Questions and Answers about Professionals Canada

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What is the Professionals Canada proposal at the AGM and why should I support it?

The board strongly endorsed a resolution to this year's AGM for the establishment of a new labour organization. The proposal is to create a community of professionals in non-unionized private sector jobs so that they can pool their resources and address their common concerns.

By voting yes, you will stand in solidarity with fellow workers who need the kind of community we can build together and establish a new member base to ensure PIPSC's long-term sustainability and growth despite the changes in the world of work.

Who are the workers that Professionals Canada organize as members?

Workers in non-traditional work environments. Professionals like us, but without the benefit of permanent employment in established enterprises like the public service.

It will include both the employees of small and medium sized enterprises as well as contractors and consultants in the private sector. Workers in these sectors typically work on term contracts with little employment security and expect to move from one employer to another many times over their careers. 

So whether they’re traditionally employed or contractors, the situation of these workers is remarkably similar. They usually lack health benefits and income security; they move from employment to employment; they have nowhere to turn for professional advice and they have no collective voice.  

Currently these two groups of workers number in the hundreds of thousands and they’re growing. These non-unionized workers have common experiences that only a labour organization can address.

Why can’t PIPSC organize these workers as members?

A growing number of professional workers are in precarious conditions that cry out for unionizing. But we can't unionize them in the traditional sense. The employers and the legislators have structured their work in a way that makes them virtually un-unionizable.

We're building a new form of a labour organization to overcome those barriers to organizing.

Being a union is fundamentally about creating a community of workers who use their collective power to address common challenges. We envision a community that addresses the challenges faced by non-traditional professionals: isolation, lack of benefits, lack of advice and no strong voice to advocate on their behalf.

Do these professionals want to be a part of a labour organization like this?

Yes. We presented the idea of Professionals Canada in focus groups and in our polling of independent professionals in the IT sector. 73% stated that they would be likely to join such an organization. 35% would be “very likely” to join.

The ability to buy better and more affordable healthcare benefits is a driver of membership for some professionals, but even without it 67% of respondents were interested in joining the organization.

In our focus groups it became very clear that one of the main attractions of the proposal is the idea of a community — a place to share ideas, to organize and to advocate collectively. Basically, a union.

Building and maintaining a community costs money. Will the members pay for the community?

Yes. We've tested the market and we've based the business plan on a subscription price of $35 per month.

Why is the subscription fee lower than PIPSC’s union dues?

This new organization will not be able to perform two of the most important services of a traditional union: collective bargaining and representation. Nor will members have employer-funded benefits or pensions negotiated by their union. They will not have a formal grievance or adjudication process either. Additionally, members of the new organization would not have the same member participation structure as at PIPSC, so no salary reimbursement, travel and meeting costs. Member participation will grow as the membership grows, but at the outset, the lower fee reflects the reduced level of services provided while at the same time addressing the most pressing issues for this group.

How many members will Professionals Canada attract?

Even though our survey results were very encouraging, for the purposes of our business plan, we made very cautious assumptions about the number of recruits we could have in the initial years of the organization's existence. We are forecasting that in the most conservative estimates, we could attract a thousand members to the organization in the first year. Our growth projections are also fairly cautious. If the member sign-ups are better than expected, we would have the funds from the member subscriptions to expand our work. If the member sign-ups are less than expected, we would reassess the project.

How will the organization be governed?

The organization will be governed by a board of directors made up of representatives from the Institute Board, as well as expert advisors from sectors most aligned with the work of non-union professionals in the private sector.

Why should PIPSC take on this challenge? Shouldn't a bigger union take this on?

Every union will have a role to play in this field. But PIPSC is perfectly placed for leading the work among the professional sector because that’s the work we do right now in the public service. We will have a cost advantage because Professionals Canada will be a complement to our core competencies. This strategy allows us to focus on our core competencies and to leverage our strengths in representation, government relations and member services. The Institute is large enough to take on the challenge but small enough to be agile in the implementation of Professionals Canada.

There are some significant challenges to the future sustainability of our own union. Shouldn't we focus on those challenges?

Yes. Professionals Canada is one of the strategies for dealing with the significant challenges that we are facing as a union as well. In the coming years, we're going to see increased focus on the Rand formula. That's why in 2013, the Board determined that broadening our horizons, looking for opportunities to bridge into the private sector and innovating with new forms of unionism will be important for our long-term sustainability.

How will PIPSC members benefit if we created Professionals Canada?

We’ll have a new member base in a rapidly growing sector.

Our influence will be enhanced.  We’ll have a stronger voice in multiple jurisdictions, become the go-to source for issues related to professionals and have greater credibility with decision-makers. We will be known as innovators inside and outside the house of labour.

We will have a plan for dealing with long-term sustainability issues. If we’re facing a world of no Rand formula, we will have a growing base of prospective members to make up for what we might lose – and therefore be able to continue our services to our current members.

There will be zero impact on labour relations at PIPSC. This new organization cannot and will not provide the full scope of traditional labour relations services that we provide at PIPSC. On the other hand, our member services in a number of other areas will see significant improvement. Especially in IT, Communications and Mobilization where we will be experimenting with new tools and introducing new ways of member engagement. With the injection of a new member base to Service Plus and the long-term injection of funding and influence gained through Professionals Canada into the Institute, we will see increased capacity and better services for all of our members.

What effect will Professionals Canada have on me as a member of PIPSC?

Members of PIPSC will see very little change in their experience with the Institute. Professionals Canada will be a stand-alone entity. Its members will not participate in Institute activities, meetings or events. Members of Professionals Canada will not be able to vote or stand for office in any PIPSC election.

How does this build on the work we do to fight contracting out?

Creating Professionals Canada goes hand-in-hand with our work to end the government’s abuse of contracting out. Contractors don’t create the new economy; employers and legislators do. Ultimately, this is a fight for good jobs, and therefore a fight against the abuse of contracting out. This is about solidarity between workers, so employers can’t pit us against each other. This is a fight for ensuring all workers have a strong voice, so that we don’t end up in a race to the bottom. It’s also a fight to uphold professionalism, so that employers stop the culture of disrespect toward our members. Finally, it’s a fight for better working conditions for the next generation of workers – our members’ children.

Is there any evidence that an innovative project like this can succeed?

Our sister unions in other countries have successfully experimented with the same principle. Prospect UK and Professionals Australia are two examples of unions like us who have successfully found new ways to organize outside of the traditional bargaining unit-agent model. Having started as unions representing public service professionals in their respective countries, each has broadened its scope to represent professionals in the public and private sectors, unionized and non-unionized as well as independent contractors. These two unions, and others like them have proven that this is a space in which labour unions can effectively operate. The renewal benefits both the workers and the union.

What are the risks? What happens if this fails?

We will be testing the success of the organization and its direction according to the forecasts and the milestones that we’ve projected in the business plan. Of course, better-than-expected recruitment outcomes would mean scaling up the project – and that’s a good problem to have. And lower-than-expected recruitment outcomes would dictate serious reassessment of the project by the Board.

What will it cost PIPSC?

Our business plan forecasts $692,000 of start-up costs plus operational support for years 1 and 2, bringing the total to $1.2 million before the organization becomes profitable. If the AGM approves the proposal, the funding for this project will come from a repayable line of credit backed by PIPSC investments. This means we will not have to cash in our investments to access the funds. It’s not a loan – it’s a line of credit, so we will not be servicing the debt until we actually use the money.

So, for instance, if we end up with a recruitment outcome that’s better than our most conservative scenario, we will not need to use the entire $1.2 million and therefore we will not be paying interest on any funding not being used.

As Professionals Canada becomes profitable, it will pay back the line of credit and will compensate PIPSC at market rates for the services the Institute will provide.

This budget relies on economies of scope. We have a strong staff structure – we already operate a large member-based organization and have much of the necessary operational structure to be able to create an entirely new labour organization at less than $700k of start-up costs. We couldn’t do that if we didn’t already have our operational structure in place. Staff costs attributable to Professionals Canada are going to be tracked from the outset and Professionals Canada would repay PIPSC once it is profitable.

Besides, the digital tools for reaching out to potential members make the advertising dollars a lot more efficient than say taking a TV ad or a newspaper ad.

What do the start-up costs cover?

Professionals Canada will benefit from the optimization of the IT, mobilization and communications functions occurring within PIPSC. We will customize digital platforms and structures to foster the creation of the community. And we will need a significant amount of marketing and advertising to reach out to potential members and recruit them into the community. Furthermore, we will need to invest in negotiating group rates for benefits and build the infrastructure for professional advice.

If this vote passes at the AGM, what's next?

If you approve the establishment of Professionals Canada, our target launch date would be February 2020 – the 100th anniversary of PIPSC.

We would do a soft-launch in Ontario before expanding in other jurisdictions. This would limit some of the upfront preparations we’d have to do for the launch, and it would give us a sizeable market to test some of our strategies and assumptions before expanding.

We’d spend 2019 building the technological infrastructure, creating the organization, planning a targeted recruitment strategy, developing a strong advocacy agenda, negotiating the best possible benefits package, developing content and building the platform for member engagement.

These items are all detailed in the business plan and together they envision what the organization would look like on day 1 in order to be viable and attractive to prospective members.

See supporting documentation – Business Plan and Budget (available by logging in to the Institute portal).

If you have a specific question that these documents do not address, please send us an email to professionalscanada@pipsc.ca. We hope to be able to respond to you as soon as possible.