towards a more electrified future, the role of energy sector workers in our society is growing in importance. More than ever, we need long-term planning to protect our collective energy sovereignty, delegates attending energy sector meeting agreed.

Members discussed how private investors are pushing for deregulations in energy generation, transmission, and distribution. They want to convert vital infrastructure into private profit sources, with residents footing the bill and getting none of the benefit.

Delegates also discussed how staff shortages and climate challenges are being used by some governments to justify privatization in the sector. This threat is particularly evident in renewables, such as wind energy in Québec, where virtually all projects are privately operated. This erosion of public control must be stopped.

In the coming days, delegates will bring resolutions to strengthen our public energy capacity, ensuring that the sector is firmly under public ownership, management, and operation.

Health care workers fight privatization, defend public health care

An anti-privatization focus dominated the health care sector caucus on Sunday afternoon, as members backed resolutions 14 and 95 to fight the erosion of public health care in Canada.

The former calls on the national union to wage an education and member mobilization campaign against privatization, while the latter is aimed at ensuring that CUPE is successful in an eventual representation vote in Québec in response to the CAQ government’s reforms.

Members across the country, sharing concerns about provincial governments starving the public system and expanding privatization, explored local fightback initiatives. The dramatic use of agency or travelling nurses, as well as retention and recruitment challenges, were identified as common threats across jurisdictions.

On an optimistic note, a panel featuring provincial health care leaders from British Columbia, Québec and Nova Scotia shared their respective successes, including the historic contract signed by the Hospital Employees’ Union with the BC NDP government.

Library workers: fighting hate, misinformation

On a dark and dreary Sunday in Québec City, library workers from across the country discussed a nasty storm cloud gathering around the sector while celebrating important victories.

Delegates discussed how libraries and library workers have been targeted by hate and disinformation for having trans-positive literature and for hosting Drag Queen Story Time. But they have also played an important role in counteracting these reactionary, right-wing attacks—just as they did during the pandemic, when wave after wave of dangerously inaccurate information was being passed around.

British Columbia delegates shared how CUPE now sponsors the provincewide summer reading series—a program that, in other provinces, bears the name of a major bank. And there was much discussion of innovative tactics used in the 71-day strike at the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library, where 32 workers took a strong, organized, and united stand in their struggle for a good first collective agreement.

October is National Library Month, which the CUPE libraries sector is celebrating throughout Convention. Library delegates are asking members from all sectors to visit their booth in CUPE Village and share stories of how libraries have made a difference in their lives.

Municipal workers tackle cost of living, precarity, mental health challenges

Sunday’s sector meeting for municipal workers highlighted common challenges across the country around the fight for better wages, more support for mental health, and solutions to precarity in the workforce.

Members shared stories of the hard battles and the successes they managed to achieve over the past year. They won better wages, more comprehensive benefits packages, and compensation for travel time. Their focus moving forward will be on gaining better support for mental health, which, since the pandemic, has become a priority for many. They will also look to achieve inflation bonuses and wages that keep up with the current cost of living increases affecting the entire country.

The municipal sector brought 13 new resolutions this year aimed at supporting those in precarious jobs and racialized or marginalized communities. These resolutions include proposing new educational resources for the membership and creating a centralized database for job evaluation, compensation, and classifications.

Lifting up campus workers, putting the brakes on executive salaries

Skyrocketing costs of living for campus workers was a hot topic for convention delegates representing CUPE locals in universities, colleges, and student-led campus organizations.

At the post-secondary education (PSE) sector meeting, delegates discussed some of the gains CUPE members have seen across Canada in the past two years. As university and college administrations focus on generating profit and cutting labour costs, many locals identified higher wages for the lowest paid campus workers, and bolstering retirement security with expanded pension coverage, as bargaining priorities.

Delegates also shared numerous stories about universities and colleges having ever-expanding administrations with grossly over-paid executives. Many stressed the importance of exposing post-secondary institutions that ask locals to accept lower labour costs on one hand while always finding more money to compensate executives with massive salaries. Delegates committed to pushing back on this ‘executive bloat’ by introducing a resolution.

Social service workers: Wielding more political power

With more than 54,000 social service workers in Canada represented by CUPE, delegates to Sunday’s sector meeting agreed that political action is exercised in ways both small and large – and it starts by organizing members.

“Our power is not limited to the bargaining table,” said CUPE BC General Vice-President Sheryl Burns, a long-time activist in the sector. “And our power grows when members share successes.”

Delegates heard two recent stories of social service workers exercising political power. CUPE Manitoba President Gina McKay revealed how workers from this sector formed the backbone of the recent Manitoba NDP election success. And CUPE National Representative Matt Thompson shared how a small Saskatchewan local of direct support professionals mobilized a political campaign to save more than 45 jobs.

These stories led to a discussion about tactics to build worker power amongst members who often put the work ahead of their own well-being.

Transportation members stand united against privatization

Delegates representing transportation workers from Nova Scotia, Québec, Ontario, and British Columbia discussed some of the common challenges of privatization in their sector, sharing knowledge to help build solidarity from east to west.

The harm done to communities by contracting out public transportation, highway maintenance, and other essential services was a unifying theme. From the attempted amalgamation of transit services in Laval to the phasing out of unionized transportation services in Hamilton and Kitimat, delegates stood united in their cause.

Hope was also present at the meeting. Ryan Boyce, an assistant regional director in B.C., shared the inspiring success story of CUPE 561 members in the Fraser Valley. These members waged a four-month walkout after nearly a year of bargaining failed to move their private contract employer Transdev. The members won significant increases to close the wage gap with other transit workers in the region, along with a pension plan.

Delegates also heard from Airline Division representatives on unpaid work, and about the campaign to prevent privatization of highway services in Nova Scotia.