Hundreds of activists from UFCW locals across Canada gathered in Montreal this August for the 12th National Council Convention. Delegates reviewed the progress made by the union over the past five years and set its course for the next five, hearing committee reports and voting on a range of resolutions.
The Young Workers Report highlighted the unique challenges faced by workers under the age of 30, a demographic that represents about 40 percent of UFCW members. Things like unprecedented levels of under- and unemployment, sky-rocketing tuition fees and high debt load make it harder for young workers to succeed as employment becomes more precarious and cost of living continues to rise. Initiatives such as the Young-Workers Internship Program, the Ignite Youth Conference and the #TossTuition campaign aimed at engaging young UFCW members and help them overcome specific barriers.
Almost two-thirds of the UFCW 1518 delegates were members, and the majority were young workers. “I am really proud of 1518 for sending so many members and for the diversity of the group we sent and how representative it is of our membership, including women, people of colour and young workers,” says Ryan Milligan, a young member from Shoppers Drug Mart.
Many UFCW 1518 delegates were also national convention first-timers. “It was an amazing experience,” says Kamal Sudha, a young member from Safeway Pharmacy who was recently elected to the union’s executive board. “I learnt more than I have ever learnt in my life. I feel I now have the knowledge to be able to help.”
The UFCW 1518 delegation also included members from different sectors, such as community health. For Kristen Briosi, a community health worker from North Island Home Support, attending convention was an important way to foster solidarity across a diverse membership. “Being included and being able to be a part of something as big as national convention was really inspirational for me,” Briosi explains. “Now that I feel included, it gives me the opportunity to make other members feel included as well.”
Although convention is a crash course in all things UFCW, 1518 members weren’t just learning and observing; they also dominated at the microphone, speaking to almost all of the 20 resolutions that came to the floor. Resolutions covered a range of topics and reflected UFCW’s social justice mandate, advocating for diversity, inclusion, accessibility, equity, and fairness. Highlights include a pledge to increase the representation of women on the UFCW Canada National Council and establishing a National Young Workers Committee, as well as a commitment to seek paid leave for victims of domestic/sexual violence through collective bargaining.
There was also a call for all levels of government to fund and implement a comprehensive response to the opioid crisis. For Milligan, the issue is personal: he comes from a community that has been hit hard by this public health emergency. “I know many people who have been brutally affected by the opioid crisis and who battled with addiction and some of those who have even died from addiction,” he recounts.
Inspirational, empowering and educational were the common sentiments around convention among member delegates. Now back at work, they can feel the impact of their convention experience, which seems to have sparked more interest in the union. Says Sudha, “People at my work are very proud of me and now see me as a leader who can bring their voices to a higher level.”