| 05-08-2021

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Trust the Membership

President's Report to May 8, 2021 GMM

Comrades & friends,

As detailed in the latest local dispatch, Alberta is once again teetering on the brink of a full health system collapse and has the highest rate of infection in all of North America. I will not labour this point beyond reinforcing the importance of getting vaccinated as soon as possible, and asserting our safety protocols on our workfloors. If it hasn’t been made clear enough already, CPC will not look after our well-being. If you need help exploring your leave options for childcare, or pushing CPC to uphold safety standards, please seek out a steward you trust or contact our office.

Justice For Harassed Sisters

On a more heartening note, two brave sisters approached me a few months back with harassment complaints against an EMPP supervisor. After the investigation ran its course, the CPC Director called to tell me the supervisor’s behaviour was unacceptable and that they will longer be working for CPC. For legal reasons, I can't share specific details of the people involved but in the coming weeks I’ll present a detailed analysis as to why most harassment complaints are buried by CPC and why the approach we took this time was able to achieve justice in just a few months. Almost every facility has a supervisor who is a known bully or a creep. My hope is that by sharing why this latest series of complaints succeeded, we can inspire more members to find the courage to come forward to help eliminate predatory behaviour from our workplaces.

Spreading The Word

The virtual book club on Jean-Claude Parrot’s “My Union, My Life” hosted by our local over 8 weeks was a resounding success! It culminated with JCP himself joining us as the guest of honour to share his wisdom. For those unfamiliar with our history, CUPW has a reputation as being the progresisve vanguard of the labour movement in Canada, that aggressively, and sometimes illegally, fought for causes well before they were established as cultural norms, such as equal employment rights for women and maternity leave. Sadly, not only our union, but the entire labour movement, has weakened considerably since JCP was our National President in the 1980s which is why exploring our history is so important.

The primary aim of this group was to provide an opportunity for the activists of our own local to further grow as working class leaders by understanding that our task is not to reinvent the wheel but to get back to the methods that successfully and collectively empowered us in the past. Our union is already very well developed in the realm of proceduralism (i.e. grievances & arbitrations) but we’ve withered in our abilities to actually organize our members to flex their collective power on the worklfoor. Without a committed organizing strategy our working lives can never meaningfully improve.

An added benefit of the reading group was that we made solid connections with activists from locals all across the country. As mentioned previously, some of this outreach has opened doors for us to have further discussions with members from the Toronto, Vancouver and Windsor locals who are interested in working with Edmonton to successfully bring an organizing-forward strategy to their locals once the pandemic lifts.

For those newer to union politics, this emphasis on reaching out to other locals may seem odd. Why not just focus on our local problems? The reality is that many of our problems exist because we, as a whole, are collectively weak. A single local will not be able to successfully fight CPC to stop SSD, bad restructures or mass staffing cuts; it will take confident activists, across many locals, deliberately trained in sound organizing methods, all coordinating together, to fight back to make a meaningful difference. The struggle does not wait to express itself at the bargaining table every four years and CPC does not wait every four undermine our rights; we face the struggle every day of our working lives and should prepare ourselves to fight accordingly and directly.

Our ability to build these bridges with other local activists would not have happened without the initiative of our team and especially the hard work of Sister Natasha Fryzuk and Brother Todd Vipond in planning this reading group. They structured the readings, drafted incisive study questions and expertly navigated each session week after week. A huge thank you to both of them and all the other local members who made this group a memory to cherish.

Members of the Communication and Organizing committees are already developing similar future events to keep spreading the knowledge and making the most of needing to rely on a virtual setting. Until then, we have plenty of free copies of the book still available at the union office for any member looking to understand how this union was forged in the struggle, what it can be, and how we should fight to get back there together. Please make an appointment to pick one up.

A Tale of Two Conferences

From April 26-29, all Prairie local and regional full time officers were trapped in the hell that is the Resolutions Committee to help prepare the resolutions for conference floor debate on April 30-May 2. This committee can play an important role to help better structure and organize delegate debate but over the years I have witnessed its role in our region and at the national level devolve into a gatekeeping society.

I feel the point of this committee is to try and package similar resolutions together, build composites or clarify language. We did this, but most of each 12 hour day was monopolized by a handful of committee members bogging down discussion with needless points of order or trying to prevent a motion they didn’t personally like from being debated by the conference. To be clear, if a resolution has broken wording or is unconstitutional, it should not be prioritized for debate; otherwise, the Resolutions Committee should never try to block something they do not politically agree with from being debated by our full delegation on the conference floor.

Our four Edmonton officers made a pact with Winnipeg and a couple other small locals to push back against this kind of obstruction on committee. I have no doubt that without our aggressive advocacy to “trust the members” to decide the issue for themselves on the conference floor, many of our local resolutions would have been cast into the non-concurrence bin all but guaranteeing they would not have made it to debate before we ran out of time.

A New Generation Takes The Stage

The Urban conference itself was a relatively painless affair, especially when compared to previous ones. Out of our 32 Edmonton delegates, 15 were brand new and it absolutely showed… in the best possible way! In my almost 20 years in this local I have never been part of a delegation that expressed such a strong degree of competence and solidarity. This conference was the first time where I saw a majority of our delegates (25 out of 32) regularly debate the issues as well as visibly support, and coordinate with, one another. No exaggeration, our delegation accounted for around ⅔ of all resolution debate intervention. That we were a united force was apparent to the entire delegation.

It’s embarrassing, but our local has long had a reputation, at both regional and national events, for being unproductive and dysfunctional. In the past, our delegates did not typically get very involved in resolution debate but when they did it would often devolve into publicly arguing with one another over messy personal issues or policy our local was supposed to support. I’m relieved to say that this conference made it very clear to me that those days are behind us.

The non-stop stream of texts, emails and private zoom chats I received confirmed that other locals were happy with our new generation of activists as well. One sister from Calgary shared: “I was so impressed and a bit jealous of your group this weekend. Your local is so informed, young and not afraid to speak passionately about their thoughts. Congratulations for presenting a well organized and well spoken group to represent our Prairie region.“

Urban Negotiations 2021 Top Ten

As for the actual resolutions, we passed around 160. Once we’ve formatted the full conference notes into something more palatable we’ll be sure to share them on our website. For now, here are the top ten resolutions out of the 160 we passed that I feel will be our most important going into bargaining (in descending order):

10. No rollbacks: It’s time to end our nearly 40-year long losing streak. We built this company to what it is. Our compensation should reflect that.

9. New work classification for two-person lift: We currently turn away product that is too big to properly process. By creating dedicated crews to handle large product together we will create more jobs for depots, plants, and drivers to steal business away from other shipping companies.

8. Restructure accountability: Over half of all CUPW jobs are undermined by the current corporate route measurement system. If we are to receive justice for our time values, we need to be able to stop broken restructures before they are implemented.

7.Menstruation & menopause Leave: The cycle of birth is a gift to the world. We should honour those that may suffer from debilitating menstrual or menopausal symptoms by giving them at least a day each month to be at home to recover. A modest ask that will overhaul our cultural expectations for the better.

6. Increase to all health and dental benefits: The compensation we receive for our benefits have not kept up with the increasing cost of living. It should.

5. Eliminate the two-tier wage: Harper unconstitutionally imposed this on us in arbitration after ordering us back-to-work in 2011. The two-tiers system shouldn’t exist and should be completely dismantled. All employees should receive their full wage upon completing probation, and all those currently paid on the lower tier should be restored to the full wage.

4. Wage increase & COL provisions: Our wages have not even remotely kept up with the cost of living (COL). Each year we should receive a 4% wage increase or something equal to the rising cost of living, whichever is greater.

3. Merge the RSMC & Urban bargaining units: CPC seeks to conquer our bargaining units by keeping us divided. The work we perform is the same and that work should all receive equal pay, benefits and rights. By uniting into a single bargaining unit, everyone is strengthened.

2. Implementation of all Delivering Community Power services: Letter mail used to be our market advantage but is now depleting and never coming back. The same will happen to our parcel business as Amazon establishes its own fulfillment centers and delivery fleet. To survive, the post office needs to use our considerable infrastructure footprint to connect Canada and be the first step in our transformation into a sustainable economy. Grocery delivery, wellness check-ins, broadband internet, and postal banking can be the new lucrative cornerstones of our public service.

1. Postal banking as an unconditional demand: Out of all our demands, I would argue that postal banking has the most serious implications for our future, both in the short and long term. Without it, we will not be able to generate the revenue needed to subsidize our parcel business to compete with Amazon. If we lose our parcel advantage to Amazon, our business model dies, and our jobs with it. More than any other demand, we will need to fight, and likely strike, to achieve postal banking. Like maternity leave, this fight can only be won at the bargaining table by refusing to compromise. Where other resolutions spoke to specific demands in bargaining, this resolution gives clear strategic direction to our National leadership to make postal banking an unconditional negotiation priority. This is the hill we should be planting our flag to rally the rest of the labour movement and public to our cause.

When JCP spoke to our reading group he told us CUPW will only be as strong as our willingness to trust our membership. Our conference delegation represented the progressive and unapologetic commitment to do just that by bringing forward all the feedback we’ve been collecting from our deep dive into the ‘Building Power to Win’ surveys. We must trust our membership because that is where our strength lies. It does not matter what our negotiators or union officers believe we should fight for if our membership is not behind it. Conversely, our local made it very clear during our 2019 defiance referendum that we would be willing to fight governmental tyranny as long as the rest of the union was right there with us.

To be clear, there is nothing special or more radical about our local; the only thing different about us is that we made the effort to ask the members how they feel about this cycle of failure and back-to-work legislation. If every other local facilitated this same question on every workfloor I believe the response would be the same: our members are sick and tired of losing and seeing our jobs get worse, and are willing to fight to improve their lives.

If we never ask the question, we will never know the answer, and without the answer we will never know what our membership wants or is capable of. CUPW should be doing everything in our power to ask these questions and build that capacity to fight back. There can be no true victory without true struggle, and we badly need a win after decades of losing. Trust the membership, they will show us the way.

In Solidarity,