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June 8, 2009

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Young workers conference opens

NARAMATA – CUPE BC’s Young Workers’ Task Force kicked off their second conference in Naramata on Sunday evening. With 54 delegates attending, participation is up 38 per cent from the conference held two years ago.

“It’s great to see all the first-time delegates,” said A.J. Basaraba, vice president of CUPE 523 Okanagan Skaha and one of the conference organizers. “I hope it’s the track that leads them to union activism.”

CUPE BC secretary-treasurer Mark Hancock welcomed delegates and brought greetings from CUPE BC president Barry O’Neill, the executive board, and 75,000 CUPE members across the province.

Hancock gave a brief description of the workers and sectors CUPE represents throughout B.C. and updated the young workers on what’s currently happening around the province—including a report about the 3,500 members of CUPE 873, BC Ambulance Paramedics, who have been on strike since April 1.

“This strike is about parity,” explained Hancock. “Ambulance paramedics are paid significantly less than workers doing similar jobs. You may not know that they are paid only $2 an hour to be on call. Some paramedics have to go to the station and are paid $10 an hour until the call comes through and the light goes on.”

How CUPE makes a difference

Hancock told the delegates who CUPE is and what CUPE does. “CUPE is a lot of things. CUPE is about families, about protecting jobs when workers get terminated or suspended, protecting workers’ rights like being paid for overtime, and about bargaining collective agreements.”

Hancock added that CUPE also does much more, and “pushes the envelope” when it comes to workers’ and human rights in B.C. and around the world.

“We believe that women should earn the same pay for doing the same work that men do. We push for quality child care,” he said.

“Our theme is strong communities. CUPE members live in and are involved in our communities. We want to show what our members do and that CUPE members are an integral part of the communities we live in. We want to have a face so that our employers and our communities know who we are.”

Hancock spoke about issues and campaigns CUPE is involved in including anti-privatization and standing up for quality public services like water, waste water, education, and child care. “It’s all about having a society where decisions aren’t being driven by profit,” says Hancock.

Making life-long connections

The CUPE BC secretary-treasurer also shared his personal story of how he got involved in CUPE and became the shop steward, chief shop steward, then president of his local by age 26.

“I was sitting right where you are now,” Hancock told the young workers.

“This type of conference is fantastic because you’ll make lifelong connections here. I urge you to talk to your local and let them know that you want to be involved. There are all kinds of subsidies and scholarships out there for young workers. There are great CUPE courses available.”

Hancock commented that many CUPE presidents, activists and staff members are retiring. “We’re seeing many young people coming up and doing an excellent job.”

Hancock thanked the Young Workers’ Task Force for all their work to make sure this conference happened.

Co-chair Trevor Davies read the equality statement and introduced guests from CUPE National’s Young Workers’ Committee.

Davies noted the amount of work that went into the conference.

“The Young Workers’ Task Force would like to say how thankful we are to Sharon Prescott for all her work – days, evenings, and weekends. And to A.J. who had a phone glued to his ear, reminding all locals about this conference.”

The evening session was emceed by Dan Weiman, chair of the Young Workers’ Task Force. Sean Magee and Adam Kebede from “Check Your Head” facilitated a session on developing community guidelines and led a fun and active ice-breaking activity.

The conference continues until Wednesday (June 10).

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