Report of the Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies to the National Board of Directors, submitted for the June 11-14, 2013 meeting. This report covers the period from the last NBOD meeting.
REPORT OF THE REGIONAL EXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT, PRAIRIES
TO THE NATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS
June 11-14, 2013
This report covers the period from the last NBOD meeting.
As part of the NBoD plan to protect our members against new threats to our union rights, and in conjunction with daylong meetings across the country, five meetings were held in the Prairies, including April 29 in Edmonton, April 30 in Calgary, May 8 in Saskatoon, May 9 in Regina and May 14 in Winnipeg. The meetings were very well attended, with over 250 members (local leaders, national leaders, and regional council reps) attending to discuss the plan and to receive special training on how to organize our members to respond to the latest Conservative threats.
Feedback from the meetings was positive, with many members asking for additional support in the way of materials, videos, etc. We will be working with local leaders going forward to develop and distribute whatever is needed to make their work easier and ensure we connect with members one-on-one.
Days before the final meeting in Winnipeg, the federal government handed affected notices to another 530 members, including 84 across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba––the majority are Agriculture Union members. Fully one-third of the 235 notices that went out to PSAC members who work at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada came from the Prairie Region, the same region that Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture, hails from. As we all know, federal job cuts have become an epidemic across the country, but I’m very concerned with the attack on agriculture in Canada. They’re wiping out programs and services and devastating small communities from Indian Head, to Morden, to Brandon.
Additionally, the Prairie Region Council met with 23 of 34 National Officers in the Prairie Region on April 20. The objective of the day was to identify priorities within the region and to identify issues/activities where we could work together to achieve the NBOD Mission Statement.
Several Regional Women’s Committees participated in International Women’s Day events on March 8. The Calgary RWC co-planned IWD celebrations at the Kirby Centre under the theme “Changing the Face of Power”. Over 250 women attended the event. In Saskatoon, the RWC celebrated IWD with a potluck dinner and movie night, watching Norma Rae. The evening was filled with discussion and reflection on how far women’s rights have come in Canada, and how Harper’s aggressive cuts to public services have affected women and their families. Ten new Canadian women were selected to attend the event, sponsored by the Saskatoon Women’s Community Coalition. The RWC has partnered with this organization for the past two years to promote awareness of women’s issues.
Saskatoon RWC members also participated in the first Saskatchewan Women’s Forum in Saskatoon and volunteered at the PSAC table to inform participants about the work of PSAC sisters and our campaigns.
The Lethbridge Regional Women’s Committee held their founding meeting on April 22. The new committee already has a strong group of Sisters who are enthusiastic, inspired and ready to take action. The committee has developed a plan to promote issues in the Lethbridge area, but in the immediate future, they will send two women to the Women’s Centre of Calgary – Make One Change 2013 Conference. They hope to host a similar conference in the future in Lethbridge.
In Winnipeg, the HRC has also been building capacity and recently conducted a survey among members. The goal was to gauge opinion on how to make the committee more effective within their workplaces, more accessible to our members and more visible in our community. They are now refocusing their priorities and are invigorated and excited about the upcoming year.
The Calgary Human Rights Committee will once again sponsor the 2013 GlobalFest, with support and funding from PSAC’s Social Justice Fund. This is an annual event, which includes a citizenship ceremony with the swearing in of 100 new Canadians. The Calgary HRC, RWC, and Area Council collaborate to ensure a strong presence of PSAC volunteers. The committees also partner with UFCW and CUPE to share a large pavilion. The theme this year is “Women, Gender and Identity Issues.” There will also be five lunch and learns during the festival, held at the Calgary Public Library in support of human rights issues.
Additionally, the Calgary HRC is supporting the Fairy Tales Presentation Society to showcase the International Queer Film Festival in Calgary. Each year, the HRC sponsors a special movie, and members volunteer at the non-profit event.
Meanwhile, the Calgary Area Council has been keeping a watchful eye on Harper and his cronies. Area Council members participated in the Calgary and District Labour Council’s budget watch event, which was well attended by several unions, Public Interest Alberta, the Council of Canadians, and several other like-minded organizations. The committee is also participating in political action strategy planning for a rally and action during the 2013 Conservative Convention, held in Calgary June 27-29, 2013.
Regina Area Council is holding the government accountable on a municipal level, as Regina City Council plans to privatize the operation of Regina’s wastewater treatment facility. The committee and its allies are calling on the government to consult with the public and are circulating a petition to force a referendum.
The past couple months have been busy for Prairies activists. At the end of March, three Prairies members, including one young worker, joined nearly 1,500 enthusiastic labour activists at the CLC Political Action Conference in Toronto. Representatives from every one of the CLC’s 54 affiliates attended over 40 different workshops aimed at shaping political activists into political organizers. Our delegates had a fabulous time and used the opportunity to network with other activists from across the country, and to learn new strategies to take home. Reports from the Prairies delegates have been posted on the Prairie Region website.
Fifty-five Prairies delegates attended the 2013 National Health & Safety Conference in Montreal, and dozens more applied to attend. The immense interest in the conference proves the interest and dedication to health and safety issues in our region. The Prairie Region Council Health & Safety Committee is working hard to distribute regular updates to members regarding H&S issues.
The Alberta Federation of Labour held their Convention April 25-28, where more than 500 labour activists, leaders and delegates gathered to celebrate the achievements of unions, hear from dozens of speakers, and help chart the direction for the future. PSAC members from Alberta attended and participated in the rally against the LRT privatization in Calgary. All delegates attended Strike!, a musical about the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike that shut down the city for six weeks. PSAC was one of the sponsors of the production.
During the convention, Sister Shannan Little, a PSAC member from Agriculture Local 30048 in Lethbridge, was awarded with the International Women’s Day Award, which recognizes a Sister in the labour movement for her outstanding commitment and leadership in the trade union movement and community. For the past five years, Shannan has served as the Human Rights Representative on her Local executive, with special consideration for issues regarding women and children, poverty and Indigenous rights. Most recently, she has been working with the local Idle No More movement in their anti-Bill C-45 protests, teach-ins and round dances.
On the first weekend of May, we welcomed over 60 Sisters to Banff for the PSAC Prairies Regional Women’s Conference. The conference theme, “Telling Our Stories”, encouraged conference delegates to share knowledge and experiences in an effort to move forward together and advance women’s issues. The group was diverse with a wide range of skills and experiences. Guest speakers included: Rachel Notley, MLA Edmonton-Strathcona; Kevin King, Union of National Employees Regional Vice-President for Alberta, N.W.T. and Nunavut (Hot Springs Privatization Campaign); Autumn EagleSpeaker, one of the local Idle No More Calgary & Treaty 7 area organizers; and Sisters Jeannie Baldwin and Andrée Côté. The evening banquet featured local artists Cori Brewster and Lori Reid, with a screening of the video A Struggle to Remember: Fighting for Our Families.
The 2013-15 PSAC Prairies Regional Education Plan has been completed after much consultation with members across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We’ve designed the plan to help us schedule education events that meet members’ needs on specific topics and skills, at a variety of times and locations, and using a variety of tools and methods. We also believe this plan will be flexible enough to adapt to emerging issues that may arise over the next three years. The full plan has been posted to the Prairie Region website.
As part of the new plan, we offered our first Aboriginal Awareness course. The new course was facilitated by two members from the Northern Saskatchewan Regional Aboriginal Peoples’ Circle (RAPC) and Sister Louise Mardell from the PSAC Saskatoon Regional Office.
PSAC members across the Prairies have been active in the Idle No More movement. To help keep the momentum going, PSAC developed Idle No More buttons to distribute throughout the Prairie Region. William Singer III, a First Nations artist and activist who has been instrumental to the movement in Lethbridge and surrounding areas, devised the button’s original artwork. The buttons were handed out to community groups and allies involved in the movement.
Don’t Sell Our Hot Springs, the fight back campaign with the Union of National Employees, is ongoing and participation in the online action continues to grow. We hosted two community town hall meetings to give community members an opportunity to share their thoughts about the privatization of one of Canada’s most valuable natural treasures. Passionate residents from Jasper and surrounding areas gathered on January 9, while citizens of Radium Hot Springs gathered on February 28.
This campaign has also allowed us to have great discussions with First Nations communities. In early January, we met with First Nations in the Calgary area and while in Radium Hot Springs, we met with the Akisqnuk First Nation (Columbia Valley, southeast BC) and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council (Kamloops, BC). Now, Parks Canada has decided to hold off on their plans for privatization until the consultations with First Nations communities are complete. Though they tout this as gesture of good faith, they only entered into discussion after we put the pressure on them to consult with interested First Nations. Parks Canada now indicates that nothing will happen until after summer at the earliest, but it’s clear that the campaign and the outspoken communities affected are making a difference. Term and seasonal employees have been hired at all three hot pools until September 2013.
The PSAC Prairie Region was also a partner in the campaign to create a mandatory registry of public buildings containing asbestos in Saskatchewan, a campaign led by the Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (SADAO). On April 17, PSAC was one of only four groups invited to present as a witness to the Saskatchewan Human Services Committee as they debated Bill 604.
On April 18, I was honored to be in the gallery of the Saskatchewan Legislature to see our efforts pay off. Saskatchewan MLA’s unanimously voted to make reporting of asbestos in public buildings mandatory by law. The legislation to amend the Public Health Act was aptly renamed “Howard’s Law” in honour of our friend Howard Willems. Now that this unprecedented legislation has passed, advocacy groups can pursue similar legislation in provinces across the country and talk to government officials about the importance of asbestos awareness
This is something Brother Howard worked very hard for and is an issue that affects all PSAC members working in federal buildings. I am honoured to participate in this ongoing campaign on behalf of my friend and one of the most dedicated activists PSAC has known.
On April 5, I was invited to participate as a panelist for a Budget 2013 Lunch and Learn in Winnipeg sponsored by the MFL. Brother Kevin Rebeck moderated the panel and other panelists included NDP MP and Finance Critic Peggy Nash and CUPE National President Brother Paul Moist.
Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairies