PEI UPSE's 50th Annual Convention

(Posted November 23, 2011

The PEI Union of Public Sector Employees held its 50thAnnual Convention over the weekend (November 17-19) with great success. President Shelley Ward kicked off the proceedings by showing the delegation a specially prepared video on the history of the Union of Public Sector Employees from its humble beginning in the 1940's as the Public Servants Association primarily acting as a social club, to key events in the 1970's when the first collective agreement became a reality. Delegates saw how successive governments both Conservative and Liberal attacked the wages and rights of members in the 80's, 90's and 2000's and how the union demonstrated solidarity in the face of these attacks. President Ward commented that the video helps us celebrate our past and think strategically about moving into the future. In her report to the delegation she stressed that our hard fought for rights must be recognized and protected. She spoke about the importance of mobilizing members and involving them in the union's education and campaigns. President Ward also commented on the plight of casual workers in the province and the fact that the current provincial government refuses to acknowledge casual members as valuable employees who deserve to have full collective bargaining rights.

She also stressed that Vacancy Management has resulted in a great deal of stress for members right across the public service. She said "As Civil Service employees depart their employment, the government is either not back- filling the jobs or is hiring on a contract basis. As a result, many members are not feeling secure in their jobs. The union will be pressing government to reveal its Vacancy Management plans so that members can be better informed about the process and the public kept up-to-date on the availability of key public services." President Ward talked to the membership about the union's success on the organizing front as PEI UPSE grows into the future. In 2011 PEI UPSE added two new bargaining units - Whisperwood Villa and Dr. John M. Gillis Memorial Lodge. She said all workers have the right to organize and in these times it is more important than ever to have the union on your side protecting wages and benefits that increase our quality of life.

Keynote speakers at the 50th Annual Convention included Armine Yalnizyan from the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives, James Clancy (NUPGE President) and Chris Roberts (Canadian Labour Congress). Armine spoke about employers gaining the upper hand in today's climate because of the downshifting economy. They have used this as an excuse to freeze wages, pay less and demand more. They are continually looking for cheaper labour. She said "collective action is the only way to fight this trend so as to not lose ground. After all, a world without unions is a world with longer work hours, less vacation, lower wages and less retirees."

James Clancy spoke to union delegates about the success of the national All Together Now campaign which PEI UPSE has been a part of since June 2010. The campaign defends public employees and public services and fights for tax fairness in Canada. Clancy congratulated PEI UPSE for its efforts. PEI UPSE's Champions for Change have been doing a great job talking to members about the campaign and participating in activities that show how important the public services are for us all. Clancy explained how the gap between the "have yachts" and the "have nots" has grown significantly since the 1980's. It is no coincidence that 194 laws passed in Canada since 1982 have restricted, suspended or denied labour rights. This attack on labour has also resulted in a shrinking union density in Canada from 38% in 1980 to just 28% in 2011. He argued that the attack on labour has lead to rising income inequality in Canada and abroad. Canada is also investing less money in public services. In 1980, 20% of Canada's GDP was invested in public services whereas in 2011 the investment dropped to just 17%. "Public services are the great equalizer and they are under attack in this Country," said Clancy.

Chris Robert's presentation on pensions was very informative as delegates picked up new information about the need to strengthen the CPP for all Canadians. Chris explained that by 2036 the number of seniors in Canada will double, and by 2041 one in four Canadians will be a senior. Chris stressed that our retirement income system must be fortified to protect our seniors and ensure that they have the opportunity to retire in dignity and security. Currently in Canada 12,000,000 workers have no workplace pension plan beyond the CPP and OAS. Canadians don't have extra money to contribute to RRSP's or the federal government's new PRPP scheme. Chris showed that in PEI just 5% of Islanders make up 42% of total contributions to RRSP's. These 5% make $80,000 or more per year. The bottom line is that people with middle or lower incomes do not have the money to contribute to private savings plans. In 2009, 93,600 PEI tax filers had $2.6 billion in unused RRSP contribution room. Private savings vehicles are just not being taken advantage of. The best way to strengthen the retirement income system is to phase in a fully funded-doubling of future CPP retirement benefits for all Canadians. The CPP is for all citizens, not just those with enough money to contribute toward private savings. It is a guaranteed payment that is not affected when the market crashes and it covers 93% of Canadians. The CPP is portable from job to job and province to province, it is low cost, low risk and indexed to inflation.

The union debated a full slate of resolutions at Convention and carried key resolutions on the ATN campaign, CETA, Vacancy Management and many more. Delegates also defeated two constitutional resolutions on bringing the Presidential Election back to Convention and holding conventions on a biennial basis. A former President of PEI UPSE, Mike Butler, conducted the union's elections for its 1st and 3rd Vice Presidents as well as the Secretary Treasurer at the 50th Annual Convention. John Searle, the union's 1st Vice President was elected by acclamation, and Terry Gauthier won the election for 3rd Vice President replacing the incumbent, Doug Ferguson. Simon Hashie and Mark Arsenault ran for Secretary Treasurer. Simon Hashie has held the position for the past several months and the delegation voted him back into the position.

PEI UPSE's Member of the Year is Paul Griggs (Local 5, Equipment Operator). There were four nominations this year and convention delegates made the final decision for the Member of the Year by voting. Debbie Johnson, Mike DesRoches, Donalda Docherty and Paul Griggs were the nominees. President Shelley Ward commended Paul Griggs for his consistent involvement in the union through attending all local meetings and conventions each year. President Ward also congratulated the other three nominees for their steadfast dedication to the union.

PEI UPSE's 50th Annual Convention was a milestone for the union and one that will be remembered for years to come. Forty three retirees were recognized from Civil Service, Health, Garden Home and WCB. The union acknowledges the contribution of its retirees each year at Convention as these special members deserve thanks for their years of dedication and service to the people of Prince Edward Island. The union is now poised to move into the future with a growing membership and strategic direction that is aimed at member involvement, activism and solidarity.

For a full report on PEI UPSE's 50th Annual Convention see the next Advocate being released in January 2011. Or, if you have any questions please contact the union at 902-892-5335.