What does it mean to be a Union Activist?

What does it mean to be a Union Activist?

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a member facilitator workshop through CUPE National, which provided me with the opportunity to facilitate a week-long health and safety program for CUPE Manitoba.

Attending these events, provides a chance to meet a diverse group of people. Some are from healthcare, others social services or education, while others work for our municipalities. It is during these discussions that I am reminded of how fortunate we at the WCB are, relatively speaking. Over the years, I have met people who are making ends meet on $30,000/year and have no guaranteed hours or set schedule. Others are trying to save for retirement and working to convince their employers to match their contributions. Some are hoping to improve their healthcare benefits to be able to afford more regular dental appointments for their kids. When I hear the stories of the violence some face in their workplaces and how their employers respond, I find myself most moved – which is why I became and remain involved in our union.

Many of the benefits and opportunities that we, as employees of the WCB, have come to enjoy, expect, and at times take for granted, didn’t exist 30 years ago. As an organization, we have achieved them because of the hard work of union activists through years of discussions, grievances and bargaining with the employer. I am not saying that the employer hasn’t played a role in all of this, but I do find myself wondering what our workplace would be like today if it hadn’t been for activists and their years of working to make our workplace better. I especially feel this way when I hear of others’ whose unions have not had our success, nor support from their employers. I feel indebted to these past activists for all their efforts and for the privileges I enjoy today because of their years of dedication and hard work.

While on this training session last week, I heard of members from Health Sciences Centre and Kildonan Personal Care who, when driving to attend this same event, were involved in a tragic motor vehicle accident. One member lost her life and the other is still recovering in intensive care. I knew the member that passed away, having met her at past events. I was always impressed with her passion to effect change – not just in her workplace, but in her community.

 

This tragic event made me take a moment to reflect on the work I’ve done and think about what more I can do in the future. I am hopeful that the efforts I have made to assist my peers, not only in our workplace, but in other unions, has made a difference. While I don’t expect to change the world, I do believe that we can all make a difference to improve where we work and live. It takes effort and, yes, at times it can feel exhausting and unappreciated, but if you take the time to look around, and to look back, you can see that we can all make a difference when we choose to do so. I have never been one to sit on the sidelines when I see that something needs to be done, and always think, if not me then whom? That is why I became and remain an activist, I want to make a difference, and hope that, if even in a small way, I will leave this place a better one than I found it.

So, I want to leave you with this, I hope that you choose to make a difference as well. It doesn’t have to be through a union, as there are lots of other groups and ways to be involved. The union, in my experience, is a good way, and as a person who grew up loving to play team sports, the union and principles of working together for one common good resonates with me. I hope you will join me in trying to make a difference.

 

In Solidarity,

Carl Kernested

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