Sherry and Mark speak on our 50th Convention

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We recieved some lovely coverage of our 50th convention by VOCM and the Tim Powers Show. If you missed it, take a listen below!

VOCM Interview with Mark Hancock:

There’s a lot of different challenges that our members face: affordability is one. We’ve seen cost of living the last few years just skyrocketing; wages have not kept up during that time. Folks are really feeling it. They’re feeling the crux when it comes to putting food on their table, putting gas in their car. I see gas is about $1.91 here. It’s just about 2 dollars back home, but in a lot of other places, it’s not that high. But being able to put gas in your car to get to work, to get to hockey games, to those types of things, is super important. So, the affordability crisis is definitely top, front and centre for a lot of folks here.

How do things that are happening here compare to what you’re seeing in other jurisdictions across the country?

Well, there’s two provinces where things are going much better. That’s my home province of British Columbia and then also Manitoba. Those are the two provinces where we have NDP governments that really care about workers. They care about the citizens. They’re dealing with issues like the affordability crisis. They’re dealing with a lot of those other types of issues that are important to our members and Canadians generally. But across the rest of the country, whether its Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, pretty much everywhere else where there’s a non-New Democratic Party in power, workers are def struggling.

Aside from simply being of a different political affiliation, what those governments doing that maybe you’d like to see implemented in this province?

Sure, well, they’re actually consulting and listening to leaders, not just of CUPE but of other unions. Here, and I’ve heard this a few times, when they’re talking of consultation, it’s giving our provincial president a call 15 minutes before they make the announcement. That’s not consultation. That’s telling us what’s happening.

But in those other provinces like British Columbia and Manitoba, there is real consultation. They bring union leaders in. They bring front line workers into meetings. They talk whether it’s health care, whether its social services, and they have real meaningful discussions, and those discussions make up the policies and laws as we move forward. That’s a big difference.

What else is coming down the pipe now? What else is on the agenda?

Of course, there’s the usual resolutions and some constitutional amendments, but what we’ve been talking about for the last day and a half and what we’ll be talking about for the next day is that politics matter.

Because we talk about a lot of different things that impact people’s life whether it’s the economy, whether it’s the environment, whether it’s health care, and all those things at their fundamental core really are about politics and those are decisions that are being made in parliaments, whether its here in Newfoundland and Labrador or in Ottawa, and those are decisions that are being made and are impacting people’s lives.

So, our message to our delegates and our messages to CUPE members and really Canadians across the country is that politics matter. You might not like talking politics, it may be uncomfortable, but they really matter and they [the people] need to get involved. They need to pay attention to what people like Pierre Poilievre are saying but more so what he’s done in the past. What his record’s ben when it comes to dealing with unions like ours or dealing with childcare where he’s voted against it.  So really, it’s an issue about politics and we want people to really start paying attention.

A lot of [news] has been made about the use of the P3 model for various projects, what are your thoughts on that?

P3s are a joke. I mean, they’re good for corporations, usually multinationals. I’ve been National President for a little over 8 years and Newfoundland and Labrador was the last place to actually see public private partnerships. Sure, there was some privatization, some contracting out going on, but this whole scale move to P3s is bad from everybody. It’s bad for average citizens. It’s bad for small business. It’s bad for workers generally. It’s bad for everybody. There’s lots of studies out there.

When they brought them to British Columbia, when they brought them to Alberta and other provinces, we looked at what had happed in the U.K. where they brought them in a couple decades ago and we knew they were bad news from what happened there. Now you just need to look at those provinces that have P3s and the costs associated. It’s up to 50% more to deliver services through P3s. So, I don’t know why they brought them in here when everyone else was starting to get out of them.

The Tim Powers Show with Sherry Hillier:

Flying along this afternoon and now going to land on CUPE and hear about their 50th convention meeting that was held in St. John’s this weekend—it’s not even the weekend, it’s Wednesday. This week. Oh, Sherry Hillier, I’m all confused and you can help guide me. How was your event and what were some of the key things you discussed?

Hi Tim, thank you for having me on the show and yes, it’s been a long week. I almost forgot to come on your show!

Don’t worry about it.

We’re celebrating 50 years and 50 years of solidarity. It’s been a lot of reminiscing about CUPE for the past 50 years and how far we’ve come in achieving diversity within our union. But there are some things that haven’t changed in 50 years. The struggles of privatization. You know, the theme of our convention was why politics matter and members really took to the theme of our convention.

It was interesting. I saw the comments of Mark Hancock, the national president, talking about it being part and parcel of being considered and consultation and those things being legitimate and arguing that you’re seeing some of that that in British Columbia and Manitoba, but Newfoundland and Labrador and other jurisdictions need to do better. Is that still a challenge Sherry in Newfoundland and Labrador? To get at the right tables to be properly consulted?

Absolutely, Tim, because unions, I know for CUPE and I only speak for CUPE, we’re not being consulted at all. When things happen within government, we usually get 15 minutes, and I’m tired of saying 15 minutes, but that is the consultation we get. [They say] Hey, Sherry, this is what’s going to happen at 2 o’clock. Governments going to release this press release on what’s happening either within health care, education, and right down now to Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.

Every Newfoundlander and Labradorian that wanted to watched the budget [at 2 p.m. on March 21st] and I got a phone call at 1:45 that Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation was going back under core government services because I do believe that many, many years ago, that they took Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and made it a corporation to make it more feasible for public housing but now government has taken it back and we didn’t get the chance to ask that question of why they wanted to take it back.

It is interesting to me because you will know one of the, I don’t know if it’s a myth, one of things that I always here around St. John’s. maybe it’s a townie thing, is that the unions have too much influence with the government. The government is afraid to do things because they’ll get push back from the unions be it you, or Jerry [NAPE], or Trent [NTLA], or one of the big union leaders are going to push back on something. But I’m guess that you don’t have that view that you have this influence that government is prepared to do some of the things you say to the degree you would like?

Absolutely, and I don’t think that hardly any of us are getting any big consultation because government has a focus, they have a plan, and they’re plan is already written so it’s just a matter of how they want to roll out their plan. Like, a P3 highway, Tim, that was announced out of nowhere. Really, did Newfoundlanders and Labradorians need a P3 highway? I’ve been in the union world for a long time and back in 2000, we had a contracting out and privatization conference and it was all the lies of P3 and that was the whole conference. We went around and educated the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador about the slippery slope and P3s. Back in the 2000s, we fought back, and government stopped the P3s. But in the last 5 years everything this liberal government is planning to do is P3s. CUPE is a national union with three quarters of a million members from coast to coast to coast. I sit at the board of directors with 35 other people, and we know the dangerous things that happen with P3s. From BC to the province you’re in right now, to Ontario. What has happened when government had built P3s and then had to buy them back. It’s our tax dollars that government’s using. Would you go out and buy a car on your credit card?

I don’t have that much limit, but I would just say one thing. I think it is also how you define it. Because you’re talking to the son of a contractor who built roads all over NLs, private contractor, but I know the point you’re making is that private contractors can build roads and should be maintained in these cases but still owned by the province. Is that fair? Am I interpreting that the right way?

Yes, that’s fair. Very fair.

Last question I have for you. It’s one you flagged at the beginning and one that’s popping up in different places and the theme of your conference. The political dimension of it. How do you do that in this day and age? I mean, it’s fascinating at the national level, and it has to be fascinating for you, to watch conservatives that haven’t always been in the same spot as labour, trying to attract labour votes. You see the NDP not having the same appeal to your members to your members both provincial and nationally and the liberals who have had good report they’ve had bad report that’s often been one of convenience so when you talk at this convention about politics how do you try to line in with political parties or are you less inclined to do that and more focused on issues and massing support for those issues?

Well, it’s no secret that CUPE is partisan with the NDP, and we always have been since the days of Tommy Douglas, but the theme of the convention is to our members and the things that are going to be happening that we’ll be rolling our in the next three to four months. It’s why you should get involved and why politics are very important. We get to choose who the next premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, that’s within our voting rights. Municipally and federally, we’re electing our next employer, that’s who we are bargaining with at the bargaining table. We’re seeing crappy 2%, 8% over 4 years, not even enough to cover inflation, but if we were to elect a more union friendly government that respects the workers and gives them fair increases. Government has no problem spending money on contracting our or bringing agency nurses is. I know that it’s a hot topic, that 36 million dollars, but that’s contracting out the work. Why not take that money and bring it back in? If you were the employer, which Premier Furey is the provincial government’s employee’s employer, why not give more wages to this staff, these employees, that are already employed here in Newfoundland and Labrador? Keep the money here, increase the wages, not send it out to agency nurse who bring it back to Ontario to spend. Keep the money, keep the workers. There’s no shortage of workers. There’s just a shortage of wages. We’re never going to keep workers in jobs if we do not start increase the wages.

And that is certainly a point being made all across the country and the myth in Newfoundland and Labrador, I think, is getting cracked that people just come home because they love living at home. Well, they also like to be paid. We’ll leave it there, Sherry. I appreciate the time, thank you for making it on. I’m glad you guys had a good convention. Thank you.

Thank you. I’d like to say one more thing. Happy Nursing Week to all the registered nurses, nurse practitioners, licensed practical nurses, and personal care attendants. Have a happy Nursing Week and thank you for everything that you do!