CUPE-Ontario to mobilize members, allies for upcoming elections

by: Mel Maquiso

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. (03/04/13) – The country’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), has started laying out strategies to its members and allies in the province of Ontario for the upcoming municipal elections slated on October 27, 2014.
Speaking in front of 200 delegates during the first day of this year’s CUPE’s Ontario Municipal Employees Coordinating Committee (OMECC) conference, Fred Hahn, CUPE Ontario President, applauded the timing of this year’s theme. “This is one of the toughest climates we’ve been in. It is one of the toughest climates for bargaining, one of the toughest political climates we’ve seen in some time and it is so apt that the theme of the conference is about mobilizing.

It is the challenge in front of us,” Hahn says. OMECC’s theme for this year is: “Mobilizing Together Towards 2014.” Hahn expressed dismay over austerity measures specifically pointing out the 20,000 public sector jobs slashed by the federal government and the 3-year plan to cut $18 billion out of hospitals, chools, universities and municipal services in Ontario by the provincial government. “It is why the theme of this conference is connecting what you’re doing in your sector to the politics of the municipal government. It is so important because here, we have the chance to elect the people who make huge decisions over the working lives of our members everyday,” adds Hahn.

Hahn has also criticized bills that are affecting bargaining rights such as Bill 115, which affected 55,000 CUPE members who work in schools in the province. Part of CUPE’s mobilizing is finding political allies which Hahn found in Ontario NDP MPP Catherine Fife, who served as the event’s keynote speaker.”If CUPE mobilizes, they can change the municipal landscape and bring progressive voices to the fore as there is definitely a gap in progressive policy development right now,” says Fife, who represents the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo.

Fife was active in municipal politics and a member of CUPE before being elected to the provincial legislature. “We have a long standing relationship with labour. There have been some ups and downs but I think when you look at options across the province, we are still the strongest party which stands up for the rights of workers, collective bargaining, and work place health and safety,” adds Fife. Though this year’s conference puts emphasis on the upcoming municipal elections, the conference is part of a 4-year strategic plan leading to possible CUPE members running for positions in the municipal, provincial and federal elections, says Mary Jo Falle, one of the event’s organizers. “We’re trying to identify some members that will be politically active and actually run for positions,” says Falle, who is also president of CUPE Local 966. “We’re trying to help mobilize people to become part of the solution and running and stepping up to the plate,” adds Falle, who hopes to identify possible members that could run for office in the upcoming days of the conference.

The OMECC conference runs from April 3-6.