Friday, March 14, 2008

Letter from 3903 member: Aaron Gordon

Dear fellow CUPE members,

I was taken aback at the last AGM by the conduct of various union members towards Silvia D'Addario while she co-chaired the budget portion of the meeting and I was appalled to find out that because of harassment from other CUPE members she had removed her name from the ballet for treasurer. Although I arrived late to the AGM and thus missed the lead up to the budget item on the agenda, it seemed to me that many of the members were overly combative and that the intention of the debates were motivated by concerns other than putting together a good budget and managing CUPE affairs. After the AGM I was angry and disappointed with CUPE and ashamed of being a CUPE member.

Having had some experience in student organizing I neither expect nor desire that everyone will get along, nor do I expect debate to be devoid of emotion. Indeed, I am very much invested in helping to develop critical spaces where disagreement as much as consensus builds community and leads to action. However, in that CUPE set guidelines to ensure equity among its members the union has committed itself to oppose any discriminatory speech or acts of its members and to "neither condone nor tolerate behaviour that undermines the dignity or self-esteem of any individual or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment." According to CUPE's equity statement, "CUPE's policies and practices must reflect our commitment to equality. Members, staff and elected officers must be mindful that all sisters and brothers deserve dignity, equality and respect." I do not know the details of what led up to Silvia's resignation but given what I witnessed at the AGM I do not think the treatment of Silvia as member and elected officer reflects a commitment to equality.

I realize that the union is in a moment of transition as the former executive members finish out their terms and the new executive takes their place and come to know their positions. I also realize that as this is a bargaining year so much of the union's energies and resources are directed towards upcoming meetings with the employer. However, given that the events transpired at the AGM I thought there would be some follow up addressing the matter in either the weekly email digest (March 7, 2008) or on the website. I can find none. Perhaps something is being planned. Indeed, I hope this to be the case.

It is understandable given the manner in which the AGM and events leading up to the AGM progressed that Silvia may neither wish nor feel comfortable working with her fellow union members on this matter. It is not my intention with this letter to speak for her or demand anything more of her. However, Silvia's comments and accusations need to be addressed and the matter followed up because CUPE has a commitment to and concern for its members. As well, I cannot help but think that any silence from CUPE on this matter may be taken to mean that such treatment is part of being a member in the union and may discourage further participation of the membership, particularly those who are less active in CUPE. In that GMMs will be a place of rallying membership, strategizing, allocating funding and voting on resolutions during the bargaining period, vigorous membership participation in and outside these meetings will be the backbone of any and all victories won in bargaining. Ensuring that meetings are spaces in which everyone feels welcome and encouraged to express their agreement and disagreement will be essential to success in bargaining. It seems to me this is the spirit of the equity statement that begins: "union solidarity is based on the principle that union members are equal and deserve mutual respect at all levels." How can the union speak of solidarity, commitment and respect from within this silence?

The intention of my letter is not to point fingers or lay blame but, instead, to encourage the union – the executive and membership – to address this matter in as open and transparent a manner as possible. In addition to looking into the particulars surrounding the resignation of Silvia, addressing this matter may demand that the union carry out an equity audit or some other review process. Such transparency is important for the success of the union in the short and long term. I would argue this process of addressing and redressing the imperfect policies and practices of the union is what is meant by not simply having and reading our equity statement but being committed to equality so as to build a better and stronger union.

In solidarity,

Aaron Gordon
Graduate Programme in Social and Political Thought
York University