The CUPTE Merger: Responding to Your ConcernsApril 07, 2003
As your President, I’d like to thank the many members who called me and have been supportive of our merger with CUPTE. I would also like to respond to some of the questions members have raised. I realize that change is inherently unsettling and that members are raising valid questions. I encourage all to read the following Q’s and A’s, and assess the merger and related issues for yourselves.
(Please note - Q1 was added April 7, 2003)
Q1.In the text entitled Constitutional Summary, under the heading Membership sovereignty, the text reads as follows: The membership will maintain sovereignty through a mail ballot process. The membership will directly elect all members of the NEC.
Yet, theConstitution of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees reads as follows: paragraph 17.2The President is elected by the membership at large, and paragraph 17.3 The Vice-Presidents and Directors are elected by the members of their respective bargaining units or the founding communitiy they represent (EC/LoP and TR).
How do we explain the apparent contradiction between the two documents?
A1. Membership sovereignty is ensured by the mail ballot on issues of importance. The first text was written to explain how the maill ballot would be maintained in the new organization. The second sentence of the section entitledMembership sovereignty is ambiguous. It is true that the membership will elect directly all members of the National Executive; it is not true that each member elects all of the successful candidates. As explained in greater detail in the Constitution, the TR members of the Executive will be elected by the TR members of the new organization, the EC members of the Executive will be elected by the EC members of the new organization, and the LoP member of the Executive will be elected by the LoP members of the organization. Currently, this is also the practice at SSEA for the EC and LoP representatives respectively. The difference with current practice is that a TR vice-president will be elected by the TR members of the new organization and a LoP-EC vice-president will be elected by the EC and LoP members of the new organization. This voting structure was the result of long negotiations, and of various proposed scenarios that attempted to reconcile EC, TR and LoP perspectives.
Q2. Since the TR’s will have their own bargaining unit, regular SSEA members in the EC group will not have any bargaining benefit from the merger.
A2. If we look at the bargaining of those unions with more than one bargaining table (PIPS and PSAC) we will see that this assertion is wrong. In fact, those unions with more than one bargaining table have both a strategic and tactical advantage. With the TR group bargaining at the same time as the EC group, we will be able to share information between tables. This means that if the employer makes a change in strategy or position at the TR table, that information will be given earlier to the EC table. This would give the EC table more time to develop counter-proposals and counter strategies. Naturally we would share the same information with the TR table. In addition, at the end of bargaining, both tables could stall a final tentative agreement in order to get one final demand from the employer for all our members (both tables). The PSAC has successfully done this a number of times. That is how they received two extra leave days in their last contract negotiation.
Q3. Why merge now? Can’t we wait?
A3. It takes time to create a stable Association, both politically and operationally. After the SI’s joined ESSA, we had a transition committee working for more than a year to bring together the right political and operational structure our members needed. Your National Executive believes that it will take at least 15 months of work with a transitional Executive Committee to prepare the ground for our first election in the fall of 2004. In addition, the merger will mean an expansion and possible relocation for the National Office, and while we have much experience in this area, we will need considerable time to effect this expansion while simultaneously maintaining a high level of service to our members. Consequently, we should merge now in order to be ready by 2004 for the first election in the new union.
Q4. Why does CUPTE wish to merge with us?
A4. From our perspective, perhaps CUPTE realizes, as we do, that the employer wishes to reduce the number of small bargaining agents, and will in all probability take some action to achieve a reduction in the number of bargaining agents some time following the Human Resource Modernization. I believe that it is obviously better to find a willing partner, than to be forced to merge unwillingly later by an application of the employer to some labour relations board. I believe that we have demonstrated to CUPTE over the years that SSEA is accommodating and democratic and could afford them a greater voice and participation than either PIPS or PSAC.
The validity of this assessment is indicated by the number of Treasury Board officials who have contacted SSEA asking about our progress in merging. John Fryer, who led the Committee on Labour Management Relations in the Federal Public Service, has contacted SSEA to congratulate us and CUPTE on our actions to merge, believing that the days for small unions in the Federal Public Service are slowly drawing to a close.
Q5. Who negotiated this deal with CUPTE?
A5. Your Executive Committee appointed a Transition Committee to sit down with senior CUPTE officials and negotiate the current deal. The officials chosen by your Executive Committee were picked to provide the broadest possible expertise in bargaining and representativeness. The Executive Committee chose your SSEA President Bill Krause, your Statistics Canada Local President Bryon Zizman, and your Director of Professional Services Claude Danik. The Executive Committee chose Mr. Zizman from Statistics Canada as they felt it was important to have a local perspective at the negotiating table.
As alternates, your Vice President Jose Aggrey and Association counsel Peter Engelmann were selected. Library of Parliament Executive Member Philip Rosen also served as an alternate in the negotiations during the stages of drafting the final constitution.
The Executive Committee vote for the merger did not come without local level support. Several of your National Executive Committee members also serve as local leaders or Local Presidents. For example, in addition to Mr. Bryon Zizman from Statistics Canada, Deirdre Gillieson (Health Canada President) and Tom Furmanczyk (Environment Canada Director) were members of the National Executive Committee who supported the October 2002 decision to approve the merger with CUPTE.
Q6. Were there any disagreements among the Transition Committee members about the issue of merging with CUPTE?
A6. No. In November of 2002, the Transition Committee members at a meeting of the Executive Committee, unanimously recommended to the SSEA National Executive Committee that the Association merge with CUPTE, based upon a report of the Committee. Each member of the Committee, Krause, Zizman, and Danik individually stated their support for the merger. Alternate delegate Jose Aggrey concurred. The Executive Committee then voted unanimously to accept the recommendation.
Q7. While the proposed Constitution has many similarities to our current constitution, why can’t we change now some of the things we don’t like?
A7. Constitutions are complex documents, not unlike your collective agreement. In a manner similar to bargaining your Executive Committee choose a cross section of leaders to get the best deal possible in your interest. This was your Transition Committee, which included your President, Director of Professional Services, and the President of your largest local at Statistics Canada. The Executive Committee asked the Transition Committee to draft the proposed Constitution, which it had reviewed by the SSEA Constitution Committee. With the help of these members, further refinements were made. The final Constitutional package was not approved by your Executive Committee until after a meeting of the Local Leadership. Admittedly, this meeting was poorly attended, and focused on process rather than substantive matters.
As in bargaining, your option now is to assess the deal and decide if it is in your interest to ratify it. Note, however, that even if you accept the deal with some reservations, there is a mechanism in the new constitution to amend it. That is your democratic right, protected in the new constitution.
Q8. CUPTE members are different form us. We have nothing in common with them.
A8. Yes and no. Their work is professional like ours, but not in the social sciences. They are primarily francophone and the overwhelming majority are women. This contrasts with the current SSEA which has a majority of anglophone members and the majority of which are male. If you welcome diversity and believe that it fosters a more dynamic, inclusive and representative union, then you will welcome this merger.
CUPTE has been a partner with SSEA in many court challenges which have been fought to protect the pension rights of our members and to protect them from discrimination by the employer. In fact they were the only National Joint Council union to work with SSEA when these legal actions were undertaken. We share a belief in protecting fundamental union rights.
Q9. Will we loose control to the TR group (CUPTE)?
A9. No. The TR Group has approximately 1100 members, whereas the EC group currently numbers close to 8500. Under the proposed Constitution the TR Group would have 3 seats at the Executive Committee (1 vice-president, and 2 directors). The EC group and the Library of Parliament will have 11 positions, (1 vice-president, and 10 directors). It would appear that SSEA representatives would have democratic control of an Executive Committee (11-3). Under the proposed constitution all authority to govern the Association is vested in the Executive Committee. However, it is simple-minded to think that all votes will be done on a block basis. The Executive Committee governs for the benefit of all members. I would like to think that in the best tradition of SSEA, values, union principles and good ideas will always win in any vote.
Q10. Could the TR Group elect a President? Some members have said that 90% of TR members vote and they will gain control.
A10. The TR tradition is to participate in its election process. In the past, according to the TR President, approximately 60 - 65 % of CUPTE members have voted in their Presidential elections. If they voted as a block they could produce almost 700 votes in a contested election. Our track record in voting is much more variable. In ratifying a collective agreement about 3,000 members vote, whereas in the last Vice Presidential election 840 members voted. We haven’t had a contested Presidential election since 1994 (thank you for the vote of confidence). However, that is the beauty of democracy and the foundation of a sound electoral system. If you perceive this as a problem, then the solution is to get out the vote, not to discard a deal with significant financial, operational and strategic significance as this one. On the other hand, we should show respect for the intelligence of our members, hoping that they will exercise judgment, due diligence and concern for the positions and experience of candidates. Electing a President is not an occupational driven decision, but a reflection and assessment of individual qualities. I believe that there are many outstanding individuals in our communities (TR or EC or LOP). I hope that if there was an exceptional TR candidate then that person would be supported by members, regardless of occupational group.
Q11. What happens if CUPTE members reject the deal?
A11. That is a possibility, given that CUPTE members may view the price of merger as too high ($2 million and control) . However, the CUPTE Executive has recommended this deal to its members, believing that it is in their best interest.
Q12. What happens if SSEA members reject the deal?
A12. We continue to represent our members under our current Constitution. However, given the very public nature of this exercise, we would probably preclude any other union from approaching us in future for any possibility of a merger.
More importantly, we would have a crisis of leadership in the organization. The Executive Committee has invested 18 months of work to arrive at this point and the recommendation to members is unanimous. A vote against the merger signals a vote of non-confidence in your elected leadership.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, we may be perceived as not being inclusive or welcoming as is the normal union tradition when approached for representation by another group of employees. Finally, it may send a message to the employer that the reduction in bargaining agents which it would like to achieve will need a different mechanism, and could involve forced mergers at a later date.
Q.13. We currently elect a Vice President at large, and we vote for all directors. In this model we vote for only the directors and Vice President within our EC group.
A.13. The latter is a departure from our current practice, and reflects the change in the organization which will have two distinct major bargaining units. We did exactly that when the Sis joined ESSA. SI’s elected their own vice president and directors. When we moved to combine our bargaining (ES and SI), we naturally then changed our voting model.
Q14. Let’s not merge. A smaller union can negotiate better conditions.
A14. Not really. All information suggests quite the opposite. For example, in the last round of bargaining, our EC community numbering more than 8500 members negotiated a better deal than APSFA (Association of Public Service Financial Administrators) , the union representing the 2500 FIs. Not surprisingly, PSAC got two additional leave days which we will only now get in the current round of bargaining. Size helps a bit, but economic conditions and labour shortages help even more, and these aspects helped in the last round of bargaining. As I previously pointed out we will be able to co-ordinate bargaining between the TR table and the EC table to hopefully realize better results.
Q15. I’m concerned that my dues will go up like the other large unions.
A15. As indicated in our earlier Q & A document we do not anticipate a rise in union dues should this merger be approved. CUPTE is contributing $2 million to the surplus and these additional funds will ensure our dues structure for quite some time, even if additional demands are placed on the Association by the Human Resource Modernization (HRM) program. However, without the merger, our own surplus will diminish over time and the demands of HRM will in all probability accelerate this loss.
Q16. The Association has been one sided and not disclosed the impact such a merger will have on the organization of the National Office and its finances.
A16. In the voting package which was sent to all members, the Association has provided information on the organization of the National Office. In addition we have told our members that both CUPTE and SSEA are in surplus position with each organization having almost $2 million in reserves. Further the Executive Committee has received the audited Financial Statements of CUPTE and those reveal CUPTE to be an ongoing concern with no hidden financial problems.
The Executive Committee has not developed information opposed to the merger because it voted unanimously in favour of the deal and has negotiated on your behalf the best possible circumstances for a deal.