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August 30, 2012

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Time for a shift to build stronger local economies

Every year at this time, union leaders like me are asked to share our thoughts on the significance of Labour Day and the contributions of working people to the communities where we live and work. CUPE BC represents more than 85,000 working people in BC. Our members work and live in nearly every community in the province. Quite literally, our members are your neighbours, and they want the same things we all want: safe, sustainable communities with quality public services and opportunities for their kids to stay in town and raise families of their own.

Over the past several years, I’ve spent a lot of time on the road in communities all over BC, talking with working people, Chambers of Commerce, local elected leaders, union members and non-union members about the economic challenges our communities and our province faces.  What I heard in those conversations, and what I’ve learned from research I’ve done in other jurisdictions, is that working people want to be part of the solution.

That’s why CUPE BC has introduced the Ten Percent Shift campaign to help rebuild vibrant and sustainable local economies.  All across British Columbia, communities are looking for solutions to the worldwide economic challenges facing us. One of the first steps to a long-term solution is sitting right in front of us, every day, and that’s how –and where -- we choose to spend our income. Studies all across North America have shown enormous economic and social benefits to communities if we all shifted just ten percent of our household budgets to “local first.”

Some people ask me, why would a union start a campaign like this? The answer is simple: unions have always been an important part of the historic fabric of our communities. We care deeply about where we live, and without strong economies, there can be no communities.

On this Labour Day I hope you have the opportunity to reflect on the importance of working people to our society and our economy, and I encourage you to look for more information on the Ten Percent Shift at

Barry O’Neill is president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, B.C. division.