OUWCC Conference Report

From February 21-24, I attended the Ontario University Workers
Coordinating Committee conference on behalf of our Local at the CUPE
Ontario office. The theme “We Can’t AfFORD Hate” underscores the rise
of the white supremacist alt-right and the Ontario government’s
attacks on students and the marginalized. We heard compelling
presentations on these issues from various presenters and I have
requested copies of the slides of those presentations to share with
our Local.

Outsourcing, reductions in services, and layoffs will be the easiest
way for most universities to respond to Ford’s cuts, according to CUPE
research. CUPE is offering cost shares for campaigns, strategic
bargaining workshops, member organizer and outreach training in order
to facilitate a fightback.

It was very much on everybody’s minds there that the Ford government’s
move to defund student unions is the first act in an all-out war on
the labour movement. It is feared that the next step will be to scrap
the Rand formula that mandates employers to deduct dues automatically
from our members and make union membership an “opt-in” much as student
union fees now will be. This will have a disastrous impact upon our
ability to function effectively and to represent our members. It was
proposed at the conference that we launch a joint “Opt In” campaign
for both student fees and union membership cards. We may wish to take
this up in our campus coalition work.

Technically, nobody is a member in good standing of our union unless
they have signed a union card, paid a nominal fee (which can be set by
the Local) and taken the oath of membership. Most Locals have not
enforced that provision of the CUPE constitution. However, it is vital
now that we do sign up all our members as soon as possible because all
who have not done so will no longer be considered as dues-paying
members if Rand is scrapped. Going forward, we should be signing up
members with union cards at every event and all of our Stewards should
be carrying them. The more members we sign up, the better equipped we
will be as a union to defend ourselves against any move against the
Rand formula. CUPE is asking Locals to adopt a  “Stronger Together”
campaign and gave us a toolkit for solidarity building. Again, we can
request cost-sharing for this campaign, including book-offs of
members. CUPE is also working on digital cards to make it easier for
us to sign members up via tablets or smartphones.

Our Local is part of a broader network of CUPE university locals, many
of whom are facing the same tough bargaining climate. We have lots to
gain from coordinating our resources, knowledge and people power for
organizing and mobilizing.  For example, CUPE 3902 at the University
of Toronto has put together a “Precarity Road Show,” which we might
want to bring to Carleton (with our own members participating). The
OUWCC will be setting up some conference calls across locals to
attempt to maintain our connections and share our resources.

Contract Instructors spoke up at this conference to say they are
already feeling the impact of the so-called “free speech policies” now
mandated on university campuses and that  “Nobody is defending us.” It
is clear this is a workplace safety issue that affects all campus
workers. People put forward ideas such as an Academic Freedom Action
Committee and getting CUPE legal support.

I was part of an Action Caucus which put forward several resolutions
for the OUWCC to put to CUPE Ontario, including anti-oppression
training (in consultation with locals), equity representation, a
opt-in campaign, the issue of RCMP civilians membership in CUPE, and
member retiree representatives.

An “Our Time to Act” campaign is underway to advocate for the
elimination of postsecondary tuition fees - it is believed that we may
have a window of opportunity with the federal government to push for
the elimination or reduction of tuition fees. Locals have been asked
to get their members to sign the postcards “Postsecondary education is
a debt sentence” which are mailed postage-free to the Prime Minister.
More information can be found here: https://cupe.ca/our-time-act

The OUWCC presented an Action Plan which focused on coordinating
action and resources to strengthen our ability to bargain and mobilize
towards common goals. COAL (the Coalition of Ontario Academic Labour)
is also coordinating bargaining. We should note that the previous
OUWCC Action Plan was not accomplished and that we need to push CUPE
at all levels to make our sector’s priorities a priority in the
broader labour movement. OUWCC representatives are willing to come to

Resolutions passed at the OUWCC included campaigning against
postsecondary cuts; pushing CUPE to support anti-oppression training
for Locals; equity seats at CUPE National; training on trauma and
vicarious trauma, and the inclusion of international workers. Other
resolutions were not debated due to running out of time but will be
brought to the OUWCC steering committee to bring to CUPE Ontario.

If anybody has questions or wants to see materials from the
conference, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

In Solidarity,

Aalya Ahmad, Ph.D.

Chief Steward, Unit 2

CUPE 4600