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June 5, 2009

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An activist is born

Eighteen-year-old Shevonne Leslie, a member of CUPE 391 (Vancouver and Gibsons Public Library Workers), was the youngest CUPE member to attend this year’s B.C. division convention. Following convention, she shared a few of her thoughts on the experience….

In mid-April I was very fortunate to travel to Victoria and attend my first-ever CUPE convention. I was a bit nervous prior to the event, as I didn’t know what to expect, but very excited nonetheless. As the convention took place, I was accepted and praised just for showing up as a young worker. Everyone seemed ecstatic to welcome a new member, a new voice, and—most importantly—a young worker. I soon learned how a great union CUPE is to be part of and work for. Everyone is very welcoming, and all are willing to take the time to teach others something new.

As I listened to speeches by many extraordinary, powerful people – including BC NDP leader Carole James, former UN ambassador Stephen Lewis, Victoria mayor Dean Fortin and, of course, CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill—I was astonished by how little I really knew about working people in B.C. Not only did I learn things at convention about my own job at the library; I also heard personal experiences and stories from community health workers, school employees, members of CARD (the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination), environmentalists—the list goes on. The point was that many workers in this province are struggling. I seriously considered this, and I thought about how my wages as a unionized worker are significantly different from those of my friends who do not belong to a union. Is that fair? No. It’s not fair that workers young and old are struggling to live a decent life because they’re stuck at minimum wage. Although that is a huge problem that CUPE members are selflessly trying to solve, there are many other things that the union is trying to do to make positive changes.

The best part of the whole convention experience was joining the paramedics as they rallied for fairness and respect. It was a beautiful day in Victoria—a perfect day for the paramedics and their supporters to go out and inform the public as to why they’re on strike. The paramedics had been on strike since the beginning of April, so it felt great to be walking the streets with them, as well as attending a rally, to show my support.

I realized that the union is desperate for young workers to come out to meetings and share their opinions. People like me who are under 20—and even those under 30—have had much different experiences than someone much older. I’m looking forward to working with other young workers who are involved in the union to hopefully make a change, as I know that our minds can come up with great ideas and solutions.

COPE 491

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