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A Member’s Role in Building Capacity


In the three years since the last National Executive Board elections there has been a substantial increase in membership at CUSW. The new members have joined us from a whole variety of backgrounds and a short introduction on the history and purpose of CUSW will help to inform the discussion as we move through the election process. 

When we set out on the journey of building CUSW back in 1999, we already knew that there was a social, economic and technological transition taking place that was changing the world around us in ways that we could not yet fully imagine. We knew that the changes being driven by this transition would impact our lives, our communities and our workplaces. We knew that we would need to find ways to respond to the changes taking place around us while at the same time remaining laser focused on building a future for members and their families. 

As we set out on the journey into to the New Era, we understood that the role of the workers would expand to embrace the world around them. They would become the Knowledge Workers of the future. This concept was foundational to moving forward on the journey. We understood that the worker of the future would need to be directly involved in building the Society that we would live and work in. To do this effectively the workers would need to have the ability to see the world around them and to influence the direction that would benefit themselves and their families. 

Recognizing that the New Era would require every worker to be directly involved in building the Society around them also meant that they would need to be directly involved in the operation of a Union that responded to the needs of the members and their families. To accomplish this goal, we needed to build a New Model of Union. A Union that could respond to the needs of the members and their families while participating in the New Economy. 

The model of union in place throughout the 20th Century was based on the concept that unions were an Institution that was put in place to respond to the needs of employees that wanted to be represented in their relationships with employers. These Traditional Unions were built on the principle that members would pay service fees called union dues and the union would respond to the needs of members who choose that particular Union to represent them. These traditional unions all looked very similar in purpose and structure regardless of the name. 

The structure of the Unions that formed in the aftermath of the Industrial Age are very hierarchal. The structure defines what individuals do, who they report to and how decisions are made. The President of the union is the “commander” in a command and control leadership model. The staff of the union are “service representatives” who respond to the group of employees who are buying the services from the union. This was the model of the Industrial Era. 

As the 20th Century came to a close, increased access to education together with increased engagement shifted the role of workers in the workplace. The Knowledge Economy was emerging. At the same time, technology changes increased the rate of disruption and increased the need to be agile. The speed and complexity of the changes taking place further contributed to the breakdown of traditional structures including unions. 

The conditions were right for the New Model of Union to emerge. The timing was ripe to develop a Model that would work in the New Era. To be successful we would need to have an organization that could respond to the needs of a 21st Century Knowledge Worker. Even more importantly we would need to leave the old model of union behind. The socio-economic conditions for a new Model were emerging and it was time to put together a Union that could respond. 

20th Century structures that had responded to the needs in the 20th Century were no longer responding to the needs of the 21st Century workers or to the Society around us. In 1999 the members of CUSW set out to design and build a 21st  Century Union to embrace the future.

To keep us on track in our path forward we put in place a Constitution that set out a vision for the future of the Union that provided a pathway to a participatory democracy that responds to the needs of the members and their families. The CUSW Constitution looks far beyond the workplace. This shift in thinking provides the opportunity to build a role for workers to participate both in the workplace and in the community as we move forward into the 21st Century. 

Over the last 20 years we have found out that changing the structure of an organization requires a clear plan and a strong commitment. The technical advances of the times moved far more quickly than the culture to embrace the change.


To catch the culture up with the changing environment, we have had to reframe the journey of adapting to the 21st Century from the negative to the positive: from Challenge to Opportunity.


The election of 2017 started down the path of defining some of the areas that required immediate support in getting some of the basics in place for building the future. To move forward there was a need to commit resources to Recruitment/Referral, Education and/Training, Growth and Opportunities and the Participation Model. The focus in each area was assigned to individuals that stepped forward to take on these tasks. We made great progress in the areas that were identified resulting in growth in employer partnerships and employment opportunities. 

With growth comes Opportunity. With opportunity comes the process of “Building the Capacity” to implement responses that align with the Model that we have put in place.

It is with great pride that we continue our journey into the next 20 years. The 21st Century Union Model that we have been building is perfectly aligned with the Society that is emerging around us. 

In response to this opportunity the NEB convened a series of meetings with the representatives and other key stakeholders and identified areas where there is a need to build capacity within our group. 

These areas included: role of the members, participation model, role of the NEB, Role of Units in the community, Role of Committees, Succession Planning, Recruitment and referral, Education and training, Growth, External relationships, Strategic planning and relationships in the Workplace (Article 12 and 13)


Building Capacity to keep up with growth and the evolving implementation of the CUSW model will be the focus of the next three years.

A key finding emerging from the experience we have gained over the past three years is that every action has an impact on another part of the organization. Positive growth results in a greater need for responses in all other parts of the organization. The “what comes first argument” has to be set aside as we co-ordinate the effort broadly across the entire organization.  

Building Members' Knowledge and Understanding – It all starts here!!

When we set out to build our Union Constitution, we recognized that in the future, Knowledge Workers would have the ability and the desire to build their own futures. 20 years on we are seeing this approach coming to life in all aspects of the society around us. Article 2 of the Constitution describes the Objects of CUSW. Here we define how we as members participate internally and, in the world around us. Members are at the center of everything that we do. The CUSW Model provides the opportunity for Members to participate directly in the organization. Building the understanding of the model and the opportunities that members have to contribute is key to the success of CUSW. 

Participation - Building Capacity in the Participation Model

The concept of Participation is a major part of the culture change that will occur as we move the 21st Century model forward. In Traditional Unions the member’s role was to identify the services that they wanted the union to provide for the fee (union dues) that they were willing to pay. These Traditional Unions provided the institutional structure and the members became employees of the union either through elected offices or staff positions to carry out the day to day work on behalf of the Union.  

With a participation model we leave the Traditional approach of Unions behind.

It is important at this point in the discussion to recognize that the Participation Model is not a download of the service provider model onto Members. The Participation model redefines the relationship between Members and the New Union we are building. Instead of having others direct relationships internally and externally on our behalf, we as members take ownership over designing and managing these relationships for ourselves. Instead of hiring others to carry out activities on our behalf, we invest in “building capacity” through member engagement and like-minded strategic partners to build our own future. 

The Participation Roundtables that were started in 2020 are a real grassroots example of having members and their families participate in building the direction of the Union moving forward. These roundtable discussions are a true model of Participation. Members and family supporters attended because they wanted to participate and contribute in building that future. 

The Officers and National Executive Board - Building Governance

As we make the transition to a truly democratic organization where members direct the internal operation of the union we will continue with the election of the National Executive Board. Article 7.06 (vii) states that the role of the NEB “shall be to see to it that the affairs and business of the Union are being properly conducted in accordance with the Constitution.” The role of the NEB is to provide oversight and Governance and to ensure that the Model outlined by the Constitution and Policies is being implemented. It is not the role of the NEB to do the work themselves. 

The seven (7) NEB members identified in Article 7.02 are elected for a three - year term as per Article 8 and must qualify as a candidate as outlined in Article 9. Members elected to these positions must be prepared to attend 3 to 4 NEB meetings per month. Meetings of the NEB will be held both during normal working hours and/or evenings and weekends. Lost wages are reimbursed. In addition, members of the NEB may be required to attend Planning meetings and other activities as are required to assist them in Building their Capacity to take on the duties outlined in Article 7.06

In addition to the Governance and Oversight roles described above the Treasurer and Recorder have specific duties as outlined in Article 7.10 and Article Article 7.11. The time required to carry out these responsibilities is in addition to the time spent at NEB meetings. Again, lost wages are reimbursed. 

The President and 1st Vice President are members of the NEB. In addition to the Governance and Oversight roles described above other duties are set out in the Election Governance Backgrounder distributed with the Nomination Forms. Duties of Officers (7.01) including Additional Vice-Presents are also in the backgrounder. 

The NEB is empowered by Article 7.06 to act on behalf of the members between Conventions but only to the extent that actions are required. Changes to the Constitution are through Resolutions presented and passed by the Members at a Convention. 

The Units - growing in the Community

Units are the cornerstone of the relationship with the communities where we live and work. The role of the Unit is evolving as our presence and influence in the communities around us is being expanded. There is a need to revisit the role of the Unit and to work with the Community Connections around them to create a Capacity Building Plan. The Elected members of the Unit are in place to build this Plan but will need the support of the NEB to move this forward. CUSW members and their families are part of the broader society around us and have much to contribute. 

The Committees - The Building Continues

National Committees have been a part of the CUSW Constitution since the very beginning. The role of the Committees is to provide the opportunity for members to have a direct voice in setting the direction of the Union between Conventions. The effectiveness of these Committees is dependent upon the level of knowledge of the committee members involved about the topic they are working with, the ability of the members to provide input into the Committees and the ability of the Committees to work with the NEB on implementing the recommendations going forward. 

During the 2017 Election a focus was placed on the role of Committees. It was determined that key Committees required the support of a dedicated person to support the activities of those committees. This approach resulted in very successful advancements of Growth and Opportunities and Recruitment and Referral. We have seen growth and we have been able to supply the skilled members to carry out the work that these new employers bring with them to CUSW. 

The review of the working teams has identified that to maintain the momentum that we have started there is a need to have even more resources dedicated to Building Capacity for participation at the grass roots level as well as continued and additional support for the Committee structure. 

Workplace – Members as Citizens at work

Article 2.01(1) in the Constitution recognizes the important role that relations between employees and employers holds for the Members of CUSW. With the growth in the number of workplaces there has also been a growth in the

opportunity for members to be engaged in building their future at work through participation in the Workplace. Article 12 and 13 were added to the Constitution at 2015 Convention bringing a clear focus to what this means and providing guidance for member engagement. This is a new section in the Constitution but not a new part of the day to day lives of the members. With the shift in access to information and the increased knowledge of our members we can now take an active role in “collaborating with the employers on the operation of the business.” (Article 12

In shifting from a service provider to a participant there is a need to strengthen the capacity of the relationships in every workplace where we work. The Members are on the front line in making this transition. The NEB has recognized that to realize the benefits of participation it is necessary to Build the Capacity at the Workplace

In the Workplace we see all of the pieces of the CUSW model coming together every day. We have moved past the time when the role of the Union was to challenge the employer to apply the collective agreement, to provide a safe and secure workplace, to provide protection for Human Rights and Equality Rights, to provide training, to provide quality management and supervision, to ensure the jurisdiction of the union was protected and to provide access through Stewards' clauses and Executive Committee teams that would allow the union to have a voice in making all of this happen. 

In the CUSW Constitution we have built the alternative model where the members are involved directly at the workplace in contributing to creating solutions instead of trying to force solutions. We can now proceed with Building the Capacity for members to participate as citizens in the workplace. (Article 12.06). This will start with building knowledge of the roles of the member and flowing through to connecting the CUSW structure from the election process to collective bargaining to working with National Committees such as the NTEC. 

Capacity Builders

The Theme of the 2020 election is “Building Capacity.” The elected National Executive Board will focus on their role: “to see to it that the affairs and business of the Union are being properly conducted in accordance with the Constitution.” They will work with the Members in all parts of the organization to identify areas that need support and allocate the available resources. The key areas of Growth and Opportunities and Recruitment and Referral identified in the last election will continue. The focus on Building the Capacity in the Participation Model will also continue. In those areas that require a broader approach, Members working as “Capacity Builders” will co-ordinate the implementation of workplace participation and collaboration that will support the transition of the workplace. Members are the key to building the future of CUSW. Every member will be touched by the efforts that are being implemented. 

Each of you has a role to play and a responsibility to engage in bringing the Constitution to life.

Please remember that every candidate nominated for the positions of National Executive Board and Officers are bound by Article 9.02: A candidate must agree to observe, conform, and comply with all the terms and provisions of this Constitution, and all the rules, regulations, policies, practices, and decisions adopted and promulgated in the further administration of the provisions of this Constitution. 

There are many ways to contribute to building the future for tomorrow. The role of Officers and National Executive Board are only one part of building CUSW. As members, building your own capacity to implement the Model of the 21st Century is the most important role that we can have. 

Please vote in the elections.

Thank you,
National Executive Board


  Download a PDF version of this Backgrounder