Report of the Prairies Regional Executive Vice-President to the Prairie Region Council submitted for the November 26-29, 2015 meeting. This report covers the period from the last PRC meeting.
Regional Executive Vice-President
Prairie Region Council November 2015
A lot has happened since our last Prairie Region Council meeting, held February 27-28, 2015 in Winnipeg. I will touch on some of the highlights in this report, but I encourage you to read through the June and October NBoD reports attached to this report for full details on regional activities and updates throughout the year.
Without question, federal election work was our top priority this past year, as first outlined by the NBoD in PSAC’s top three priorities. Prairies leadership wholeheartedly supported this position at the Prairies Summit, held September 20-21, 2014 in Regina and began planning our work within the region. Delegates at the PSAC National Triennial Convention reaffirmed our goal to unseat the Conservatives and defeat Harper and passed an emergency resolution allocating special funds to support the work.
With a unanimous mandate from our 17th Triennial Convention, PSAC launched the Vote to Stop the Cuts public awareness campaign on July 13. The message: stop the cuts to public services by voting out the Harper Conservatives. After its launch, Vote to Stop the Cuts went viral. The two campaign videos received 5.3 million views; Over 370,000 people visited VoteToStopTheCuts.ca; Campaign content got 1.3 million Tweets, Facebook likes and shares; Canadians sent 5,339 letters to candidates; and PSAC’s Facebook following grew from 9,000 followers, to 28,000, making us one of the most influential Canadian unions on social media An Ekos poll, taken right before the election suggested eight out of ten respondents believed that cuts to public services would influence the way they voted. The campaign owes its success to PSAC members who spread the message, through face-to-face conversations, by wearing a campaign button, sharing campaign messages on social media and sending letters to candidates.
In the Prairie Region, Area Councils and Committees spent months reaching out to members to discuss election issues and encourage members to vote in advance polls. Candidates’ forums were held in five potential swing ridings in the Prairies and were well received by members and the public. In some cases they were the only forums planned for those ridings during the entire election campaign. In Prince Albert, Area Council and RAPC members held an event called “One Vote Counts”, where members discussed election issues. I was invited to attend to provide an update on PSAC’s election plans and answer questions from members.
Dozens of members organized mail-outs from each regional office to Prairies members in the area. The mail out included a newsletter with information about various activities and ways to get involved, as well as a letter addressed to members in specific ridings. The newsletter was one way to promote the regional telephone town hall about the federal election and the webinar about writing a letter to the editor. Members also participated in phone banks, calling members in certain ridings to discuss the election, important issues and ensure they vote.
All of this was in addition to the monthly activities Locals participated in to mark the 19th and ensure public visibility and workplace discussion about the election and bargaining. I want to thank the Locals that participated in these events for their dedication and the creativity demonstrated by some of the unique and attention-grabbing actions.
While it was disappointing to see the NDP lose so many seats across the country, it was heartening to see the increased voter turnout––the highest since 1993––and the overwhelming message from Canadians that we deserve better and expect more from our government. After months of work, we successfully defeated the federal Conservative government and #StoppedHarper. We look forward to working with the new Liberal government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Treasury Board President Scott Brison to restore critical public services and programs across the country, and to resume bargaining as soon as possible. Mr. Brison has already reached out to PSAC National President Robyn Benson with a phone call to offer greetings and discuss a meeting in the near future.
Alberta’s NDP won the May 5 provincial election by a landslide, sweeping to power with a majority mandate. The NDP gained 49 seats for a total of 53 out of the 87 seats.
We are proud to see three PSAC members/staff elected as NDP MLAs, including David Shepherd (UTE member) in Edmonton-Centre, Maria Fitzpatrick (USGE member) in Lethbridge East, and Oneil Carlier (former Agriculture member & PSAC Edmonton Regional Rep) in Whitecourt-Ste Anne. We look forward to working together with them on important issues for our members in Alberta.
It was a truly inspiring night for PSAC members and Albertans who favour socially progressive policies that support working families, protect our environment and invest in our future
We were happy to have Siobhan Vipond join us on our recent federal election telephone town hall to share her experiences from Alberta and the important role labour played. Now, we can take the lessons learned in Alberta, and more recently in the federal election, and apply them to the upcoming provincial elections in Saskatchewan (April 4, 2016) and Manitoba (April 19, 2016).
In Saskatchewan, Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government is riding high in the polls, but their dominance is impacting public services across the board. Crown Corporations are at risk of privatization––despite a campaign promise that explicitly stated otherwise––and labour rights are being stomped on. The NDP made headway in several important ridings in Saskatchewan in the federal election, which may signal Saskatchewan residents are ready for progressive representation at the legislature.
In Manitoba, the NDP remains in power, but is increasingly at risk. The alternative is truly frightening; with the Progressive Conservatives promising wide reaching cuts to public services, privatization of profitable Crown Corporations, and a far right wing agenda on social issues.
It’s obvious there is work to do in both provincial elections, and I know PSAC members will step up to the challenge, as they did in the federal election, and work together with other unions and community groups to promote election issues.
REGIONAL STRATEGIC PLAN
A large part of the regional strategic plan was focused on election activities. However, other initiatives were geared at general membership engagement.
We held six interactive webinars on a monthly basis leading up to the summer, with topics including bargaining, retirement security, childcare, political action, labour history, and health and safety. Participation varied depending on topic, but feedback was always positive. Members were grateful for an opportunity to learn and engage with their union from the comfort of their homes. We plan to hold more webinars and I welcome any feedback or suggestions for topics or how to improve the experience.
We also worked with CCPA to investigate the effect of cuts to several important public services and programs in the Prairies. With the election of a new government, we have a unique opportunity to use this data and research to call on the Liberal government to reinvest in public services and reverse some of the damaging cuts made by the Conservative government. We expect the CCPA to release this report by the end of the year, at which point we will promote it and distribute it to members.
Although not included in the strategic plan, we have been looking into making some changes to the Prairies website to improve user experience and make it easier for members to quickly access the information they need. We have an outline of proposed changes, reviewed and approved by the PRC Communications Committee, and have a cost estimate from the agency used to develop the PSAC regional and national websites. However, I would like to include this in a broader discussion on member engagement, and look at the ways we can get more members involved, and communicate to members in the way that’s most effective. This discussion should also include potential member surveys and other research.
Following a case conference with the Ontario Superior Court, a new date for the hearing of our injunction application on C-59 has been set for March 1-2, 2016. The parties consented to the adjournment as a sign of good faith to give the new government elect an opportunity to confirm their campaign promises of not exercising their powers under C-59, the law that allowed the government to unilaterally change provisions in federal government employee contracts and skip over collective bargaining.
Bargaining with most of our government units is on hold while the new government gets organized. The Parks Canada team has exchanged demands with the employer. The CRA bargaining team is hoping to be in contact with the employer in the very near future to start the process of returning to the table to have meaningful negotiations.
For further updates on regional updates, please refer to the bargaining section in the two most recent NBoD reports.
Following certification of a new unit at the University of Saskatchewan including research assistants, teaching assistants, fellows and student assistants, Local 40004 has held an inaugural AGM. Welcome to the newly elected Local executive and the bargaining team members.
We are also in the process of organizing post docs at the University of Saskatchewan and expect to file before the end of the year.
With the new government we have an exciting opportunity to forge an open, transparent, respectful dialogue that benefits public service workers and all Canadians. The NBoD will meet for a strategy session in Dec. 2015 to discuss the situation and our priorities moving forward. We will once again bring together PRC and national officers at our first PRC meeting in 2016 to build on this with regional input and dialogue
PSAC has released several great videos over the past six months on various topics, including childcare, past PSAC victories, veterans’ issues, and cuts to public services. Visit youtube.com/psacwebmaster to view the latest collection of videos.
CONFERENCES & COURSES
The 2015 UDP West/North wrapped up a couple months ago and applications have already been received for the 2016 cycle and are being reviewed. Members who applied will be notified early in the new year. The first face-to-face session will take place in March 2016 in Vancouver.
The Prairie Region Health & Safety Conference will be held in Winnipeg, November 21-22, with over 60 members from across the Prairies coming together. The overall focus will be the current challenges in dealing with employers, with particular attention to the roles of Workplace Health & Safety Committees, and the challenges faced by committee members. We have an exciting keynote speaker, Dr. Leigh Quesnel, on the issue of psychological bullying and harassment, as well as panel presentations and workshops on violence prevention in the workplace, mental health first aid and medical disclosure. Participants will also discuss structure and mandate options for a regional health and safety committee, as was mandated by the PSAC National Triennial Convention.
A resolution passed at the 2015 PSAC National Triennial Convention established Regional Racially Visible Conferences for the 2016-2018 budget cycle. Regional racially visible reps have already participated in an initial discussion, as they will play an important role in the planning and execution of this new conference. PSAC also launched an online survey seeking input from racially visible members to help prepare.
Additionally, we are due to hold our next Regional Women’s Conference and are looking at separate dates in spring/summer 2016 for both conferences.
The PSAC Prairie region is pleased to once again offer the Unionism on Turtle Island course December 12-16, 2015 at the PSAC Edmonton Regional Office. The Unionism on Turtle Island course will bring together up to 20 PSAC members from across the Prairie Region for an intense five days. Participants will explore the history of oppression and resistance, Aboriginal issues at the bargaining table, creating a representative workforce, and opening the union to Aboriginal activists.
PRAIRIE REGION CONVENTION
I want to thank you all for your feedback on the PRC conference calls to choose a convention location. We have now confirmed the 7th Triennial Prairie Region Convention will be held in Winnipeg, April 21-23, 2017.
Understandably, some people were disappointed that we weren’t able to being convention to Alberta––including myself. Alberta is a great province to visit, and the convention facilities were impressive. But we must respect the ruling of the National President and our commitment to support unionized facilities and services. The AFL recently advised me that several unions are actively organizing hotels, so I am hopeful that it will be possible for the 2020 convention to be held in Alberta.
We have already begun planning and have established a timeline of important dates, which we will provide at our PRC meeting. We also have several Convention related topics to discuss, so we can continue to move ahead. I look forward to your feedback.
Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairies