PRC Report (Mar. 2012)

Report of the Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies to the Prairie Region Council submitted for the March 16-17, 2012 meeting. This report covers the period from the last PRC meeting.

Robyn Benson
PSAC REVP Prairies
March 2012 Report to Prairie Region Council

The National Day of Action was a huge success with hundreds of members from worksites all over the Prairie Region and across Canada standing together in solidarity over the noon hour. We had 22+ rally and demonstration sites throughout the Prairies, with considerable media coverage in all cities. Members were very receptive to this action and we were happy to see many new faces take action. The “Standing Together” flags and stickers made their way back to work sites to go up on union bulletin boards and desks.

I’d like to thank all of speakers at each of the rally sites, the affiliates and guests for joining us, and the locals for participating in this important action. I so admire the courage and persistence of all of the Sisters and Brothers who wore a sticker, waved a flag, or put on a black armband, and collectively rallied together to demand better from this government. The reckless cuts they are planning will have a devastating impact on families and communities across Canada and PSAC members once again proved they are prepared to take a stand and fight back.

It’s an attitude we are seeing more and more of, and one we’ve tried to foster with our regional Steward Assemblies. These three-to-four-hour sessions bring together stewards from various locals and components to share their experiences, discuss campaigns, network with others, and plan for future mobilization and fight back efforts. The first round of Steward Assemblies has been well received and we are drawing on the feedback provided to refine the sessions for the future.

When we last met in Saskatoon in November 2011, Sister Sarah Belanger spoke to us about the PSAC Members’ Plan to be presented and debated at the PSAC 16th National Triennial in Ottawa from April 29 to May 4, 2012. The Members’ Plan will present some new ideas while focusing on some key challenges for our union and on results we can attain.

Since this plan was designed for the members, input was key: about 5,500 members responded to our online survey; we had focus groups in Montreal, Toronto and the NCR; we met with each of the regional councils; we spoke at some component conventions and executive meetings; we reviewed all of the resolutions coming to the PSAC Convention; we looked at the results from the steward survey and the education survey, both conducted in 2011; we reviewed the feedback received from the Reg 15 membership consultation; and, lastly, we drew on the telephone survey of a representative sample of our members done by Environics in April 2011.

I thank you for your comments and feedback, and for participating in the online survey as many others across our region did. Know that your comments were all taken into consideration and helped shape the Members’ Plan that delegates will receive at Convention. The Plan, however, will be strictly for information only and will not be debated on Convention floor as originally discussed. It will also be used by the NBOD at their strategy session this fall.

We’ve also seen a change in our regional council since our last meeting. For personal reasons, Sister Gloria Kelly resigned from her position as the South East Manitoba Representative, and is succeeded by Brother Clint Wirth. Brother Kevin King stepped down from his duties as Geographical Representative for Southern Alberta to focus on his role as Regional Vice-President Alberta, Northwest Territories & Nunavut for Union of National Employees, and will be replaced by Brother David Fandrich. And, finally, Sister Fran Mohr retired from her job at Casino Regina, and stepped down as the Directly Chartered Locals Representative. Replacing Fran is Petrina Runns.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sister Kelly, Brother King, and Sister Mohr for their contributions to the Council and the work they’ve done to strengthen our union and our community. I wish them all the best in their future endeavors. Please join me in welcoming Brother Wirth, Brother Fandrich, and Sister Runns to the Council.

We have no easy task on our hands, Brothers and Sisters, with this regressive government intent on gutting public services. The focus to balance the budget at all costs has, so far, had the biggest impact on Service Canada and services that Canadians depend on, like EI and OAS. EI Processing and the EI Call Centre are being removed from Manitoba as EI recipients continue to see a backlog. Meanwhile, the department has yet to address the state of the OAS and Supplement area, where more than 2,000 applications received prior to July 2011, and 10,000 more since, remain outstanding. In response to this, we took aim at the government and their reckless actions with a joint advertising campaign with CEIU. During the months of February and March, upwards of 30 Winnipeg Transit buses donned our ads informing the public about the current state of their EI processing, and asking them to take action.

We are well into our latest national public engagement campaign, the Third Choice Campaign, and public reception has been very positive to date. The first four films, depicting services such as maternity benefits, meat inspection, search and rescue, and fish inspection, have accumulated nearly 300,000 views on YouTube and our Facebook community continues to grow. The fifth and final video for labs will be released this month to coincide with the release of the federal budget. I encourage you to print, post and circulate the promotional materials for this campaign to your own networks and engage in the online community. This campaign isn’t just for our members; it’s for any Canadian who shares our concerns about the damaging effects of Harper’s no deficit agenda.

While Harper’s cuts are having a negative impact on all Canadians, the job cuts also have particular implications for women and the Prairie Region hosted the pilot “Women at Work” course over International Women’s Day this year to address these concerns. Participants learned about women in the labour and social justice movements, and strategized about how to address the challenges faced by women workers in Canada and around the world.

We had significant interest in this course and received over 70 applications, but only had space for 18 participants. As a result of the phenomenal interest in this course, we will be developing a new education activity to be offered in each regional office area for those Sisters who were not able to participate in this course. I was glad to participate and speak to the sisters in attendance, along with PSAC young worker Rachel Albiez, who joined us to talk about her experience in Central America.

Sister Albiez, CEIU local 30858 in Lethbridge, Alberta, participated in PSAC’s Social Justice Fund Young Workers Delegation to Central America. Sister Albiez saw first handthe beneficial outcomes of union international solidarity and social justice programs. She walked away from the trip with a deeper understanding that labour and human rights need to be defended and fought for, and the impassioned desire to do so.

Throughout her trip, she kept an active travel log by posting regular blog entries and photos to the Prairies Region website. The blog offered great insight into what the experience was like for her and the other young workers, and allowed other PSAC members to share in this invaluable opportunity. She also took video and photos, which have been posted to the Prairies website. Her full report is attached for further details.

Brother Michael Shields, Agriculture 30048 in Lethbridge, Alberta, also had the opportunity to participate in a PSAC Social Justice trip with four other members from the North and NCR. These young workers learned about the struggles for change in Guatemala. They met with various social justice organizations doing important work and received several presentations on the past and current political situation in Guatemala. They also spent some time helping on the building site of a sustainable house that utilizes all materials for the construction from the land, soil, water, pine needles, etc. 

Union women from around the world, including myself, Sister Patty Ducharme, Sister Sarah Belanger, and Sister Andree Cote, gathered in New York starting February 27, 2012 to participate in the 56th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The trade union delegation numbered 80 women from 25 countries, representing a total of 70 million women workers around the world affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation, Public Services International, and Education International. 

The main theme of the meetings was the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges. Given the main theme, and my personal experience as a rural woman, I participated in the international trade union delegation drafting group, which met to propose amendments to the draft agreed conclusions. I also had the opportunity to participate in workshops and events focused on the state of child care in other countries and lobbying our government on the importance of child care for rural women and for all women in Canada.

Finally, I must make mention of a troubling labour dispute happening within our union. It has now been two months since the workers at the Salvation Army’s Booth Centre shelter in Ottawa walked off the job to protest poverty wages. Despite saying that it aims to fight poverty, the Salvation Army in Canada pays many of its workers less than the living wage. In the case of Ottawa, the living wage has been set by ACORN Canada at $13.50 per hour. This dispute has gone too far already. We must continue to raise awareness of the dispute throughout the PSAC Prairie Region, and across the country, to build support for the striking workers. Visit for more information and to follow their blog.

In Solidarity,

Robyn Benson
Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairies