Reports from 2023 CUPE National Convention

October 22-27, Quebec City

Delegates take a break from Bhangra with Gurdeep Pandher to pose for a photo. From left to right: Chloe Martin-Cabanne, Lisa Hoang, Lily Liew, Maria Mainart.

Chloe Martin-Cabanne

We had an intense and interesting experience at the convention centre in Quebec City, learning about provincial and regional priorities. This was my first in-person CUPE National Convention, having attended the previous Convention from my kitchen table during the COVID-19 pandemic when I was first elected as President. I was struck by the difference that a National Convention has compared to the provincial events I’ve attended over the past few years. We spent the majority of Convention listening to reports and debating Strategic Directions, with delegates coming to the mics to ensure that their provincial and local priorities were adequately recognized in the document. We spoke about the rise of inflation and lack of affordability in our communities, resolving to prioritize advocacy for rent control and building of social housing through the election of progressive parties like the NDP. CUPE is fighting to ensure that public services are maintained, as privatizing services prioritizes profits over people and does nothing to combat climate change. CUPE resolved that the most important thing that we can do is build capacity in locals to ensure that leaders have the training and resources needed to educate members about the role that unions and progressive governments have in supporting working people through bargained improvements to our wages and working conditions.  

A highlight of Convention for me was the welcome made by Elder Édith Picard-Marcoux, who spoke about beauty on both sides of an argument. Convention allows union members to share, learn from one another and listen to points of views that are not our own. She spoke about geeese and how the understand one another, so that when it comes time to fly south they unite their efforts in formation, trusting the group and agreeing to participate. There was an impressive dance made by the Huron-Wendat Sandowka Dance Troupe, who spoke about the fact that they were once the largest nation and are now the smallest due to epidemics and colonization. Their singing was hauntingly beautiful, a different cultural experience from Coast Salish traditions, and the Feather Dance was one of the dances that started us off in a good way.

My favourite part of Conventions is time spent debating and voting on resolutions, as this sets in motion some of tools and advocacy projects that CUPE National embarks on over the term. Highlights for me included a resolution we passed to create a Job Evaluation database, resources to improve pension plans, and to support public sector workers in their fights against wage mandates during bargaining. I noticed that when social issues came to the floor, delegates became divided by provinces and regions, which was problematic. The debate was respectful, but I felt that the focus needed to return to labour relations and progressive governments as the key way that CUPE can support its members. There were many entertaining points of order and priveledge throughout the proceedings, which kept the parliamentarians on their toes.

During Convention, we made connections with other locals and union members. We felt a sense of solidarity from a shared desire to improve the lives of working people together. Democracy and transparency are so important in our unions, communities and workplaces. We must always strive to transfer knowledge, make space and take time to allow people to have their say. It seems that our society and workplaces do not always prioritize the voices of working people, and that decisions are made behind closed doors without our involvement. The labour movement is working to ensure that our voices and priorities as workers are heard by government and our employers. 

Read Chloe’s report about the Post Secondary Sectoral Conference

Lisa Hoang

Prior attending the convention, I only had lens to continuously advocate for our local’s needs. The entire week became a humbling experience for me because the convention showed me that we need to go above and beyond the micro lens: it is advocating for changes in a macro scale that encompasses outside our work, our local and goes beyond our city, province and nation.  

One of the highlights at the convention are the strategic directions for 2023-2025. Specifically, educating our members regarding damaging impacts of workplace harassment and our right to live and work free from violence and harassment. How do we reduce microaggressions at our workplace? We want to go beyond a checklist for EDI initiatives and dive deep on working with real life issues and addressing it. Addressing toxic environment and microaggressions should not be viewed in a negative manner. To make positive changes, we need to understand the lens of those being impacted and having honest discussions with each other. Name the issue: is it a harassment or microaggression? How and provide an example (what happened to you). Often times, when we address these issues, employers often see this view in a negative light. Rather, it should be seen to improve the environment in a positive way and making changes. Your lived experience should be validated. Unfortunately, workplaces often are not trained to address the issues, validating employee’s experiences and would often times victim blame the employee and address it as a perception issue. How often are employees leaving a department to find another job? Visible signs are there for toxic work environments but they can be simply resolved by making simple changes. I look forward to how we can continually educate members and work with our community and allies. 

A second highlight for me is the importance of building strong locals for our local union. To make progress in our workspace, we need to make active changes, and this starts by being active with your union. The suggestions on how you can be active goes beyond to what I have listed: become an active steward at membership meetings, joining a committee, become an executive, provide feedback to the union office and being proactive of the feedback by helping out the union. We can’t expect change unless we become active in the change as well. Local union offices are often short-staffed.  

Finally, the last highlight is the importance of bargaining. The cost-of-living is a crisis we are currently living. Our wages are not reflective to the continuous rise of inflation. It is important to fight for wage increases that guarantee a living wage that keeps with inflation. We also want to ensure that every CUPE member has the dignity to retire by bargaining with defined-benefit pensions and expanding pension coverage to all members.  

Read Lisa’s report about Resolutions

Lily Liew

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to attend the first in-person national convention since 2019 along with 2,210 other delegates. I learned a lot about the importance of convention processes in facilitating discussions on important constitutional amendments and resolutions. The convention featured passionate speeches by human rights activists from both Canada and around the world, including representatives from Colombia, Haiti and the Philippines. Their moving addresses underscored the importance of our shared commitment to human rights.
A highlight of the convention was the report by the Safe Union Spaces Working Group. The Working Group consists of all women on the National Executive Board. The report focused on discrimination and harassment problems within CUPE, particularly those that affects women, Indigenous, Black, racialized, 2SLGBTQI+ members, disabled individuals, and youth. These issues had endured due to a culture that discouraged reporting and speaking up.
Real-life examples were shared on the convention floor, one example involved a transgender member facing derogatory comments in a washroom and another example was provided of a female member experiencing sexual harassment at a social event. The Working Group outlined concrete actions from the report. They improved communication on complaint processes, revamped the Ombudsperson program, initiated restorative justice training, and provided resources and training for anti-racism and harassment. They also established an independent office to support members facing harassment which will be operational by early Spring 2024.
Why does this matter to CUPE 2950 and UBC? The Safe Union Spaces Working Group is about creating a safe, inclusive, and respectful environment. It aligns with our values, strengthens the union, and sets a precedent for a fairer workplace at UBC. We can apply these lessons by actively adopting the Working Group’s strategies and support CUPE initiatives that promote unity, respect, and diversity.
Resources on Safe Union Spaces are available at the CUPE 2950 office or online at

Read Lily’s report about the Safe Union Spaces Working Group

Maria Mainart

October 23rd, Monday
The convention started for me with the Black & Racialized Caucus. Right there I had a taste of the lack of organization that was to follow: both the Caucus and the registration were set to start at the 8am, which only allowed most people to make their way from one room to the other around 8:20am (considering the magnitude of the Centre des Congrès).
There seemed to be no agenda planned: we had members of the National Rainbow Committee speaking (such as Nadia Aristyl), also Aubrey Gonsalves (CUPE’s DVP of Black & racialized workers) shared a few words about his work and militancy. We learned that the Rainbow Committee is changing their name to Racial Justice Committee. We also had a word from Yolanda McClean about CUPE Ontario’s WILD program, she mentioned the importance of implementing it in other regions of the country.
The plenary was started by Patrick Gloutney (Vice-President for CUPE Québec) and continued by Mark Hancock (CUPE National President). All delegates present were reminded that we are the biggest union in Canada, with about 740,000 members and 60 years of history. “There’s no mountain we can’t move when we work together”.
On lunch time we had our CUPE BC Caucus and observed that the agenda for the week was very tight, with multiple events coinciding and no proper time for food breaks. In the afternoon the National Secretary-Treasure report was presented by Candace Rennick, followed by a few respectful discussions on the floor. However, we did not work through any constitutional amendments or resolutions that day.
October 24th, Tuesday
We had reports from: the National Environment Committee, the National Child Care Working Group and the National Global Justice Committee. The Women Caucus happened on lunch time – again, very tight schedule – but always very exciting to hear the successful stories of wonderful women activists in Canada.
The afternoon started by the presentation of the Strategic Directions for 2023-2025 (CUPE’s roadmap for the next two years), which made it very clear how much of a big division this country has between francophones and anglophones. Bea Bruske, the President of the Canadian Labour Congress spoke to all delegates. We also had an inspiring speech from the president of Haiti’s Confederation of Public and Private Sector Workers, Jean Boland Golinsky Fatal. He thanked CUPE for its solidarity with the Haitian union movement and stressed that unions are key to preserving democracy and defending the rights of low-income people. Afterwards, we got to work on a few resolutions and constitutional amendments.
At night we had the Convention Social at the Hilton Hotel. It was all very fancy and delicious, but the food vanished just as quick as people did. It looked like most folks were there for the free meal instead of connecting and networking (blame it on the exhaustive agenda?).
October 25th, Wednesday
Plenary started with a “Happy! Happy!” dance, led by Gurdeep Pandher (the dancing guy from the Yukon).
The dance was followed by the Credentials Committee presenting the numbers of delegates registered for the convention (2,233 from 711 locals). We had elections for BC & Yukon (GVP – Karen Ranalletta & RVPs – Trevor Davies & Barb Nederpel), which was quite messy, considering the size of the room.
Mark Hancock and Candace Rennick were re-elected in their respective roles of National President and National Secretary-Treasurer – but there was no opposition.
The Grace Hartman Award was given to Joëlle Ravary – “a trailblazing activist in the Quebec women’s movement whose passionate leadership, rigour, uncommon energy, and contagious enthusiasm have helped build solidarity while shattering barriers for the many women who have followed in her footsteps.”
The Colombian labour activist Berenice Celeita Alayon (NOMADESC) gave a passionate speech about the fight against human rights abuses in her country, which was very touching.
Something very interesting that happened on Wednesday was that a delegate came to the microphone to question the lack of representation of CUPE Québec members in all discussions on stage and committees. The issue that was pointed created a big mobilization from CUPE Québec members. Again, showing a big division in this country.
To finish the day, we had the elections of the Diversity VP (& alternate) at the Black & Racialized Caucus. It was quite disorganized, but still very interesting. Aubrey Gonsalves was re-elected and shared his plans from here on, he mentioned something very remarkable, “if you see the spelling of the word impossible, you’ll see that I’m possible”.
October 26th, Thursday
On Thursday, the 2023 Disability Rights Activism Award was posthumously granted to Yves Bélair, who firmly believed that access to post-secondary education is the hallmark of an inclusive, equitable, and diversified society.
The floor was very heated by the discussions of the resolutions and the chair was not in full control of the session. We heard from Raymond Basilio (Secretary General of ACT – Philippines) about how their government targets labour leaders who are fighting for workers’ rights and defending public services. Showing us once again, that the fight is everywhere.
The Safe Union Spaces Working Group presented its final report, which were followed by interesting observations from the floor – about members attitudes. The group stressed that the key to safer union spaces is member action. There are many resources available online.
October 27th, Friday
On the final day we had the presence of NDP’s Leader Jagmeet Singh – mostly praising about their achievements, but we need to understand their plans to “fix” Canada’s biggest issue: housing. The session was adjourned at 11:15am and that was the end of an intense week.
Overall Experience
I learned not only names and history, but also a little bit of how the wheel spins. I have observed that this is a very much divided country (francophones versus anglophone), but slowly trying to work together towards a greater good. I was reminded of why it’s so refreshing to be part of important moments of labour history, when one hears about successful stories, one grows hope that might have once been a little dormant. Hope for better days, for a better life, for less suffering and more joy.
On the negative side, it seemed to me like a lot of boxes were there just to be checked, but no real action was being taken – I saw no real initiative towards sustainability, such as for example – let’s bring our own bottles instead of using disposable plastic cups to drink water throughout this very long week; or maybe let’s ask upon registration who prefers to go paperless instead of handing EVERY delegate a backpack full of paper. Beautiful initiatives were mentioned, such as making menstruation products accessible without cost to women, but why not in this event? You must set the example. I know it’s possible because I have seen it happening at the CUPE Women Conference earlier this year. I expected more for sure, and I was quite frustrated with the convention by the end of the week.
But what I take from it is mostly positive. It is that workers save workers, governments do not save workers – our rights were demanded, they were not handed to us. But there is still a lot of work to be done. The fight is intense. “If our history has taught us anything, it’s the power that every single one of us has as a worker, when we stand side by side. The long road to progress, to justice, and to equality is union-made.” (Mark Hancock)
The outlook for the future is bright. From coast to coast to coast.