The Canadian Union of Public Employees is Canada’s largest union, with over 628,000 members across the country. CUPE represents workers in health care, emergency services, education, early learning and child care, municipalities, social services, libraries, utilities, transportation, airlines and more. We have more than 70 offices across the country, in every province. CUPE is a completely democratic union one in which the members make the decisions and set the policies. At all levels, from local meetings to national conventions, it is the rank-and-file members who determine by majority vote what the union does how it operates, what stands it takes on issues, what objectives it sets for the future.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees was created in 1963. Before that there were two major organizations representing public employees – the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE). Also, there were unaffiliated groups of public employees scattered throughout Canada.
A bit of Local 79 history
A group of City of Toronto employees began to organize Local 79 in 1941, seeking better wages and working conditions. The Trades and Labour Congress issued a Charter to the Toronto Municipal Association Local 79 (now CUPE Local 79) on March 23, 1942. When the Charter was dedicated to Toronto’s Old City Hall, Local 79 represented 1,400 workers at Toronto’s City Hall and at Riverdale Hospital. Local 79 has always been the largest municipal local union in Canada, and grew substantially following municipal amalgamation in 1998. Today, we represent approximately 20,000 members, both full-time and part-time.
CUPE Local 79 Members on the job
Local 79 members serve as nurses, planners, clerks, social service employees, cleaners, court services staff, ambulance dispatchers, child care worker and many, many other occupations. We work at the various civic centres including City Hall and Metro Hall. We ensure that Toronto’s water is clean and safe to drink. We make sure that food at grocery stores and restaurants is safe. We inspect apartment buildings, homes, and workplaces to make sure they are safe as well. Our Public Health members work to stop infectious diseases. We work to provide shelter for those without homes. Every one of our approximately 20,000 jobs is important. Toronto works because of the contribution of members of Local 79.
We provide valuable services for the people of Toronto at numerous locations, including:
- More than 130 Recreation Centres
- Dozens of seasonal programmes which provide activities for our children and youth as well as employment for our students.
- 58 municipally operated child care programs.
- 10 directly-operated long-term care facilities and supportive housing.
- 16 Employment Resource Centre locations.
- TCHC, which is home to about 164,000 low and moderate-income tenants in 58,500 households, including seniors, families, singles, refugees, recent immigrants to Canada and people with special needs.
- Dozens of Public Health Offices
- Bridgepoint Hospital
The broader Canadian Union of Public Employees was created in 1963. Before that there were two major organizations representing public employees – the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE). Also, there were unaffiliated groups of public employees scattered throughout Canada.
The idea of creating NUPE stemmed from the realization that all public employees needed one strong organization. It was obvious that the specialized services that were needed could only come from an organization large enough to finance them. It was also clear that employers were pooling information and seeking ways to keep public employees’ wages and conditions at minimum levels.
Representatives of civic unions and other public employee groups met in Calgary in 1949 to consider the establishment of a national union. It was decided to set up provincial organizations as a prelude to a national organization. At a 1951 meeting in Halifax, the provincial organizing committee of the National Union of Public Employees was elected. At first, a loose federation of public employees was established. Some 18,000 public employees throughout Canada were involved. The federation became strong and in May of 1955, the National Union of Public Employees came into being. NUPSE The National Union of Public Service Employees traced its roots to the formation of the 1,200-member Canadian Electrical Trade Union in 1921.
Most members were in the Toronto area. By 1924, it had become a national organization with members from Montreal to Vancouver, spreading to many non-electrical workers in the public service field. In 1944 it became known as the National Organization of Civic Utility and Electrical Workers. In 1952, it changed its name to the National Union of Public Service Employees. In 1960, a group of locals in Montreal, known as the Canadian Brotherhood of Municipal Employees, also became part of NUPSE.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees came into existence in Winnipeg in September 1963 when delegates to the conventions of NUPSE and NUPE decided, in separate meetings, to dissolve their respective unions and merge into one large union for public sector employees.
CUPE is a Members’ Organization. Only CUPE members sit on the National Executive Board, which runs the union between conventions. Only members serve as the elected officers of CUPE. CUPE employs a large staff of servicing representatives, both in the field and the national office to support the activities of local unions by providing information, advice, assistance and training to local unions. At all times staff are responsible to the members they serve.
The members are CUPE. They are the union. CUPE was built by workers who, in group after group, got together to form local unions. They did so to have a stronger collective voice in their workplaces and in society as a whole. They wanted to work together to determine their wages and working conditions; to eliminate arbitrary action by employers; and to speak out without fear of reprisal. It wasn’t easy. In local after local, they fought against the power of the employer.
But in the end they won. And now CUPE members enjoy the freedom to bargain collectively. They have a method of resolving grievances and a way to gain fair treatment at work.