The fact that CUPE is Canadas fastest-growing union means we are doing a lot of things very well. However, this fast growth combined with all the right-wing external pressures that we are under have also exposed weaknesses in our union that we must address in a serious and concerted way. Many of our rank and file members are not engaged in every day union life thus diminishing the power that a union our size should have. Too many of our local unions are not able for a whole variety of reasons to represent members effectively day in and day out at the workplace level.
In the last decade our union has recognized these weaknesses and begun to address them through a series of initiatives and campaigns aimed at connecting union members to the union and getting them actively involved. But it is critical that we heed the warning signs and accelerate our efforts to get all parts of our union functioning at top form. While we have won a great majority of the representation votes we have been involved in, the fact is we have also lost some significant votes with members choosing to be represented by other unions.
An increasing number of local unions are requesting voluntary administration because they cant function for one reason or another.
Our local unions are under tremendous financial pressure because members are often not willing to finance union activity through increased union dues.
CUPE staff continues to be stretched to the limit and works under an intolerable level of stress.
These are all signs of cracks in the unions foundation that we have to fix before we incur greater damage.
Two-year strategic plan
Over the next twelve months, CUPE will carry out an extensive examination of the difficulties facing local unions and bargaining councils in carrying out effective day-to-day representation of members. This study will include consultations with local unions and bargaining councils, as well as consultations with staff, particularly servicing staff. As well it will involve consulting with elected leadership at the national, provincial and sectoral levels of the union. The National Executive Board will review this assessment and develop a concrete program for change to be carried out over the next five years. The National Executive Board will make budget allocations for this program as appropriate.
CUPE will hire, train and deploy staff to provide specialist assistance to local unions and bargaining councils that are in particular need of internal rebuilding and strengthening. We need to take pro-active servicing measures to build strength at the base before difficult local situations turn into a crisis. The CUPE National Executive Board will undertake an evaluation of staff and servicing assignments to local unions taking into account staff workload, the size of different locals, and the complexity of bargaining and servicing needs.
We recognize that more staff alone cannot address the problems facing our local unions and bargaining councils and that we must also take other measures to increase our effectiveness on the ground. We must find ways to build on the skills and leadership of CUPE activists at the local level and support the work of these activists in their local unions. We must negotiate paid time off for these union activists and also encourage more local unions to finance full-time or part-time local union officers. We must also continue to provide financial support on a cost-share basis to local unions, bargaining councils, and CUPE divisions to assist them in their campaigns, including organizing and political action and community-based campaigns. The national union must also continue to finance, to the greatest extent possible, our national union campaigns for public services and social justice, including our national health care campaign and our campaign for respect for social service workers.
While we recognize that local unions have very skilled leaders, we must also help develop strong and militant unionists throughout our union. To that end, CUPEs educational program will be focused almost exclusively on developing effective leadership skills at all levels of the union. Emphasis will be placed on skills required to undertake such tasks as:
effectively representing members in the workplace by taking a more activist and organized approach to dealing with workplace grievances, improving internal union communications systems, ensuring that our members see us as a powerful, membership-driven force;
reaching out and involving members in all union activity, especially young members and members from equality-seeking groups whose numbers are growing each year and whose active involvement will strengthen our union;
advancing and promoting CUPEs equality agenda;
involving members in our union through health and safety activism; and
engaging in activist, social unionism in the community and the labour movement.
We recognize that advancing and promoting CUPEs equality agenda requires a specific program to increase the participation at all levels of our union of women and members of other equality-seeking groups. The National Executive Board will work with CUPEs equality committees at every level of the union, and with our Equality staff, to develop such a program and to allocate resources through the National Executive Boards budgetary process.
CUPE will take action to encourage and assist all local unions to maintain current membership contact lists in such a way that provincial privacy laws are respected. Local unions need to be in a position to maintain regular contact with members, as well as to contact members quickly in times of crisis or other unusual situations, such as during representation votes. Building a membership list is a political activity when it involves the union going out to speak to members, one by one, and persuading them to provide contact information. Technological changes have made it possible to produce information quickly and send it electronically but to take advantage of these changes we must have e-mail addresses. Contact lists are essential if CUPE is to start connecting more directly with rank and file members and to mobilize the full power and potential of our half a million CUPE members.