I was grateful to have the opportunity to represent CUPE 4627 at the CUPE National Bargaining Conference in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, March 18-21, 2019. The conference began with panelists sharing their bargaining success stories followed by small group discussions on what locals could learn, strategies that could be implemented and how to identify and overcome challenges.

One of the key strategies learned from the conference is that planning is absolutely critical for bargaining victories. Without thoughtful planning in place, as explained by Jeff Good, Executive Director of United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), it would be hard to adjust plans and act quickly when dealing with unforeseeable external factors.

From the bargaining perspective planning is a tool to connect with members. Some panelists talked about the notion of generating a list of people that a local is not yet connected with and identifying who might be the go-to-person for those individuals. The reality is that many members have a multitude of responsibilities outside of work and might not be able to attend meetings for bargaining-related updates. By generating a list of people, the local could work with the go-to-person to disseminate accurate information about bargaining. It is a way to prevent an Employer from tainting the bargaining process. Moreover, it is a way to reduce chances for the Employer to influence members who might choose to vote against bargaining issues or priorities (as some locals had experienced and shared at the conference).

Planning also allows the bargaining team to hear members’ concerns. It is not good practice to tell members “this is the list of concerns and issues”. The bargaining team needs to take the time to listen to members and involve them at the very beginning of the planning stage. The main reason is that members need to own the message that the bargaining team will be sending to the Employer. If members are not united Employers will actively find ways to divide and conquer. Many locals across many sectors have had this unfortunate experience.

My two take aways from the conference: be transparent and listen to members. For transparency Jeff Good explained that keeping members informed leaves little room for the Employer to misinform members. Other panelists talked about how Employers can employ fear tactics: “if you want a raise, cutting positions is imminent.” If bargaining teams lack transparency, such as making deals behind closed doors, it actually weakens the Union’s power to negotiate. Being transparent allows bargaining teams to galvanize members as well as communities to exert pressure for what they want to achieve in bargaining.

The second take away from the conference is listen to members, even those skeptical of the Union, as members are the eyes and ears for the Union. Members need to come forward with issues and concerns so that safe and healthy workplace conditions are addressed and members feel their work is being valued.

Attending the CUPE National Bargaining Conference on behalf of CUPE 4627 allowed me to hear other brothers and sisters who have experienced similar bargaining struggles across varied sectors. Some locals have been out of a contract for years, other locals might have a contract in place, but are fighting for basic bargained rights such as having a designated space for posting information for members.

In closing, it was an exuberating week to learn from other brothers and sisters across sectors. It is important for members to feel that their voices are being heard and that this is our livelihood. We are in this together and we need to work together in order to defend our collective agreement. As one of the participants shared during a small group discussion it is senseless when an Employer attempts to bargain backwards and discard what has previously been bargained. Overall, CUPE 4627 is a strong local and we should be proud to maintain our own autonomy, which some locals are still trying to gain or struggling to gain. Looking forward to working with the CUPE Local 4627 membership towards a better workplace and an even better collective agreement.

Submitted by Paul Yeung, 1st time Bargaining Committee Member