Sisters and Brothers:
It’s hard to believe that our 26th Biennial Convention, celebrating our 50 years as a union, has already come and gone. It was CUPE’s largest convention ever and one where we tried some new ideas.
The CUPE Village proved to be popular with delegates who participated in lunch-time events and also took advantage of some learning opportunities. A “Financial Officers” booth was hosted by Finance and Administration and Union Development staff. Visitors were able to use a “jeopardy” game to test their knowledge of how finances work in locals, including per capita, dues collection, ledgers, trustee responsibilities and more.
This combination of financial knowledge and understanding reporting obligations will continue to be important, especially since we are not yet finished with Bill C-377. The bill has returned to the Senate.
Governments are turning more and more to using the legislative hammer to attack workers’ right to free and fair collective bargaining and control over benefits like pensions. Most recently, the Alberta government moved to legislate a two-year wage freeze for provincial employees, imposing the government’s own final offer made in bargaining currently underway. It also brought in legislation affecting CUPE members who do not have the right to strike. This new bill makes it illegal to threaten a strike or to hold a strike vote.
Working from the Ontario Liberal playbook used for Bill 115, the Alberta Conservatives rammed these two bills through the provincial legislature in a matter of days.
It is more important than ever that, when we fight back, we fight smart. Both these financial statements and the budget that I will present at this meeting of the National Executive Board make that clear. Our union is strong, but our revenue growth is
slowing as a result of low wage increases and membership growth that has been mainly part-time workers. We must use our resources wisely and effectively to protect our members, their working conditions and their rights.
We are confronted by political attacks, with too many of our current governments trying to isolate unions from their members, public sector from private sector, and unionized workers from everyone else. The good news is that we are doing some of the right things.
We heard from many delegates at Convention and from members since then that our Fairness project is the right thing to do. We can counter the anti-union propaganda by re-connecting with our members one by one.
One member who never hesitates to talk about the value of her union is Sister Susan Shiner, who was a recipient of the 2013 Governor General’s Persons Case Award. I had the honour of attending the ceremony at Rideau Hall because Sister Susan, a member of Local 3017 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, wanted someone from her union to be present along with her family and friends. In her powerful remarks to an audience that included the federal Minister of Labour, Sister Susan said: “I am a worker who knows that my union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, is a social movement committed to the equality of women, fighting for and achieving contracts that prohibit discrimination, raise wages, improve benefits, and provide safer working conditions, giving women more choice and more control in our lives.”
Many of us who have been activists in our union take this information for granted, but it can be exciting news for many of our rank-and-file members. Let me quote from a report by a member who attended her first convention in Quebec City, which she said “was quite rowdy, and I loved it. I was also surprised to learn about all the aspects that CUPE looks at, from everything to pensions, health and safety, rights for women, people with disabilities, young workers, ethnic rights, lobbying the government for things that WE think are important, and even international labour rights.”
Passing on this information is how the Fairness project starts. Our work with the rest of the labour movement through the Canadian Labour Congress on the campaign for secure retirements, on opposing regressive federal legislation, and on the television advertising campaign that has just concluded is also the right thing to do. In these financial statements, you will see that, in the interest of transparency, we have added two “fairness” lines to General Fund to account for these expenditures.