Report on my participation to CUPE 2019 Symposium

Every 2 years, the Canadian Union of Public Employee (CUPE) hold their National Convention. This year it was held from Saturday, October 5 to Friday, October 11, 2019. Between conventions, the National Executive Board takes the actions needed to carry out the direction set by convention delegates.

As a labour partner, PIPSC was invited and I attended in the name of our president. I did not attend the 7 days but special portions over the week. This is my report in the form of Lessons Learned from how this big 700k+ members organization is dealing with their legal and political obligations through their Symposium. This report could serve as ideas to improve our own organization, maneuvering through bigger and bigger AGMs. Some of our stewards will also attend the CLC convention in May 2020, and will see similarities on how both organizations manage to achieve a fair return on their investment when doing those massive events.

Should PIPSC change the format of our AGM to a mix of big Symposium and small AGMs is the big question for you ?

The schedule; 7 days not just for members

The first day of the Symposium, Saturday, was dedicated to a staff conference. It allowed all their staff to connect, network and get updates on the direction of the organization from a corporate perspective. As a fair amount of them would have travelled anyway to support the Member’s Symposium, combining the 2 events allow some cost savings, and provide more hands on site for quick last-minute adjustments. At PIPSC we do a similar all-staff meeting for our employees every 2 years.

Their strategic orientation; motions

CUPE is built on a constitution that is updated every 2 years, based on amendments votes at their Symposium. A resolution committee receive the motions that were made by their constituent bodies (338 motions in 2017, 293 in 2019). The committee review the motions and organize them by theme and how they align with key objectives of the union. They are then presented at the Symposium in the form of combined motions and strategic directions, with references of the original motions. The resolution committee has the power to reject motions if they consider they are not receivable based on a defined set of rules. They do not accept late motions, but have a process for emergency motions (for events within 90 days).

Reports at the Symposium

CUPE has 15 committees and 3 working groups, permanent, reporting to their membership. The committees are composed of representatives of the various constituent bodies, appointed for 3 years, supported by staff resources, and with a liaison to their National Executive Board. Members of every committee are introduced on the stage of the Symposium, while presenting a 2 to 4 pages report and video. The report is moved, discussed, and accepted.

National services and regions also present reports at the symposium. Sections similar to our Communication, Research, Mobilization, Finance and Legal section would provide a 2-4 pages report of their activities.

Obviously, the President and the Secretary-Treasurer also present long and detailed reports, in writing, and accompanied by a short video. These reports are moved, discussed, and accepted.

Sectors and Regions (Equivalent to Groups and Regions) hosted caucuses where they report to their specific membership, some with videos and with a written report. I attend one of those caucuses, in which they also discussed motions to provide an orientation to the specific sector. In retrospect, this could be seen as the equivalency of having our Groups AGM and Regional Councils alongside the Symposium, reducing further the travelling costs.

Guest Speakers

As CUPE is involved in the labour movement internationally, they had a great list of speakers presenting different perspectives on the situation of labour and activism. From Jean-Bonald Fatal talking about the situation in Haiti, to Margarita Lopez from Columbia talking about issues of the Water workers and harsh lobbying from the Oil industry. Jagmeet Singh also spoke on the value of the working class, and obviously on his federal election campaign. A reception was hosted with the international speakers on Tuesday evening, with shorter presentation. The speakers were accompanied by their translators, as most didn’t speak English.

The Elections

Each delegate had a voting booklet. It contained numbered ballots that were collected when a vote was called, like “Now we use ballot number 12, write down the names, bend the paper in 2 and put it in the box”.

Sectors held their elections in various caucus rooms in similar ways we do at PIPSC; Call from the floor, short presentation, then vote.

The key elections, the National President and the Secretary-Treasurer, were held on Thursday. The candidates pronounced an Oath of allegiance before being recognized as candidates. The election boxes were inspected on the floor by representatives of the candidates. They made a short speech, the doors were tiled, ballots were collected, and while the votes were counted, the symposium continued its proceedings.

The Village; kiosks

A dedicated room was set up for partners to host kiosks. The Broadbent Institute, the NDP, CCPA, Global Justice, and sellers had booths. They also had a photo and Selfie booth. Staff were also hosting tables, to explain what each of their sections do; Communication, Legal, Mobilization, Research, Education and more. Even some of their committees or programs had tables, like their Human Rights Committee, Health & Safety, and Youth.

They had a mobile App

It’s been for a couple of years that they have been using a Mobile Application (EventMobi) to allow their delegates to have quick access to all pertinent information about their Convention. Basic information was available quickly, like the Wifi setup and Equity statement.

All the documents were available at the tip of their fingers, with search and copy features (not PDF). Maps of the conference centre and floor plans were also in the app, including all the kiosks in the Village. The app allowed them to see the full agenda of the week, all the breakout sessions and their locations. It also allowed to book events it in their personal calendar so to receive reminders. It also contained the list of Speakers and Guests with biographical information. Social media was also linked from the application, allowing delegates to follow and share with other members.

The organization of the Symposium

Obviously it was a fine-tuned event for 2600 delegates.

The main stage was for all their directors to be facing the delegates. A second row was set up for presenters. The wall was covered by over 11 screens. 3 were dedicated for the main stage, presenting in big the speaker, and supportive material for the centre of the room. On each side you had 4 additional screens, for the content in French and English, plus simultaneous transcription of the speaker in both official languages (yes live close caption).

The seats on the floor were allocated by regions, with a dedicated coral in the back for observers (this was my home). A team of volunteers were managing the doors and verifying the badges.

They had a code of conduct that includes a complaint process and disciplinary measures. An ombudsman was also identified, accessible by phone lines and text.

The whole event was festive, with music and chanting at the beginning of the days and between periods. I personally enjoyed it, and would like for us to have national events from which we go back home energized for the years to follow.

For your consideration.