CRESTON—CUPE members in the Kootenays who work in the municipal, K-12 and library sectors were the focus of a productive all-presidents meeting here on September 24.
Continuing a proud tradition in the province’s southeastern corner, B.C. regional staff joined the area’s local presidents on the eve of the Kootenay District Council’s annual general meeting to discuss various issues affecting the membership.
For the K-12 group, bargaining issues dominated the all-day session.
“People are concerned that the government’s zero mandate is not what their members need, and they’re concerned about job security as well,” said CUPE’s K-12 coordinator for B.C., Bill Pegler.
“We had a good discussion about shared services, and how the government’s agenda is not just one of efficiency. It may instead be to hollow out and control school boards by taking control of payroll, for example.”
All-day kindergarten was another major issue in the K-12 discussion, he said.
“Although there’s general support for the idea, it’s had mixed results. Districts are not equipped to provide play-based, all-day kindergarten, and kids are not getting the supports that they need.”
Challenging the BC Liberal agenda
Pegler added that CUPE 2090 (Cranbrook Municipal) president Chris Ellis, briefly stepping away from his own group, put on his other hat as school trustee for Southeast Kootenay District and encouraged K-12 presidents to continue their political action efforts.
“This was an important message, because he knows from experience that school trustees can make a positive difference,” said Pegler.
CUPE BC’s Strong Communities coordinator Heather Inglis echoed that sentiment in her remarks to all three groups throughout the day.
“The key issue is solidarity. CUPE BC has specific initiatives they want to work with locals on, in terms of improving member to member contact,” said Inglis. “It’s encouraging that, based on today’s discussion alone, two locals are already interested in doing local action plans.”
Inglis added that, for the 2011 community elections, much of the strategy for K-12 member organizing will be tied to bargaining.
At the KDC’s AGM on Saturday morning, Inglis handed out report cards to CUPE presidents whose locals had labour-endorsed candidates. The locals will use the report cards to review the three-year performance of those candidates who were elected, then use the results to inform the candidate endorsement process for 2011.
Wanted: more communication
For the library sector, Friday’s meeting revealed the need for more communication between library locals.
“People really saw the need to create an informal group that could take part in conference calls or e-mail exchanges to exchange views,” said CUPE’s library coordinator for B.C., Jeff Lawson.
“For the purposes of organizing non-union libraries in the Kootenays, it would help to have a group of peers to join in that informal fashion.”
Lawson said the library group discussed other challenges facing the sector today, such as self-checkout and its implications for both patrons and workers. He said that research is underway to determine those impacts. The group also discussed the potential for sponsoring community functions that help raise the profile of library workers while complementing CUPE’s objective of promoting literacy.
Civic employers circumventing the union
In the municipal group, the hottest issue was how market adjustments for wage rates are being driven by the employer.
“In some cases, the employer is cutting out the union in the negotiation process and dealing directly with employees to get agreements in principle to establish market adjustments, such as for trades or mechanics,” said CUPE’s municipal coordinator for B.C., Joe Badali.
Badali said that there will be follow-up discussions with the municipal group in the new year to look at collective agreement language that could be developed for negotiations.
Taxes, and what we think of them
To close the day-long session, CUPE Education representative Connie Credico led the group through an engaging workshop about taxation and attitudes toward it.
In the midst of a province-wide revolt against the Harmonized Sales Tax, Credico’s presentation emphasized the importance of fair taxation and the high value of public services that taxes pay for. There were some surprising statistics about various countries’ taxation rates and spending priorities, and Credico led the group through two challenging exercises. (In one, participants were divided into groups representing various countries, given a small amount of money and asked to choose which public service to spend it on.)
CUPE BC secretary-treasurer Mark Hancock, in town for the KDC’s AGM on September 25, also attended a Friday evening roundtable discussion in which local presidents raised a current problem facing each sector and opened the floor to share perspectives and propose solutions.
The day’s events, plus the Friday evening dinner and Saturday AGM, were organized and hosted by Kootenay District Council president Gerry Shmon.