As the first woman president in the 120 year history of UFCW 1518, President Kim Novak’s rise within UFCW 1518 has been impactful and positive for members and the organization. She is charting new territory as a woman leading a union whose membership is mostly women working in community health and social services, the grocery and retail sector, and the food processing industry.
When Kim was first hired in 2007 as temporary staff in the Communications Department, she never imagined she would end up sitting at the president’s desk. But what was clear from the beginning was her passion for helping members. “Being in a position to advocate for members, help protect their rights and improve the quality of their work life was inspiring and just so gratifying,” Kim said. “And having been a cashier and junior clerk with Safeway shortly before I started working for the union, I could relate to the challenges and experiences many of our members have.”
After completing her Bachelors degree at the University of British Columbia, Kim was hired permanently, commencing more than a decade of service at UFCW 1518. She was promoted from union representative to director, and in 2015 she was elected Secretary-Treasurer by the Executive Board. When Ivan Limpright announced his retirement after 34 years of service, she was unanimously elected President by the Executive Board. “I am incredibly humbled to take on this leadership role and with the assistance of the Executive Board, we will move forward to strengthen our union.”
When Kim became Secretary-Treasurer four years ago, her oldest son was only five months old. “I am so grateful to Ivan and our Board for their support and for electing a leader who is also balancing a young family, because that’s what many of our members do every day,” she reflected. “As a mom to two busy little boys, I am proud to be the president of UFCW 1518 and I’m excited to raise my children to know the value of advocacy and activism.”
Kim is keen to continue some of the initiatives she began as Secretary-Treasurer, including the innovative HeadStart program as well as a revamped education program for members and stewards. She also piloted a Steward Appreciation program, which continues to roll out through 2019.
Kim is proud of her accomplishments at the bargaining table, where she negotiated the first paid domestic violence leave in a UFCW retail contract in North America. She helped achieve gains that promote gender equity within collective agreements, including language that ensures women who take time off due to childbirth and child rearing are no longer penalized. “I’m inspired to be a leader who brings about progressive change for members and their communities and who makes working people’s concerns a priority,” she said, adding that engaging members and empowering them to become workplace leaders demonstrates the value and strength of the union.
Effective January 8, the Executive Board unanimously elected Patrick Johnson as UFCW 1518 Secretary-Treasurer. “I look forward to working with Patrick in his new role,” Kim affirmed. “The passion and focus he brings to building our power as a financially strong, politically active and member-centered union is exactly what we need to continue to grow into the future.”
Together, Kim and Patrick’s goal is to help members become an unstoppable force. There has already been an increase in engagement and members’ enthusiasm to become more involved in their union, whether at work, in the community or as as part of the broader labour movement. “Our focus is to connect with our members where they live and work, across sectors and across the province,” said Kim. “It’s through those conversations and interactions that we learn what our members need from their union.”
Kim and Patrick will continue their travels around the province to meet with stewards and members, encouraging them to see that they are part of something much bigger: a global labour movement that fights for fairness and social justice, one worker at a time.