At the Post-Secondary Education (PSE) sector conference, we discussed a large variety of major and emerging issues. The sector continues to face significant issues including sexual violence, chronic underfunding, corporatization, and precarious work. Our locals felt it was important to continue pushing for adequate public funding, transparency and public values in spending, reduced reliance on tuition for revenue, strong contracts with good pensions, and language in collective agreements to stop the growth of precarious work. Our members are involved in a variety of local campaigns and contract fights and recognized the need for CUPE National to continue to fight the “austerity agenda” across the country.
A main focus for this sector is sexual violence on campuses - an issue our members felt was urgent and important. The issue of sexual violence, which we loosely defined as the broad spectrum of negative and unwanted sexual actions ranging from sexual comments and harassment up to and including sexual assault, on campuses is receiving significant media attention which is putting pressure on governments and institutions to address it. The sexual violence policies currently in our workplaces are not strong enough. They are typically very heavy on values statements, and lack clear procedures for how to address incidents.
Furthermore, “workers” are often missing from the conversations and policies. This is not just a student issue; many locals have experienced members reporting incidents of sexual violence. Concerns were shared about custodial workers on the night shift who often face cultural and language barriers in expressing their concerns or reporting unsafe events. Locals felt bargaining is a useful way to begin addressing sexual violence faced by workers by negotiating paid leave for victims, training opportunities, and language to promote prevention such as protection for complainants and mandatory re-location of perpetrators.
Locals also discussed the importance of having at least one woman on the union executive to ensure members feel comfortable reporting issues as the large majority of sexual violence victims are women. Locals expressed a desire for CUPE National to take leadership on this issue, through providing training for members on how to deal with sexual violence, education on prevention, and establishing a consent culture, and materials to help prepare locals to advocate for strong sexual violence policies on campuses.
In organizing for success, we identified the diverse nature of post secondary locals and the work they do, making for very different advantages and presenting equally diverse challenges in organizing. In addition, the size and scope of work being done on campuses makes it very easy for privately funded and corporate sponsored research projects to hide workers from being organized by blurring who the real employer is.
Despite these challenges there is an appetite for organizing, and members discussed exciting opportunities to use post-secondary workers themselves to organize other post-secondary workers towards wall-to-wall coverage.
With the goal of organizing ourselves for success, we explored ways to strengthen our communication network so that information can be exchanged more often.