CUPE introduces code of conduct

Aim is to make union events inclusive, welcoming and safe

One of the country’s largest unions has adopted a Code of Conduct for members attending national level events.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) introduced the new code earlier this month. The document is “aimed at ensuring all CUPE events are welcoming and safe so that all members have access,” according to its letter to members.

“We want these events to be welcoming and inclusive,” said Maureen Morrison, acting director of the CUPE Equity Branch. “It re-emphasizes our commitment as a union to provide a space that’s harassment-free and equity-seeking.”

The code was a key recommendation of CUPE’s National Women’s Task Force report from 2007. The group was mandated to find out why so few women were getting involved at the union’s executive level.

Morrison said one of the answers was surprising.

“There was bad language, sexist language, harassment — more than what should be happening within the union,” she said. “It’s not to say it was endemic, but this behaviour still seemed to be happening.”

Morrison said women — and even men — across the country told the task force they were turned off from union events and didn’t want to participate. It’s not the message a union that bills itself as being among the most progressive in Canada wanted to hear.

“It’s a bit difficult to hear that these issues were more prevalent than we thought,” she said. “We had to clean up our own house.”

Morrison calls the new code a “statement of leadership” that lays out the behaviours expected and those not tolerated by the union.

The principles include communicating openly, respecting the views of others and recognizing personal differences. They also remind members that acting inappropriately while under the influence of drugs or alcohol won’t be tolerated, and neither will being aggressive, bullying or intimidating others.

The new code even specifically defines harassment and bullying.

“It lays out the expectations in a positive way but also shows that there is a process for dealing with members who don’t abide by the code,” Morrison said. “Before the code, we had an Equity Statement but it didn’t really have any teeth.”

Under the new code, all complaints are forwarded to an ombudsperson (or the person in charge of an event in the absence of an ombudsperson) who determines whether the offending member should be expelled.

Morrison said it will be “interesting” to see how members respond to the Code of Conduct.

“In any political organization, it’s important to have vigorous debate,” she said. “But it’s really important to have the code as a statement of commitment about what we expect.”

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) is also considering introducing a code of conduct. A recommendation was put forward earlier this year during the union’s structural review. It calls for a code for union members, activists and officers. A spokesperson said no decisions have been made yet on how or when it could be adopted, though a decision will likely be made some time in 2011.

Two years ago, the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees (UPSE) also adopted a code of conduct, as did the B.C. Government Employee’s Union (BCGEU) in the 1990s.

Morrison said it’s important for unions who have been “fighting the good fight” against harassment externally to ensure they “make a strong statement” internally.

The Code of Conduct will initially apply only at national conventions, conferences, schools, meetings, and other events organized by CUPE National. However, Morrison said the message will be pushed down to the local level where it’s hoped the same code will be adopted.

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