Canadian Union of Public Employees

Canadian Union of Public Employees

Infobox Union
name= Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
country= Canada
affiliation= CLC, PSI
members= 570,000
full_name= Canadian Union of Public Employees /
Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique

founded= 1963
office= Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
people= Paul Moist (President)
Claude Généreux (Sec.-Treasurer)
website= [] [ (French)]
dissolved_state= Merged into

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE, French: "Syndicat Canadien de la fonction publique") is a Canadian trade union serving the public sector - although it has in recent years organized workplaces in the non-profit and para-public sector as well. With more than half a million members across Canada, CUPE represents workers in health care, education, municipalities, libraries, universities, social services, public utilities, transportation, emergency services and airlines. Over 60% of its members are women, and almost a third are part-time workers. CUPE is affiliated to the Canadian Labour Congress.


CUPE was formed in 1963 in a fashion resembling industrial unionism by merging the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE). The first national president was Stan Little, who had previously been the president of NUPSE. Having led public sector unionism through a period where almost no workers had the right to strike, Little has been credited with bringing public sector unions "from collective begging to collective bargaining." By the time of Little's retirement, CUPE had already grown to 210,000 members and had eclipsed Steel as the largest affiliate to the Canadian Labour Congress.

Little was followed in 1975 by Grace Hartman, a feminist activist who was the first woman to lead a major labour union in North America. Hartman led CUPE to involve itself in broader struggles for social justice and equality, and emphasized the role of social unionism, as opposed to the more conservative business unionism practiced by many North American unions. She was arrested for leading Ontario hospital workers in defying a back-to-work order from the Ontario Supreme Court in 1981 and sentenced to 45 days in jail. She retired in 1983.

Hartman’s successor as president was Jeff Rose, a Toronto city worker. Rose's time as the defining face of CUPE was marked by membership growth from 294,000 to 407,000 members (largely through organizing), a strengthening of CUPE’s infrastructure and rank-and-file skills, and his outspoken opposition to Brian Mulroney-era wage restraint, free trade, the GST, privatization, deregulation, and cuts to public services. Under Rose’s leadership, CUPE was particularly effective in improving pay and working conditions for women. He stepped down in 1991 after eight years, becoming deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs for the Ontario NDP government.

In 1991, Judy Darcy followed Rose and became the defining face of CUPE. One of Canada's most visible and colourful labour leaders, Darcy was a vigorous opponent of privatization, two-tier health care, and free trade agreements. Darcy was firmly committed to the union's involvement in broader social issues, and under her tenure CUPE strongly attacked the invasion of Iraq, condemned Canada's involvement in ballistic missile defense, and spoke out loudly in favour of same-sex marriage. Darcy stepped down in 2003 after 12 years as president, and was replaced by Paul Moist.

Internal organization

CUPE has an extremely decentralized structure, in which each local elects its own executive, sets its own dues structure, conducts its own bargaining and strike votes, and sends delegates to division and national conventions to form overarching policy. Advocates of this system claim that it places the power in the grassroots where it belongs; critics believe that it makes it difficult for it to organize concerted action and leaves the union highly balkanized with policies and strategies varying widely from local to local and sector to sector. This decentralized structure is often described as "CUPE's greatest strength and its greatest weakness." This political decentralization is mirrored by an organizational decentralization. Although CUPE has a national headquarters in Ottawa, it is relatively small -- the vast majority of its staff are scattered across over 70 offices across the country.

Organizationally, there are provincial divisions for each province, as well as the national organization. Nationally there are two full-time political positions -- the National President (currently Paul Moist), and the National Secretary-Treasurer (currently Claude Généreux).

Internal Labour Relations

CUPE's employees have organized into two main bargaining units. The Canadian Staff Union (CSU) is the larger of the groups. It represents National Representatives and specialist staff in Area and Region Offices across the 10 Regions of CUPE. In 2008 CSU absorbed the Administrative and Technical Staff Union which represented about 60 administrative and technical staff at the Ottawa National Office. The Canadian Office and Professional Employees union (COPE) Local 491 represents support staff workers in the National, regional and area offices of CUPE. Additionally, a handful of CUPE Locals have dedicated CUPE staff working in their own offices.

UN-sponsored Conference Against Racism

The B'nai Brith of Canada called attention to CUPE's role in the UN-sponsored Conference Against Racism held in Durban in 2001.

Although many Canadian Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were present at Durban, their reaction to the widespread antisemitism there was disappointing. The response of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representative is instructive. In a report submitted by CUPE Ontario delegate Antoni Shelton, and posted to the CUPE Ontario website... Shelton presented the CUPE perspective on the conference. Shelton described the equation of Zionism with racism with utter passivity and accepted it as a legitimate point of contention, along with other issues such as compensation for slavery. Shelton was amused by the “photogenic” qualities of the marginal anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect. He had no comment on the Nazi caricatures of Jews and other antisemitic paraphernalia circulating at the NGO conference at Durban. [cite web
title=B'nai Brith of Canada
work=2002 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents

Disinvestment from Israel and boycott

In May 2006, the Ontario wing of CUPE voted unanimously to pass a resolution to support the “international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination.” [ cite web
title= Ontario CUPE website
work= Background on Resolution #50
] The three point resolution continued on to call for action to develop an education campaign about the “apartheid nature of the Israeli state”, and for CUPE National to conduct research into Canadian involvement in the occupation. The Canadian Labour Congress was also enjoined to add its voice "against the apartheid-like practices of the Israeli state...." The resolution summarized its reasons for making this call by directly referencing the “Israeli Apartheid Wall”, and by recognizing the 170 Palestinian groups that have called for the global campaign. It further noted the voice of its sister union, CUPE BC, and its opposition to the occupation of Palestine.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League labelled CUPE's action as "deplorable and offensive." [cite web
title=The Jerusalem Post
work=ADL blasts Canada's anti-Israel boycott
] The Ontario regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Steven Schulman, characterized the vote as "outrageous." "For a respected labour union to engage in such a vote, which is completely one-sided and based on mistruths, is shocking," he said. [cite web
title=National Post
work=CUPE joins boycott of Israel

An editorial in the Canadian Jewish News also took issue with some CUPE leaders comparisons between Israel's policies and South Africa's apartheid system.

Let there also be no condoning the sly attempt by CUPE Ontario leaders to hide or obfuscate its true aim. The logic of the haters of Israel is as simple as it is distorted: Israel is an apartheid state. It must be treated in the same manner as the only other apartheid state was ever treated. It must be dismantled! By joining with the hate-filled slogans being hurled at Israel, the union, was de facto supporting, condoning and even affirming the call for the elimination of the Jewish State. [cite web
title=The Canadian Jewish News
work=How sad to look now upon CUPE

On June 6, 2006 Willie Madisha, president of the 1.2 million member Congress of South African Trade Unions wrote, in a two page letter, “I congratulate CUPE Ontario for their historic resolution on May 27th in support of the Palestinian people- those living under occupation and those millions of Palestinian refugees livingin the Diaspora. We fully support your resolution.” [ cite web
title= COSATU letter to CUPE Ontario

CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan has defended his organization's position by referring to the support it received from the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians [] [] , a small group of Canadian Jews who oppose Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and supports the CUPE resolution.

CUPE National has responded to the Ontario resolution by stating that,

CUPE National respects the right of its chartered organizations to take a stand on all issues. As a national union we are governed by policy resolutions adopted at our national conventions. And as such, we will not be issuing a call to our local unions across Canada to boycott Israel. [ cite web
title= CUPE National statement on the Ontario Division vote to support a boycott of Israel

On July 7th, political commentator Lysiane Gagnon wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

National Presidents of CUPE

*Stan Little 1963-1975
*Grace Fulcher Hartman 1975-1983
*Jeff Rose 1983-1991
*Judy Darcy 1991-2003
*Paul Moist 2003-


External links

* [ Official CUPE site]
* [ CUPE French Version]
* [ A Critical Analysis of the 2007 CUPE Constitution]

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