Over 200 municipal workers and local leaders met in Winnipeg in October, as part of the 2nd CUPE Sector Council conference. Alongside 1000 sisters and brothers from all of CUPE’s sectors, members from municipalities brought to the fore the major issues affecting our work. The major theme of the meeting was contracting in. We focused on identifying opportunities to fight back against the contracting out of municipal services, and to bring back in house work that is currently contracted out.

We were honoured to hear remarks from Winnipeg city councillor Jason Schreyer, the son of former Governor General Ed Schreyer. Councillor Schreyer has proven to be a progressive and labour-friendly voice on city council, and he shared his insight into how unions can contribute to good city governance.

Through sharing our bargaining stories, we learned that it is possible to safeguard against contracting out with a strong collective agreement. The municipal local in Winnipeg, for example, has language that prevents the city from contracting out work that city staff can perform for equal or less cost. This language has given workers the ammunition they need to fight contracting out, and also to demand that the city be transparent in its costing of services.

We also spent time exploring other issues of great importance to the municipal sector, such as pensions, attendance management, and workplace mental health. In each case, speakers from the floor demonstrated how CUPE municipal locals advocate for their members in creative and effective ways. We also learned, however, that our collective agreements vary in their ability to support good and secure municipal sector jobs. We need more opportunities to collaborate, and to share and learn from both our successes and our failures.

In this spirit, members took some time to identify opportunities for organizing new members in their communities. From cafeteria workers to solid waste and sanitation workers to rec centre staff, we know all too well that often the most marginalized workers – precarious workers, part-time staff, women, young workers – are those that have the least voice in our local unions. We also recognize that municipal workers should be able to afford to live in the communities where they work, which is increasingly difficult in places like Toronto and Vancouver. We renewed our commitment to each other, and to our unorganized and precarious sisters and brothers.

In drafting a statement on the union advantage in the municipal sector, we highlighted a fact that this sector has long understood: the services that municipal workers provide are vitally important to our communities, and the workers who provide these services must have good jobs and fair working conditions. Our municipalities are our homes, and we want to be able to contribute to the local economy. Good municipal jobs and strong public services benefit everyone.