Young Workers’ Conference inspires and empowers

Nearly 40 young workers from across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba gathered in Regina for the PSAC Prairies Young Workers’ Conference, held September 23-24, 2014.

Nearly 40 young workers from across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba gathered in Regina for the PSAC Prairies Young Workers’ Conference, held September 23-24, 2014.

The event was an important networking and educational opportunity for young members. During the two days, participants spent time learning more about their union, getting to know other members and sharing workplace experiences.

Nathaniel Angus-Jackman (UTE/Winnipeg), Young Workers Representative on the Prairie Region Council, felt re-energized following the event.

“As activists, you’re often getting close to being burnt out, or you’re swimming against the current,” he explained. “This conference has been a great reminder that there are tons of people out in the world that want to make some sort of difference.”

Kristen Sigmeth (USGE/Regina) echoed the sentiment. Relatively new to the union, having only taken a Talking Union Basics course through her PSAC regional office, Sigmeth described the experience as exhilarating and inspiring.

“On the first day, I wrote that I wanted to leave with a sense of empowerment and I definitely feel that,” she said. “I have new ideas to bring new life and opportunities to my local. I’m looking forward to implementing some of those.”

A highlight for many participants was the panel presentations and ensuing small group conversations with each of the panelists. The panelists and their topics included PSAC Prairies Regional Executive Vice-President Marianne Hladun (PSAC priorities), PSAC Prairies Negotiator Tom Milne (trends in bargaining), Casino Regina employees Gerrard and Ray (preventing the privatization of Casino Regina), NDP MLA for Saskatoon Centre David Forbes (how to work with your MP or MLA), and SFL Community Organizer Kent Peterson (community organizing).

The last region-wide gathering of young workers in the Prairies was the Young Workers Conference held in May 2011 in Edmonton. In 2013, dozens of young workers attended a series of meetings held at PSAC regional offices throughout the Prairies. The meetings brought young workers together to strategize on the establishment of young workers committees, which stems from a resolution passed at the 2012 PSAC National Convention.

Young workers discuss issues and ideas

On the last day, participants identified various discussion topics they wanted to address and had conversations about the issues. Topics included ageism, education, membership engagement, women’s benefits, young worker age limit, and communication.

On mentoring young workers:

Kristy Munns (Agriculture/Lethbridge) has participated in two regional young workers events before and came to the conference eager to meet new people and share her knowledge and experiences.

“I think we need to really work on deciding how we’re going to mentor the people below us, when young workers age out at thirty,” said Munns. “This will be my last year and it’s awesome I could come and share my knowledge and meet other people. But I want to continue to help those people. They’re tired of getting beat up and I feel like I have the energy to help them out in their fights.”

On improving collective agreements:

Jennifer Botincan (UNDE/Winnipeg) is the Young Workers Rep for UNDE Manitoba/Saskatchewan. Her passion for workers rights recently took her to Guatemala as part of PSAC’s Social Justice Fund delegation. Growing up with union parents, she understands the importance of protecting workers rights. 

“Unions protect people and they protect workers rights. A lot of the rights and benefits that people take for granted were created by unions,” said Jennifer Botincan. “It’s really hard for people to think about improving things when everyone wants to take what we have away. We need to fight for what we have, but keep moving forward.”

On political action:

Stephanie Vandewaeter (CIU/Calgary) attended the last young workers’ conference and has grown a lot as a union activist in the three years since. She noticed some difference between the two events, including increased participation and desire to take action.

“I think the political climate has changed since the last conference, and people are a lot more willing to do something about it,” she said. “I’ve never taken the time to schedule a sit down with my MP or MLA, or email them on issues. But now I’m going to do some research on who my elected officials are and what they stand for and contact them. I’m not as scared to do that now.”

On establishing regional young workers committees:

David Fandrich (UTE/Calgary), has participated in every regional young workers event held to date, and acted as co-facilitator for this conference. Fandrich penned the resolution to establish regional young workers committees that passed at the 2012 PSAC National Triennial Convention.

“Young workers committees would be a place where young workers could come and ask questions and not feel like they had to know everything,” said David Fandrich. “Young workers wouldn’t have to feel intimidated and could feel welcome. They could use the committees as a platform to get young workers involved in all areas. It’s meant to be a starting off point for young workers, and a place to continue having the conversations we’re having at conferences like this.”