The Building Continues The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers was founded on the principle that the members would manage the union through a form of participatory democracy. There would be no “commander in chief” or “benevolent dictator”. We rejected the concept of electoral democracy where one person or a group of people is given the “reins” for a specified term of office to implement an agenda. Instead we built our union around a Constitution where a distribution of roles amongst the members allowed us to carry on the responsibilities of managing the “union” while at the same time ensuring that the Members would have a voice in how this was carried out. In 1999 we started down the path of bringing this model to life.
The founding members understood that to make the transition to a truly democratic union structure, there would need to be a shift in the roles within the structure of the Union. In 1999 we started with a traditional central command structure to manage the day-to-day activities that was built around the President. Although there were seven National Board members, the President was named as the only Representative of CUSW. This was a necessary form of governing the union while we put in place the longer- term view of the participatory democracy outlined in the CUSW Constitution.
Article 7.02 describes the make-up of the National Executive Board (NEB). The role of the NEB is one of oversight and governance. It is their role to ensure that the Representative (President) carries out her/his duties on behalf of the members as well as to ensure that the member participation model is functioning as intended by the Constitution.
The President is also a member of the NEB and has all of the same duties and responsibilities as the other members of the Board. The President has voice and responsibilities on the NEB while at the same time she/he also has the duties assigned to this position by the Constitution under Article 7.07. The distinction between the role of President as a member of the NEB and the role of President as a Representative is clearly described in Article 7. In one role the President works as part of the NEB and in the other role the President works at the direction of the NEB.
The difference between an Elected Officer and a Representative of CUSW becomes even clearer as we move to look at the role of the First Vice President. As an elected Officer, the 1st VP is a member of the NEB however she/he is not a Representative of CUSW unless and until the NEB, on behalf of the members, determines that the President needs assistance in carrying out the duties as Representative.
The CUSW Constitution also provides that members have input into building the future direction of the Union between Conventions through the National Committee structure. Members of the National Committees are appointed by the NEB with a direction to set a vision and to build a mission statement. Members are nominated and join the National Committees because they have a keen interest in advancing that part of the union. The National Negotiations Committee, for example, focuses on providing every Bargaining Unit with the tools and ability to negotiate the Collective Agreement that they will work under thereby building the same democratic culture in the workplace that we see in CUSW. The National Social Committee focuses on building social solidarity and unity within the membership. The National Values and Beliefs Committee focuses on creating an inclusive environment both at work and in the community. We can go through the list and each one of the committees has duties that contribute to the democratic process as we build our union.
We cannot look at the NEB, the Representatives and the National Committees in isolation from one another. They all have roles and they all have duties that bring our Constitution to life. After many years of implementation and six Conventions the concepts are now well embedded into our makeup.
Participation leads to democracy and democracy leads to participation.
As we have moved forward with building the participation model we have also begun the task of dismantling the traditional central command structure that was built around the President. In this election year the NEB has decided to take the next step in this process. The role and duties of President as Representative is no longer manageable by one person and so the action of distributing these duties is timely. After a review of the main activities involved in the day-to-day activities of guiding CUSW, the NEB has determined that the President requires assistance in four main areas.
The First Vice President is a member of the NEB and has all of the same duties and responsibilities as the other members of the Board. The First Vice President is also responsible to pick up the duties of the President when the President is unable to carry out her/his duties. The NEB is proposing that in addition to this responsibility, the First Vice President will also be recognized as a Representative of CUSW and will carry out her/his duties in accordance with the direction of the NEB. These duties will include overseeing the day-to-day oversight and support for the main Bargaining Units that we acquired from the old Ontario Hydro (OPGI, Bruce Power, Hydro One) that are still in transition from the central command structure that was in place in 1999. The role will include the continuation of the introduction of the union participation model and the democratization of the workplaces still operating with top-down management structures.
Growth and Business Development – Additional Elected Vice-President
The President is currently an ex-officio member of the National Growth and Opportunities Committee and is directly involved in much of the Organizing and Business Development that is carried out within CUSW. The Growth and Opportunities Committee has been inactive for some time. Organizing activity has been supported through the efforts of a field representative appointed by the NEB. There is a need for greater support for this Committee and this activity. The NEB is proposing that the duties of the President in the area of Growth and Business Development be reassigned from the President to a person dedicated to supporting the Committee and coordinating Growth and Development activities across Canada. This person will become a Representative of CUSW and will carry out her/his duties in accordance with the direction of the NEB.
Education and Training – NEB Appointed Representative
CUSW was founded on the concept of the “knowledge worker”. We know that for CUSW to be successful going forward we must continue to embrace this principle together with the advancement of skills development as we bring to life the 21st Century Worker in a 21st Century Community. To realize the goal of having Training Participation Agreements with each employer and a Take the LEAD plan for each member, the National Training and Education Committee needs support. The NEB is proposing that the duties associated with the implementation of these programs be reassigned from the President to a person dedicated to supporting the Committee and building these structures across Canada. This person will become a Representative of CUSW and carry out her/his duties in accordance with the direction of the NEB.
Recruitment and Referral – NEB Appointed Representative
As we expand into new areas of managing the representation and referral of members across all of the jurisdiction of our Constitution both the President and the National Membership and Working Rules Committee need support and assistance to implement the structure needed to meet this demand while at the same time maintaining member voice in how these programs are implemented. The NEB is proposing that these duties be reassigned from the President to a person dedicated to supporting the Committee and building these structures across Canada. This person will become a Representative of CUSW and carry out her/his duties in accordance with the direction of the NEB.
Administration of the Trust Funds – Trustee appointments
In addition to the duties outlined in Article 7, the NEB had also assigned the President the role and duties of Administrator of the Benefit Trust, Retirement Trust and the Training Trust. This decision was part of the initial centralized system that was needed to manage the coordination between the NEB and the Trustees as we began to bring the Participation Model to life. The appointment of the President to this position within the Trust Document was carried out through the CUSW Trustees appointed by the NEB to oversee the operation of these Trust Funds. The Trustees have evolved and are now able to coordinate directly with the NEB. The President can now be removed from that role as well as those duties. The NEB have now asked the Trustees to appoint the Administrator under the rules outlined in the Trust Document.
The President will continue to be the full-time representative of the Union. The responsibility for the duties outlined in Article 7.07 will remain with the President however she/he will not be responsible to carry out these duties in those areas where the NEB has determined there is a need for assistance. With the assistance of the representatives provided by the NEB, the duties of the President will be shifted to allow for greater focus in the operation of the Union and support for the NEB.
In 1999 we started with a traditional central command structure to manage the day-to-day activities that was built around the President. Joe Mulhall has managed that role since 1999 and it is now time for CUSW to move beyond that model into the next phase of participatory democracy. Joe Mulhall will not be standing for election as President this year. The decision of the NEB to provide assistance in carrying out the duties of the President under the oversight of the National Committees supported by Representatives will affect the elections this year.
When the Members of the National Board come together, they do not talk about the workplace. Instead, they focus on the big picture and the task of building the organization – a democratic organization that responds to the needs and interests of the members as well as all citizens of our country. Complete this 15-minute course to find out more about their role and if participating as an Officer of CUSW is something that you would like to do.
Complete this series of 15-minute courses to find out what is involved in each of the important positions. Not interested in standing for election or nomination? No problem - complete the courses to ensure that you understand the responsibilities of each and cast your votes wisely when the time comes.