President Limpright retires after 34 years with union

UFCW 1518 President Ivan Limpright is stepping down after 34 years of service to the union. “The opportunity to serve our membership and to lead this great union has been an absolute honour and privilege,” said President Limpright.

President Limpright joined the union in 1975 when he started work in the Overwaitea warehouse. He was elected shop steward in 1984, beginning his career with UFCW 1518. “My cousin was a truck driver and he told me about the workplace and the great collective agreement and benefits that came with the job. I didn’t know anything about union then. I was an 18-year-old kid,” President Limpright recalled. “We had a pretty active steward body – if there were any issues, the stewards handled it. The union meetings were held on Saturdays and they were a big event. Meetings used to get kinda raucus, partly because we were young. We were a very vocal group with lots of opinions! Then there was a big party after.”

Steward elections in the warehouse were always contested and President Limpright ran more than once before being elected as day shift shop steward in 1984. “Let me tell you, there is no greater honour than being chosen by your peers in a democratic election.” When the chief shop steward was called to work at the union office as a temporary union representatives in 1987, President Limpright was elected to fill that role. “It was a tumultuous time at the warehouse at that time. When I started as chief shop steward, the employer paid for one hour of work per shift. By the time I was through, it was a full time job, at 40 hours a week,” he explained. At the same time, President Limpright was elected to the union’s executive board.

As chief shop steward, he was no stranger to conflict. “Four years into a six-year, no strike, no lockout deal, the employer was coming after us for concessions. The employer wanted to take away our ATO (acquired time off) and threatened to close the warehouse. So they called in a company labour guy whose claim to fame was that he was always successful in getting rollbacks. He took me out to lunch to explain that to meet and of course I told him any concessions were unacceptable.”

President Limpright described winning a strike vote and getting a verbal commitment from the company that there would be no concessions. “The president of the company later tried to renege on that agreement and I asked him, are you a man of your word? And he said he was, so we got the deal.” Six months later, President Limpright negotiated a collective agreement with a new owner after Overwaitea sold the warehouse. “That was my first 10-year deal. We got a pension plan, very good benefits and a profit-sharing program.”

In 1994, then-president Brooke Sundin asked President Limpright to join the union staff as a temporary union representative. “I was told to wear a three-piece suit on my first day. I was a warehouse guy.” After piloting a member engagement program that saw him travel the province for a year, President Limpright was hired full-time and stepped down as chief shop steward at the warehouse. He began working on duty-to-accommodate cases and the Health and Welfare Trust. “When you get an accommodation, a week before Christmas, it’s just the best feeling. That work is so important to ensure members don’t fall between the cracks.”

President Limpright was promoted to director and again travelled across British Columbia, doing presentations on the UFCW 1518 Pension Plan. In the fall of 2000, he was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the local; after seven years in that role, on the retirement of Sundin, he was elected union president. “I always tried to make the lives of our members better by fighting for improvements to the collective agreement. I managed our trusts so that they became secure and well-funded. I purchased our main office in New Westminster to provide financial stability to the local. All of it has been driven by what is best for our members.”

His proudest moment as president? “Shortly after becoming president, we received the Price Smart decision regarding Overwaitea’s discount conversion plans. It was a devastating blow to the union and caused a great deal of fear and mistrust,” President Limpright recounted. “But bargaining was upon us, and with the support of the members, the executive board and staff, we achieved unprecedented language known as the personal job security guarantee. At the end of that round of bargaining, we had an agreement with major improvements for our members. The solidarity of that moment was inspiring.”

Looking back on 43 years with UFCW 1518, President Limpright was reflective and gracious. “I could not have achieved what I did throughout my career without the support of our executive and membership. I am humbled and honoured to have served this great union. While it was sometimes challenging, it was never work, because I love what I do.”

President Limpright will not be idle in his retirement. He will continue to serve as chair of the Health and Welfare Trust and the Pension Plan. He will conclude negotiations for the reopener of the Sobeys collective agreement and will act as advisor to Secretary-Treasurer and President elect, Kim Novak. He also looks forward to spending more time with his family, including Pat, his wife of 40 years, on their farm in Abbotsford. “Pat has been more than patient with me. After sharing me with UFCW 15l8 all these years, she finally has me all to herself.” President Limpright’s three children and two grandchildren look forward to more time with him as well!

In Memorium of Peggy Schima, trailblazer & union organizer

One of the key organizers responsible for unionizing home care workers in British Columbia has died at 89. Home support worker Peggy Schima passed away in her home of Powell River earlier this month.

In 1987, Peggy was one of the last remaining members of the Service, Office and Retail Workers Union of Canada (SORWUC), a tiny but fierce feminist union that organized Canada’s chartered banks. SORWUC was struggling and members were looking for a new union.

But, as Schima recalled, none of the health care unions wanted home care workers. “We were told point blank: you don’t fit in with our union. You are domestics,” Peggy said in a video interview. Then one day a shop steward at Safeway suggested contacting her union, UFCW 1518. “We said, look, we don’t fit in there either but everybody else is turning us down.” So Peggy and her fellow steward Sue made the call.

“One sunny late afternoon, the rep from UFCW arrived here in Powell River and we had a very constructive meeting. Sue and  I must have asked at least 600 questions and we got the impression that those people are at least listening to us!” Once SORWUC merged with UFCW 1518, Peggy and Sue set about organizing home care workers across the province. “That was the important part. We knew there were so many home support workers throughout BC that needed union protection, needed better wages, needed somebody to back them up.”

Peggy continued: “The big adventure of organizing took off! Sue and I went all over BC, from the coast to the interior and met a lot of wonderful people. We struggled at times, going back to certain home support workers over and over, to explain the benefits of being in a union.”

Today more than 2200 community health members belong to UFCW 1518 – thanks in no small part to Peggy’s early organizing efforts. “Peggy Schima was a truly remarkable woman. She was trailblazer and a strong UFCW 1518 activist,” said Secretary-Treasurer Kim Novak. “The tireless work she did in organizing our community health members around the province fundamentally changed the working conditions and rights for these workers. I know her legacy will continue to inspire members for decades to come.”

Last May, UFCW 1518 invited Peggy to be a keynote speaker at its Health Care Conference.  Although unable to travel, Peggy sent a letter with words of inspiration that were read to delegates, who were moved to both laughter and tears. She told of a late night bargaining session that highlighted the creativity and effectiveness of home care workers:

It was early hours of the morning,  1 or 2 a.m.,  when a group of home support workers walked into the meeting room that was full of tired and frustrated union members and management…and the ladies all had pillows stuffed up inside their blouses, looking “ pregnant”….making a clear point that we were a bit stuck on the maternity section of the the contract…After much applause and laughter, we managed to get it straightened out and finished right quick that night!

Earlier this month, just days before Peggy passed away, the union nominated her for the Joy Langan Award, which is presented at the BC Federation of Labour Convention to recognize an exceptional woman for her work in the labour movement.

“Peggy encapsulates everything this award represents,” affirmed Secretary-Treasurer Novak. “She was an exemplary trade unionist and lifelong dedicated member of UFCW 1518 who will never be forgotten.”

Click here to read UFCW 1518’s letter nominating Peggy Schima for the Joy Langan Award.

UFCW 1518 members win big in municipal election

Four UFCW 1518 members tossed their hat in the ring during the recent municipal election and came up winners. While they ran different campaigns and represent communities with unique challenges, they all share a similar motivation for running for election: a strong sense of civic duty.

“My motivation for stepping forward was a wish to give back to my community,” explained Jennifer Hoar, a shop steward and cashier at Ucluelet Co-op who won one of four seats on Ucluelet District Council.  “I have the energy and a lot of skills that I can lend to this position.  I was aware of some issues and felt that the best way to facilitate changes was to get in there and do some work.”

Frank Farrell also saw a lot of work to do in his hometown of Smithers, including the completion of a new elementary school. A 20-year Safeway member and father of three, Farrell was re-elected to a fourth term as term as school trustee in School District 54 Bulkley Valley. He was motivated to seek re-election by a number of unresolved issues that are important to him and his constituents, including funding for special needs students and changes to the funding formula for education.

“The changes in the funding formula for education in the 2019-20 school year will set new priorities based upon present needs. If there is no new increases in funding, then changes in allocations will mean cutbacks in some areas.” As the parent of a special needs child, as well as an experienced school trustee, he knows this could spell trouble.

Hoar’s small oceanside community of about 1717 residents faces different, but equally pressing problems. “We have an ongoing issue around lack of affordable housing, particularly for long term tenants.  There has been an increase in the number of Air BnBs in our town and this has taken a large bite out of the pool of available long term housing,” she said. “I am aware of a number of small businesses that cannot find staff because their potential staff cannot find housing.”

In Clinton (population 600), the loss of a small town feel and community values inspired Kim McIlravey to stand for election. “People have to travel out of town for work. There’s nothing here for people except our mill. There were no activities for our seniors and our families,” she said. “I want people to be able to stay here.”

McIlravey, a care aide with Interior Health and former Safeway member, was elected to one of four councilor positions on Clinton Village Council. As a mother of four and a shop steward, she knows the importance of standing up for what you believe in, and pledges to do just that in her new role. “If we don’t have a voice, especially the younger generation, we get stuck, nothing changes. If you don’t fight you’ve got nothing.”

Dan Franzen, a Safeway clerk who was re-elected for a fourth term as city councilor for Port Edward (population 544), said union members need to get involved in civic politics so they can have a say in what happens to their communities. “That’s how we shape the future: we work together as one.” Franzen said there are numerous issues facing his municipality, including creating new recreational trails, putting in a dog park, and building more housing for seniors.

Farrell and Hoar also agree that it’s important for union members to take on roles in municipal government, where workers tend to be underrepresented. “Often decisions of governance in such areas as education are made by individuals who have less knowledge of issues facing working class people. UFCW 1518 members are parents who shoulder a heavy burden raising families,” Farrell commented. “The knowledge and background of UFCW1518 members is invaluable in offering working class representation at any government table.”

Added Hoar: “Civic politics is the level where there is the most effect on your day to day life, so this is the level that it is most important to be engaged in.” She added that the support of her union allowed her to get involved in municipal politics. “Just knowing that there is that support made it easier to take the leap of faith and stretch out my neck into the world of politics.”