The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is Canada’s largest union. With more than 550,000 members from coast to coast to coast , CUPE represents members in a wide range of occupations. They’re employed by municipalities, school boards, hospitals and nursing homes, libraries, universities, social service agencies, public utilities, the CBC, the airlines and other institutions.
CUPE is a completely democratic union one in which the members make the decisions and set the policies. At all levels, from local meetings to national conventions, it is the rank-and-file members who determine by majority vote what the union does how it operates, what stands it takes on issues, what objectives it sets for the future.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees was created in 1963. Before that there were two major organizations representing public employees – the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE). Also, there were unaffiliated groups of public employees scattered throughout Canada.
The idea of creating NUPE stemmed from the realization that all public employees needed one strong organization. It was obvious that the specialized services that were needed could only come from an organization large enough to finance them. It was also clear that employers were pooling information and seeking ways to keep public employees’ wages and conditions at minimum levels.
Representatives of civic unions and other public employee groups met in Calgary in 1949 to consider the establishment of a national union. It was decided to set up provincial organizations as a prelude to a national organization. At a 1951 meeting in Halifax, the provincial organizing committee of the National Union of Public Employees was elected.
At first, a loose federation of public employees was established. Some 18,000 public employees throughout Canada were involved. The federation became strong and in May of 1955, the National Union of Public Employees came into being. NUPSE The National Union of Public Service Employees traced its roots to the formation of the 1,200-member Canadian Electrical Trade Union in 1921.
Most members were in the Toronto area. By 1924, it had become a national organization with members from Montreal to Vancouver, spreading to many non-electrical workers in the public service field. In 1944 it became known as the National Organization of Civic Utility and Electrical Workers. In 1952, it changed its name to the National Union of Public Service Employees. In 1960, a group of locals in Montreal, known as the Canadian Brotherhood of Municipal Employees, also became part of NUPSE.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees came into existence in Winnipeg in September 1963 when delegates to the conventions of NUPSE and NUPE decided, in separate meetings, to dissolve their respective unions and merge into one large union for public sector employees.
CUPE is a Members’ Organization. Only CUPE members sit on the National Executive Board, which runs the union between conventions. Only members serve as the elected officers of CUPE. CUPE employs a large staff of servicing representatives, both in the field and the national office to support the activities of local unions by providing information, advice, assistance and training to local unions. At all times staff are responsible to the members they serve.
The members are CUPE. They are the union. CUPE was built by workers who, in group after group, got together to form local unions. They did so to have a stronger collective voice in their workplaces and in society as a whole. They wanted to work together to determine their wages and working conditions; to eliminate arbitrary action by employers; and to speak out without fear of reprisal.
It wasn’t easy. In local after local they fought against the power of the employer, but in the end they won and now CUPE members enjoy the freedom to bargain collectively. They have a method of resolving grievances and a way to gain fair treatment at work.