After three difficult years of isolation and back-breaking work, AUPE members gathered in Edmonton on October 27, 28, and 29 to hold their first in-person Convention since the pandemic began.
It was an amazing three days of union democracy, and the first Convention at a brand-new location: the Edmonton EXPO Centre. According to AUPE President Guy Smith, the energy in the EXPO hall was impossible to ignore.
“We held a very successful virtual convention last December,” says Smith. “But nothing compares to the electricity and excitement of 1,000 AUPE activists working together in-person moving their union forward.”
Smith set the tone at the start of Convention. Day one began with his President’s Address, a speech that acknowledged the challenges AUPE members faced during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as what we will need to do if we are to overcome the inevitable challenges ahead.
“Whether you are a veteran AUPE activist or whether you are just starting your AUPE journey, we truly are all in this together,” said Smith during his address. “No matter how the unpredictable and sometimes overwhelming events of the past three years have been—frustrating, isolating and discouraging—here we are, all together, once again.”
In addition to Smith’s address, we heard reports from AUPE’s Elected Executive: Sandra Azocar, Bobby-Joe Borodey, Mike Dempsey, Bonnie Gostola, Darren Graham, and Susan Slade. The six Vice-Presidents talked about their priorities and what they worked on since last Convention.
We also heard from Executive Secretary-Treasurer Jason Heistad, who was a key figure in the important discussion delegates had about the Finance Committee’s report and the union’s budget for the next fiscal year. The union’s finances are a very serious topic, and delegates spent critical time debating the budget before passing it, ensuring we can continue to provide top-level services for members, including organizing work to build power at our worksites across the province.
Getting down to business
Delegates leapt into Convention business following Smith’s address, and although we fell behind schedule in terms of what was on the agenda, everyone recognized this as a by-product of delegates identifying crucial matters for debate and taking the time to properly address those matters.
But ask anyone who attended Convention and they will say passions were at their peak when delegates debated an urgent resolution to increase union dues from 1.25% to 1.50%. Members shared several thoughtful arguments both for and against this resolution, and delegates recognized that with more information and further engagement with the membership, this issue will eventually need to be seriously addressed. At this point in time, though, delegates eventually voted to defeat the proposed increase.
The Convention floor really was all about business this year, as delegates also voted to tackle all Constitutional resolutions brought forward by the Legislative Committee. The rationale was that Constitutional resolutions can only be considered and passed at Convention, so why not devote as much time as possible to them. It was time well spent, as delegates made it through all eight resolutions brought forward by the committee.
“You can’t understate the importance of getting as much work done as is feasible at Convention,” says Smith. “Convention is the highest governing body of our union, so ensuring we tackle as many meaningful resolutions as possible is critical.”
In-between our vigorous debates, delegates also welcomed guest speakers to Convention. We heard from brother Terry Parker, Executive Director of the Building Trades of Alberta. The Building Trades of Alberta represents 60,000 workers in some of the province’s most economically important private sector industries. Parker’s address to Convention emphasized our common goals and the solidarity we hope to build across industries.
Local 003 member Chad Kennedy also spoke to Convention, delivering an emotional address on the importance of recognizing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder. Kennedy’s story is all-too relatable, given the trials so many members have endured throughout the pandemic and as part of their jobs.
Delegates also heard from our allies at other organizations, including Brad LaFortune from Public Interest Alberta and Ricardo Acuna from the Parkland Institute.
Having fun looking forward
But Convention wasn’t all-serious all the time. The Halloween costume party was a big hit… no surprise there! Delegates spent the evenings forging new friendships that will strengthen our solidarity for years to come. An age-old labour movement motto is Bread and Roses, after all; what good is building a better world if we can’t dance in it?
The dates for our 2023 Convention are already set. Delegates will once again congregate at the Edmonton Expo Centre on October 26, 27, and 28 for an exciting election year Convention.
“Thanks again to all the dedicated and passionate AUPE members who made Convention 2022 a success,” says Smith. “It was exhilarating to have Convention in-person, and you all demonstrated what it means when we fight for our unity, our strength, and our future!”