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December 3, 2011

People with disabilities face challenges in the workplace that often go unnoticed by co-workers. Everyday tasks that many people take for granted can present great obstacles for those of us with disabilities. Worse still, people with disabilities can face discrimination and even harassment at work because of their disability.

That’s why marking the International Day for Persons with Disabilities is so important. Our members who face these challenges need our support and our solidarity to ensure that employers provide the accommodations our members need to do their work. Days like this are crucial to raising awareness about this important issue.

In recognition, delegates at CUPE’s national convention passed an important resolution that opens the door for a new six-month disability rights awareness campaign. Such a campaign would not only raise the profile of disability issues, but also help produce new materials and tools for education, compile collective agreement language related to disability issues, and improve access to courses with disability rights components.

CUPE is also planning to launch a series of fact sheets on disability rights issues in the new year. Keep an eye on CUPE.ca for more details.

What can you do in your local?

On this date last year CUPE highlighted the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Canada is a signatory.

This year we are asking CUPE locals and divisions across the country to consider ways in which CUPE can implement the UN Convention principles of accessibility, inclusiveness, freedom from discrimination, and equality of opportunity. We need to educate, negotiate, arbitrate and agitate.

EDUCATE: CUPE has been very active in education, creating full courses and shop steward training modules on disability rights and duty to accommodate. Projects from CUPE’s Persons with Disabilities National Working Group have included an electronic disability rights game called “The Wheel of Chance,” and a primer on “How to Communicate with Our Brothers and Sisters with Disabilities.” Duty to accommodate courses are available to CUPE members in most divisions.

NEGOTIATE: Negotiation is an important tool for disability activists. At the division and local level, we must work to ensure that every bargaining committee has a person with a disability on it or, if this is not feasible, that a member with a disability is given an opportunity to provide input to the committee. Through dogged and creative collective bargaining, CUPE locals across the country have achieved some very beneficial language dealing with the establishment of joint accommodation committees and processes to ensure fairness to everyone involved, as well as improved benefit language.

In addition to collective bargaining, CUPE servicing representatives, sometimes with the assistance of legal and equality representatives, are successfully and creatively negotiating workplace accommodations for members with disabilities every day, whether those disabilities are physical or mental, permanent or temporary, visible or invisible, easy or challenging. 

ARBITRATE: When necessary, CUPE arbitrates disability issues, including denials of short and long-term disability benefits, appeals of benefit denials, workers’ compensation issues and accommodations and much more. It is clear that a wide range of disability issues now form part of CUPE’s mainstream work, but there’s still plenty more to be done.

AGITATE: CUPE’s Persons with Disabilities National Working Group provides advice to the union on a number of disability-related campaigns. The incorporation of disability issues into collective bargaining and educational materials provides our members with tools to advocate for change and to lobby governments for better laws, better pensions, and better benefits for all people with disabilities.

Whether the struggle is at the bargaining table, negotiating accommodations with the employer, lobbying for legislation, or raising awareness and education about the protection and advancement of disability rights, CUPE can assist you with resources and expertise to fight these battles.

This year, to mark this important date, we must resolve to ensure that our union and our workplaces are accessible, inclusive, respectful and accommodating so that CUPE and the communities we work in are strengthened by the contributions of all CUPE members.