PRC Report (Oct. 2012)
Report of the Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies to the Prairie Region Council submitted for the October 12-13, 2012 meeting. This report covers the period from the last PRC meeting.
Report of the Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies
to the Prairie Region Council
I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with many of you in various capacities over the years, and certainly in our roles as Prairie Region Council Representatives. However, I now have the pleasure to work with you in an entirely new and exciting role – as the Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies.
Though we’ve all been in communication since PSAC’s 16th National Triennial Convention in May, this is the first time we’ve come together in person, and my first meeting chairing the Council as Prairies REVP. I am excited and ready to take on the position of Regional Executive Vice-President for this region.
PUBLIC SERVICE CUTS
Hundreds of Prairies members received affected letters or were advised that the section or organization they work for is shutting its doors (including the Cereal Research Centre and the Agroforestry Development Centre). We must continue to fight back against the Harper agenda that is intent on decimating federal public services that Canadians rely on. We must also continue to fight back against provincial and municipal governments who govern as a mirror to their federal counterparts.
Community members are also doing their part to fight back on behalf of our members and speak out against cuts to important public services in their communities. In Estevan, community action reinstated Holly, Saskatchewan’s only border detector dog, and her handler after their jobs were cut only a few weeks prior. In Jasper, a group of university students mobilized around the cuts to Parks Canada by designing an ad to place in the Jasper newspaper and hosting a community event. And in Manitoba, one member’s wife wrote a moving letter to the local newspaper about how the impacts of the decision to completely shut down the Agri-Environment Services Branch (formerly Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration – PFRA) are far reaching and affect not only her husband’s job, but also their entire family’s way of life.
During this difficult time, our task remains the same: to support and assist affected members. I have met and continue to meet with the Federal Councils in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to discuss how we can work together in this regard. PIPSC representatives have also been participating and CAPE has been invited but mostly absent. We have been including job postings from the Alberta Federal Council in the enewsletter and were onsite for MFC’s Career Transition Café to talk to members and provide them with helpful resources. We are committed to working together with the Federal Councils and other union reps and our discussions have been very helpful.
WE ARE ALL AFFECTED
PSAC’s national campaign “We Are All Affected” was designed to show that we are ALL affected by the cuts to federal services and jobs. Throughout the summer, members have been attending events and activities armed with materials and information about how we are all affected, in our communities, workplaces and families, by the federal government cuts.
On the September 15 National Day of Action, PSAC Prairies members in eight different cities held events and actions. The events ranged from a pancake breakfast, to a BBQ, to a rally in the park. These events were successful because members took time to coordinate these actions in their areas and brought their friends and families out to support. Most importantly, because members took a stand for what they believe in. They attended these events proudly sporting their “Harper Hates Me” buttons and “We Are All Affected” t-shirts to say enough is enough!
I had the privilege to attend the events in Saskatoon and Prince Albert and the sentiment was the same at both events: community members and organizations voiced their concerns about the ongoing cuts, their support for PSAC members, and their offer to stand with us in this fight.
Now, we need to continue to build on this momentum. Harper has only just begun his assault on the public services we value most and, together, we can send a strong message to this government that we refuse to take these attacks lying down. This campaign will be ongoing and remain the underlying theme leading up to the next federal election in 2015.
The Union of National Employees and the PSAC Prairie Region have launched a campaign around the privatization of the Banff, Jasper and Radium hot springs. Visit dontselloursprings.ca to sign the petition and get involved. In the Atlantic region, they’ve already mounted a similar campaign around the government’s plan to privatize the federally owned Highlands Links golf course. Visit itsourgame.ca for more information on that campaign.
We’re also working with the Agriculture Union on a campaign to oppose the elimination of the Shelter Belt program and PFRA pastures program. There are several proposals that we’re aware of to take over management of the FPRA pastures in Saskatchewan including one submitted by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. A proposal from the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities is still expected. Agriculture members have already collected more than 5,000 signatures on a petition in Saskatchewan and at a depot where trees are distributed.
Brother Howard Willems, a retired PSAC activist and Chair of the Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (SADAO), has launched a postcard campaign calling on the provincial government to recognize the dangers of asbestos. The campaign titled “Public Enemy!” is meant to show that the public has a right to know if they have been or will be exposed to asbestos in provincially regulated buildings such as government buildings, schools and hospitals. Download a PDF of the postcard from the PSAC Prairie Region website.
Earlier this summer, CEIU and the PSAC Prairie Region launched a series of bus ads in Saskatchewan to speak out against the cuts to Service Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The ads simulated the successful transit ad campaign we ran in Winnipeg in January for the same purpose.
The Third Choice Campaign finished prior to Convention and we feel that, overall, it was a successful campaign. Though member feedback was mixed, the campaign was more than just another union video. And it was more than just a slogan. It was an idea, one that has meaning and legs. Though the branding of our next campaign will change, the heart of the concept doesn’t have to. We need strong public services and a strong economy. We must demonstrate our commitment to strong public services of all types, because it’s the right thing to do.
CONFERENCES & COURSES
Later this month, Winnipeg will host the Prairies Separate Employer Conference, “Building a Better Union!” October 26-28, 2012. This is our second conference of this nature, specifically designed for representatives of our members who work for separate employers and DCL’s in the Prairie Region.
The 2012 Prairie Regional Health and Safety Conference is also coming up November 17-18 in Edmonton, Alberta. In response to the continually growing number of concerns brought forward by members and in response to member supported resolutions from the 5th Triennial Prairie Region Convention, the overall theme will deal with Mental Health in the Workplace with particular attention to the impact and prevention of bullying.
We are proud to welcome research assistants, senior research assistants and research associates employed at the University of Winnipeg after the Manitoba Labour Board certified PSAC as their bargaining agent on May 31, 2012. The new bargaining unit of nearly 200 employees will be part of the existing PSAC Directly Chartered Local 55600 at the University of Winnipeg. This Local already comprises about 400 teaching assistants, lab demonstrators, markers and tutors, as well as 30 English language program instructors.
Finally, employees working for the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD) have also joined the PSAC. Following a challenging organizing drive, an application was filed on June 14, 2012, with considerable support from CAHRD employees. More than half of the employees had signed a PSAC membership card and 65 per cent agreed to union representation in a vote on June 25, 2012. The Manitoba Labour Board certified the unit on September 14, 2012. The nearly 100 workers, ranging from employment counselors to childcare workers and teachers, join the nearly 20 other First Nations employers and bargaining units represented by PSAC.
After meeting Saskatoon-Humboldt MP Brad Trost at a performance of She Has a Name in June, I wrote him a letter addressing my concerns with his government’s position on human trafficking, especially related to the extensive cuts to Canada Border Services Agency. After being ignored, I wrote him a follow up letter specifically requesting that he respond to my letter and address the information I provided him with around the critical importance of Intelligence Officers with the CBSA.
In response to the Saskatchewan Party’s public consultation paper proposing a comprehensive review of the current provincial labour legislation in Saskatchewan, the PSAC Prairie Region submitted a position paper. PSAC, along with the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and other unions throughout Saskatchewan, considers this “consultation” process to be constitutionally deficient because it does not comply with the decision of Justice Ball and does not constitute meaningful consultation. We believe that the entire process fails to comply with Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In total, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety received more than 3,700 submissions.
This is particularly applicable to our members in Manitoba because, if reports are true, we can expect a new political party on the ballot for the 2015 Manitoba provincial election. The Manitoba Party is said to be modeled after the Saskatchewan Party. Coming from Saskatchewan, I’ve seen the damage Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party have done to labour rights in the province. The scariest part is that he continues to get reelected and remains one of the most popular Premier’s in the country. If the Manitoba Party is following in his footsteps, labour groups and union members must be ready to mobilize to take them on full force so they don’t succeed in Manitoba.
IN THE COMMUNITY
In case you missed it in the Winnipeg Free Press, my letter to the editor lambasting the one-sided opinion piece by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Prairie Director Colin Craig was published on Sept. 7, 2012. Mr. Craig reasoned that the best way to align the private sector’s benefits with the collectively bargained and hard-fought for benefits that public service employees receive was to stop adding new employees to defined-benefit pension plans and, instead, choose defined-contribution plans; bring wages down to levels that people outside of government receive for doing similar work; and scale back sick leave benefits to the average provided in the private sector. Needless to say, I took him to task in my response.
Earlier this month, I was happy to attend the EI forum organized by Sister Kelly Moist and CUPE Manitoba. Sister Susan Norman spoke to the cuts to EI and how that is affecting services that Canadians depend on. I enjoyed the event and look forward to more opportunities like this to gather as a community and discuss our concerns. The federal government is determined to not only decimate the federal public service but to also break the labour movement by introducing various government and private member bills to erode workers’ rights such as proposing to eliminate the RAND Formula. We welcome any opportunity to work together with affiliates to push back on such attacks and tell all levels of government to back off.
WHAT’S COMING UP
Over the next few months, my goal is to meet with as many committees in the region as possible to invite discussion on how we can strengthen our networks and support our activists. Taking on the fights before us cannot be solved by money alone. We need members and community partners ready and willing to take on the challenges before us.
Later in October, the National Board of Directors will be having a strategy session followed by an Alliance Executive Committee strategy session in November. There is a commitment from the NBoD to work together to fight attacks to public services and unions in general.
As a national portfolio, I have been assigned to Young Workers initiatives. While the issue has been identified as a priority, my task now is to work with Regional Council Youth Representatives to put together a strategy for how to engage young workers and ensure their issues are communicated.
I’d like to congratulate Sister Deborah Ferguson on being elected as Alternate Regional Executive Vice-President for the PSAC Prairie Region. Ballots were sent to the 315 eligible delegates who attended the 5th Triennial Prairie Region Convention held in Winnipeg in June 2011. Of the 23 per cent of validated ballots cast, Ferguson was elected with 60 per cent majority. She brings her experience from her involvement within USGE, and I look forward to working with her.
Communication has always been a concern for members and we’re looking at how to best utilize resources and technology available to us. Be sure to “like” the new “Public Service Alliance of Canada Prairie Region” page on Facebook. We launched the new page in September as another means of connecting with members by sharing information, links and photos.
Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairies