Two years ago CUPE National organized a conference bringing together representatives from all 11 sectors within CUPE so that participants could communicate directly with others within their sector, address common workplace issues, and form strategies to deal with these issues.
The first conference in Toronto was such a success that a second National All-Sector conference was held in Winnipeg from October 17–20, 2016. The theme for this conference was “Organizing for Success.” Over 1000 CUPE delegates from across Canada attended the event.
Opening plenary sessions were held each day featuring major speakers. On the first full day of the conference, Surita Gupta, the Executive Director of the U.S. coalition group Jobs With Justice, spoke about challenges to community organizing and shared several remarkable success stories in which workers, communities, and local governments worked together to solve local employment issues.
On the following day, a panel of CUPE members shared their experiences on “Bullying, Harassment and Violence in the Workplace,” with particular attention given to the need for including specific language on sexual harassment and violence in each Local’s collective agreement. A second plenary presentation covered the Federal government’s expansion of CPP benefits and the need to resist the drive at the bargaining table for reductions in coverage by the employer.
Each morning and afternoon, the delegates met within their specific sectors. The Post-Secondary Education Sector is one of the smallest sectors in CUPE. Its members are made up of college and
university support staff (represented by CUPE 1975 in Saskatoon), Sessional Lecturers (represented by our own CUPE 3287), and Graduate Teaching Assistants (in some provinces). At the first All-Sector conference two years ago, only about 35 delegates attended from our sector. This year, that number rose to over 55 delegates.
We shared our stories, experiences and concerns with one another, as well as ideas, opportunities, and strategies for addressing those concerns both locally and nationally. We also focused on membership mobilization around specific issues and contract language in our collective agreements. An issue of particular concern was the increasing level of sexual harassment, bullying and violence on our university campuses, which creates unsafe working conditions for many of our members.
By the end of the conference, several specific proposals for action had been developed, and are being referred to the CUPE National Task Force on Post-Secondary Education, which meets in Ottawa on December 8 – 9, 2016. Clayton Beish from Local 3287 serves on that task force.
Recognizing how thinly scattered across Canada the members of our sector are, we made a point to exchange contact information for each of our Locals, and by the end of the conference a committee of volunteers had been established to develop a national communications network (including both email and the use of social media) for keeping all of our Locals in touch with one another.
Submitted by Clayton Beish