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April 19, 2012

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Working to make communities work

The theme of CUPE BC’s 49th annual convention, held April 25-28 in Victoria, was “Working to make communities work,” and I can’t think of a more appropriate description of our union and the work our members—you—do every day in communities all across B.C.

Two recent examples jump out at me. First, as all members know, the BC Teachers Federation has been in a dispute with the BC Liberal government of Christy Clark, and that dispute led to a three-day strike by the teachers in early March. The teachers and the employer agreed at the Labour Relations Board to a so-called “picketless” strike, and asked our members to report to work as they normally would. While we support the teachers in their struggle with the Christy Clark government, the real issue for us is not the specifics of this dispute but rather the BC Liberals’ attack on the rights of workers to bargain collectively.

Many members contacted me to share their concerns about the whole concept of a picketless strike. I have to say that I agree with those concerns, and I assure all members that CUPE would never conduct a strike in this manner. But we also don’t tell other unions how to best represent their members, so we honoured the request of our sisters and brothers in the BCTF.

During the teachers’ job action in March, I was invited to speak to the mass rally at the Legislature in Victoria on the second day of the strike. I was very pleased to report there that not only were CUPE members supporting that rally, but Locals all across the province had organized their own rallies in support of free collective bargaining. Once again, your actions and commitment to our values have shown why CUPE really does “work to make our communities work.”

It’s not just the work we do on the job, it’s our collective commitment to making our communities better places. Another example of that is how CUPE members are taking up the Ten Percent Shift campaign. Although we had to postpone the planned Shift tour of the Kootenays due to the teachers dispute, the interest in the campaign from CUPE members in the area was strong. And the audiences that attended our mid-Vancouver Island Shift presentations at the end of March were fantastic.

We won’t always see eye-to-eye with Chambers of Commerce on some issues, but we’ve been partnering with local Chambers on the Shift campaign. Supporting local businesses is the logical extension of our Strong Communities campaign, because without a sustainable and vibrant local economy, a community can’t succeed. Chambers recognize that, and want to be a part of our vision of local communities that provide solid public services that attract the kind of long-term investment that creates good jobs.

So thank you to all CUPE members who rallied to support everyone’s right to free collective bargaining, and to all of you who’ve take the Ten Percent Shift pledge—all of you are literally doing the work that makes communities work.Barry O’Neill is president of CUPE BC