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Members in Action: Rallies at Strathcona County and Good Samaritan Society

By Maureen Mariampillai, Communications Staff

Jan 29, 2024

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Two groups of AUPE members took action to fight for the collective agreements they deserve. And they won.

Rallies are like living, breathing animals. They move and they grow. They have the power to change hearts and minds. And what gives a rally its power is the living, breathing people who are a part of it. That’s us – ordinary working people – who are the true lifeblood of any movement. 

As newly elected AUPE Vice-President James Gault says, our collective actions can create positive changes and collective resolutions. 

“Joining a rally is a transformative experience,” he says. “You’re standing in solidarity with your coworkers, pressuring your employer to do the right thing, feeling the love and support from your fellow members, and then when you pull it off successfully... the feelings are overwhelming.” 

“Rallies let us use our shared voice and channel our collective power. Effective rallies also show our employers and anyone watching that many worksite problems aren’t isolated to just one person. When an issue impacts all of us, then it’s up to all of us to fix it together.”

James Gault, Vice-President

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As AUPE members prepare for a historic year of bargaining, let's examine two recent examples of members who rallied for change and got results at the bargaining table. 

‘Bad’ Sam 

AUPE members working at Good Samaritan Society were bargaining for a new collective agreement for over six years. Enough was enough. With the help of AUPE staff, the Good Sam negotiating team pulled out all the stops to organize their thousands of members at over 20 worksites. They used tactics such as meet and greets, town halls, email updates, sticker campaigns, and rallies to prepare members for action. 

But it wasn’t easy. Good Sam members were frustrated, and rightfully so. The employer was stalling negotiations and disrespecting members – going as far as holding career fairs while they were laying off staff. 

Members channeled their frustration into organizing. Several rallies were held in Edmonton and Lethbridge to keep Good Sam’s feet to the fire. But it wouldn’t have happened without the onsite conversations, phone-banking, emails and meetings to keep the plan on track. 

“At first, people were scared to come out, but when they saw the first rally went well, workers began to feel more confident to attend,” says Daljinder Bassi, AUPE Local 042 vice chair. 

As negotiations heated up at the bargaining table, so did members’ resolve. They planned another rally, and this time they scheduled it alongside their mediator’s deadline. This rally took on a life of its own, with members from across Alberta expressing interest in rallying at their own worksites.  

The employer caved in. Members working for Good Samaritan Society finally had a new collective agreement. 

Bassi says members have kept the momentum going with other workplace actions, such as wearing black shirts on Fridays and posting their shift schedules on their worksite’s public bulletin boards. 

‘We fix potholes’ 

AUPE members working for Strathcona County had also waited years for their employer to offer a fair collective agreement. Then they hit a turning point. 

Strathcona County members held their Annual General Meeting, but instead of the usual attendance of five or so members, approximately 55 members showed up to express their frustration. Members decided a rally was the next step in fighting for an agreement. 

Megan Paterson, vice chair for Strathcona County, says organizing the rally was a team effort built from having conversations with other members, listening to their concerns, and asking them to get involved. 

“We wanted to do something to show our employer that we're united, that we wanted this agreement signed and we wouldn’t wait anymore,” she says. 

The one-on-one conversations were critical, according to Paterson. Those conversations soon became conversations about conversations, creating a real buzz on the worksite. 

They also ensured each member had an opportunity to pitch in. Preparing picket signs was one such task. Members took inspiration from the work they do to create effective, catchy slogans, such as “We fix potholes!” Now that’s something everyone can support. 

Eventually, it happened: over 100 members attended the Strathcona County rally after just one month of organizing. The rally shook the employer, and it was not long until these members at last ratified a new collective agreement. 

Looking forward 

These members proved rallies work, but they also proved just how much work it takes to be successful. It would be great to organize a rally at the drop of a hat, have everyone show up, and force the employer to immediately agree to a fair contract, but that just does not happen. 

As Vice-President Gault says, organizing takes time, participation, and leadership. 

“Rallies let us use our shared voice and channel our collective power,” he says. “Effective rallies also show our employers and anyone watching that many worksite problems aren’t isolated to just one person. When an issue impacts all of us, then it’s up to all of us to fix it together.” 

AUPE members deserve respect. Sometimes, the only way to get respect is to shout on the sidewalk until your demands are met. 

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