At its quarterly meeting in June, the National Executive Board approved new supports for CUPE’s district council. The initiative came about as a result of CUPE’s First National District Council Conference, held in April, and the recommendations made by district council activists.
Now district councils have access to more financial support in taking on community projects, campaigns and other activities in support of CUPE locals. In addition, CUPE will provide district councils with regular information and updates specifically designed for district council goals and activities and develop an educational course to further develop skills and activities for CUPE district councils.
The complete package approved by the National Executive Board was:
- CUPE will clarify the assignments of National representatives working with district councils and communicate this with councils and divisions.
- CUPE will provide an information kit to all district councils that includes information on access to funding programs, CUPE Policies, CUPE Calendar of events and CUPE promotional material.
- Update www.cupe.ca with information specifically for district councils.
- CUPE will design an educational specifically tailored to the goals and needs of district councils.
- CUPE increase the district council project fund limit to $5,000 per project.
- CUPE will look at the possibility of a follow-up national conference for district councils in the 2009 budget discussions.
In April, CUPE hosted the first National District Council conference. There are 26 district councils currently active in CUPE with most in Ontario and British Columbia, two active in Alberta and one in Nova Scotia. Among CUPE’s district councils there is a wide variety in the way in which they operate and the work that they do.
At the 2001 National Convention in Vancouver, a resolution was passed in support of sustainable formula funding for district councils. As a result, the National Executive Board created, in the 2002 budget, a project based funding envelope of $30,000 aimed at assisting district councils with projects; which could include projects to increase their affiliations, as well as local campaigns, promotions and CUPE educational programs. This fund was not well utilized.
The conference was a result of a request from district council representatives at the 2005 National Convention in Winnipeg to Brother Généreux to hold a national conference to look at their role and the challenges they have in carrying out their work, including financial resources.
The conference was planned to elicit responses from district council activists on how CUPE could establish more effective support mechanisms for district councils, as well as to build skills at the district council level.
All participants took part in a workshop that addressed three issues:
- The role of district councils in CUPE;
- Increasing interest and affiliation to the district council;
- Barriers faced by council activists and the tools CUPE can provide to assist in overcoming barriers.
In addition to the workshops, participants took part in town hall discussions on the role and goals of district councils in CUPE as well as their experiences mounting campaigns and undertaking community work. Participants also took part in a Day of Mourning ceremony that included CUPE artists with a spoken word performance on violence and safe working conditions.
The conference concluded with a plenary session in which participants reported the results of the consensus reached in each of three workshops to produce the material for a report to the National Executive Board.CONFERENCE DISCUSSION The role of district councils in CUPE
The conference started with an acknowledgement by participants that district councils do not exist in every region of CUPE and also that they are not well understood throughout the union. There was also acknowledgement that they operate differently in each of the regions. During the discussions it became clear that there are a variety of views on the role councils should play and a variety of objectives. During the workshops, participants first tackled the question of role and objective then proceeded to address what kind of support CUPE district councils need.
Prior to being divided into three separate groups, a broad consensus was reached at the plenary that CUPE councils play an important role in coordinating and uniting the CUPE locals in their communities. And, almost all CUPE councils work with Union Development to provide a venue and course selection for CUPE schools within their geographic area. Beyond this, specific activities vary from council to council. While, not all district councils are engaged in political action and community activism, most participants expressed the desire to take on that role. Below is the complete list of roles and objectives reported from the workshops.
- Educate locals and members
- Communication and Networking
- Political action
- Community events
- Promotion of CUPE
- Liaise between locals, division and CUPE National
Below is the list of identified challenges:
- Affiliation and participation
- Access to information (local contact lists, CUPE National funding, communication with other councils, locals and divisions)
- Identifying council boundaries
- Access to resources
Many district councils face challenges in building and maintaining affiliations. Some suffer from both low affiliations and a low dues structure. As a result, there was a general consensus that increased financial support would assist district councils the most in fulfilling their mandate and reaching their goals. However, not all needs are the same. District councils in large remote or northern communities, such as in Northern Ontario and British Columbia face an added financial burden for each and every meeting of the council and have little access to their locals.
In addition, access to information was reported as a significant barrier. CUPE district council activists do not have a good understanding of CUPE funding programs. Many did not know how to apply for the district council project funding, many did not know they were also eligible for cost-share campaign funding. In addition, they do not all have access to a National servicing representative or a communications representative.Toolkit for CUPE district councils
In addition to clearer and accessible funding support, council activists outlined a number of recommendations that would increase support and serve to build the strength of district councils. While there were a variety of recommendations to address these issues, all activists present at the conference were keen on following up the meeting with annual or bi-annual conferences as well providing for a meeting at National and Division conventions.Financial support
There was no clear consensus on exactly what an improved funding program for district councils would entail. All participants agreed that the current $2,000 limit on project funding should be relaxed, but were generally satisfied with the process for application and the range of projects covered by the project fund. Recommendations ranged from raising the cap to $3,000 to $10,000. One participant advocated that the fund should be set at $100,000 per CUPE budget year.
The issue of support for operating funding was raised a number of times by a variety of participants. Even among those participants that recognize that ongoing sustaining funding is not a realistic option, there was a common desire expressed to have funding support for their operations. Computers, long distance telephone, fax machines and office space were identified by many as the largest barrier to organizing events and staying in touch with CUPE locals.
- Access to CUPE area and regional offices
- Provide an operational support system
- Start up funding of $2,000 per council
- Start up funding of $5,000 per council
- Start up funding of $10,000 maximum for each council
- $1,000 subsidy per council per year for operating costs
- Separate fund for district council meetings at $2,000 per council per year
- Provide district councils with teleconferencing accounts
- Subsidize district council operating budget. Budget to be submitted to CUPE National every year for subsidy determination
- Provide $5,000 grant to each district council per year. Council will submit necessary paperwork to be accountable to CUPE for how the money was spent on either operating costs or project costs
- Increase project funding from $2,000 to $5,000 100 per cent funding for projects and campaigns
- Increase project funding to $3,000 100 per cent funding for projects and campaigns
- Increase overall budget for project funding to $100,000
In addition to the report to the National Executive Board, and in an effort to respond directly, staff at the conference came up with a list of immediate “doables” to address some of the information gaps and increase communication among district councils.
This list included:
- Providing a district council list serve for ongoing communication between district council activists.
- District council page on www.cupe.ca. The page includes a description of current funding programs available to district councils, a description of projects that have received fund, a list of active district councils across Canada, promotional information on the benefits of a district council and information how to obtain a National charter.
- Policy manual for district councils with a calendar of activists’ events, information on current funding and CUPE policies and procedures.
- Template for promotional pamphlets.
- List of the locals in their geographic area provided to each district council.
- The increased financial support for district council projects is effective immediately and councils can access the fund as they have in the past; by submitting a project proposal along with a detailed budget to the National Secretary-Treasurer.
- Over the summer CUPE staff in the National Secretary-Treasurer’s office working with the communications department will develop the information package for councils. The package will include information on CUPE funding programs, information on CUPE events and policies and additional tools for council activists.
- At the same time, the National Secretary-Treasurer’s office will work with Regional Directors to clarify staff responsibilities with respect to district councils and support for operations.
- New educational resources will be planned as part of the 2008 budget submission for Union Development.
- Council activists will meet along with staff to discuss these issues along with ongoing support at the 2007 CUPE National Convention. A meeting for district councils is planned for Tuesday October 16th.