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Were here, were young, and were the future of the union. CUPEs newest and youngest working group has big plans.

From the world wide web to a handbook for local unions, with education and outreach in between, CUPEs national working group of young workers is tackling questions of how to get youth more involved in everything CUPE does.

We want to get more young people active. That means going back to the grassroots level, and that might mean footwork going out and talking to them, says working group member Lynette Owen, a clerk at the McGill Public Library in Burnaby, BC and a member of CUPE 23.

Footwork is what made the difference in her municipal locals last round of bargaining. Owen, on a tour of worksites, came to a pool, where the workers tend to be young and hold temporary or part-time jobs. The workers hadnt heard a lot about bargaining.

We told them that we wanted improved rights for auxiliaries [temporary workers]. That got them really interested, and they started coming to meetings.

Once youve sparked that interest, you can talk about other workplace issues, says Owen.

When I started at the library, I was 15. I didnt think Id still be here ten years later, says Owen. So when I started, I didnt think about pensions. Now that Ive been involved in the union, its an issue.

Its all about building for the future, says working group member Sherwin Modeste, an early childhood educator at the Thornhill Child Care Centre in Toronto and CUPE 2563 member.

Its important to get the young people on board now. Because somebodys going to have to continue the work.

Modeste was pulled right into union work when he started work at the centre two years ago at 23. They put me on the bargaining team at my very first meeting. So Im lucky. I had a very uncommon reception. Usually it takes a lot longer for young people to get involved.

Today, Modeste is as involved as any 20-year union veteran, sitting on the CUPE Ontario Rainbow and Pink Triangle committees, as well as Canadian Labour Congress, Ontario Federation of Labour and CUPE Ontario youth committees. He says hes encouraged to see diversity at the centre of many of the discussions and not just coming from equity-seeking members.

Weve realized that as young workers, we are all affected but young workers of colour, Aboriginal workers, workers of different sexual orientations they have it harder. Were addressing those issues now, so well be that much stronger down the line.

CUPEs national young workers working group met for the first time last December, and met again in March. The group is building on the youth action plan adopted at the last national convention. Plans underway include a web site to help young workers know their rights, a handbook for CUPE locals that will take a fresh look at involving youth, outreach to young people who arent union members and educationals and training for young members.

For more information about CUPEs young workers working group, contact Heather Farrow at hfarrow@cupe.ca, or 613-237-1590 to keep up to date on the groups work.