By Merryn Edwards, Communications Staff
AUPE members can access union education, ranging from Introduction to Your Union to advanced courses
Erez Raz, now an AUPE Vice-President, was a relatively new Union Steward when the value of his union education became clear: “The member had already admitted he made a mistake, but the employer wanted to use the disciplinary meeting to humiliate and shame this worker. I had the education to know they were crossing the line, so I had the confidence to shut it down.”
AUPE’s education courses are recognized as top-notch and can even be used to gain transfer credit at Athabasca University. But the true measure of union education is when members feel they have the tools and support they need to advocate for themselves and each other.
AUPE’s education department strives to make courses accessible to all learners, including those for whom English is not their first language. Even union skeptics can participate and find out what AUPE is all about. “Everyone is welcome in AUPE courses, regardless of your past experience or level of involvement in the union,” said AUPE Vice-President Carrie-Lynn Rusznak. “Participants learn not just from the instructors, but also from each other.”
Raz believes that the collaborative approach gives union members an edge at work. “Employers and managers tend to want to control information and not share it widely, whereas in a union we can draw from a huge knowledge base.” Course participants coming from government, health care or the wide range of other workplaces AUPE represents, come together to share their experiences, approaches and solutions as they learn together.
Union education, now online!
Madonna Dominic became an AUPE member at her first job in Canada as a seniors care worker, where her coworkers helped her get settled and encouraged her to get involved in the union. “I was always asking my coworkers many questions, and they kept encouraging me to do the course,” said Dominic. A new online Introduction to Your Union course allowed Dominic to get started right away, without waiting for an opening in the in-person course.
The new online course includes a range of activities such as readings, videos, quizzes, games and discussion boards that appeal to different learning styles and build a sense of community. “Just as in other AUPE courses, the online environment can help plant the seeds of connections amongst members from across the province,“ said Rusznak.
“I had a little bit of a challenge because I was slow in typing,” said Dominic. However, she liked the flexibility that came with online learning and appreciated support from her classmates. “Everyone can contribute at their own pace, and some of them had gone further than me, but they still went back to the beginning to reply to me even though they had passed that part.”
Stacey Sykes, an AUPE member working for the Government of Alberta, had a background in online education, so the course environment was not new to her. She was able to learn from the facilitators and other students with a variety of levels of involvement in AUPE. “It was interesting to see one person who didn’t agree with unions and thought it wasn’t necessary for her, but still wanted to see what it was all about.”
Sykes had some background with unions, but wanted to learn more for her own benefit and the benefit of the union as a whole. “Even in a union environment, nothing is perfect,” said Sykes. “So we need people who are ready to stand up, keep other people in the union grounded, stick to your convictions and make progress for all members.”
The online version of Introduction to Your Union is more accessible for members who are not close to an AUPE regional office, prefer to work at their own pace or just don’t want to wait until the next in-person class is offered. However, the day-long, in-person course is also still available.
If you decide to take the online course, keep in mind that paid time off for union business is not available, as it is for other AUPE courses. Facilitators and technical support for online courses are available during business hours, but you can do the course work whenever you like. All course work must be completed within two weeks, and members should expect the total completion time to add up to as much as or more than the daylong in-person class.
The popularity of AUPE’s first online course has led to more demand for other online courses. The lessons learned from Introduction to Your Union will help to expand future online course offerings.
An online registration system for all courses is also in the works and will be launched in August. The new system will streamline the sign-up process, give online registrants priority placement and create an automated wait list and notification process that will let you know when a course you are interested in becomes available in your area.
Two new course offerings are also coming in the fall. Labour History: An Introduction to Workers’ History is a two-day course introducing members to the history, traditions and knowledge that inform the present work of AUPE and the broader labour movement. Introduction to Politics (also a two-day course) teaches that politics is not just for politicians, demonstrating how powerful working people can be when they work collectively.
Other core courses are still available, including training for elected leaders, Union Stewards, and health and safety advocates. Maybe you are passionate about workplace safety and plan to go all the way to advanced courses, or maybe you just want to know how to interpret the collective agreement that sets the terms and conditions for your workplace. Regardless of which courses you take, AUPE’s union education can help you get more out of your membership, understand the broader role of unions in society and develop yourself in the spirit of lifelong learning.