FACING NEW CHALLENGES
Our lives and work have been completely transformed by the coronavirus. Teachers have done an enormous amount of extra work to transform their practices, all with the threat of Covid hovering over them. No school district has been hit as hard as Surrey by the pandemic, which has made this year enormously difficult for educators trying to support students while also keeping them, and themselves, safe. We have faced a government and public health authorities who have been dismissive of teachers’ safety concerns. All year I have been active on television, radio, and social media demanding better safety measures such as mandatory masks, which were finally ordered two months ago. Even as we do not know what schools will look like in September, we will be entering a year of bargaining for a new collective agreement, As a Local President, I understand the complex challenges involving in protecting members’ health and safety, professional rights, and ensure that employers do not exploit this crisis to undermine our collective agreement.
STICKING UP FOR YOU
As a lawyer I learned immediately that law is a service industry. A lawyer who does not take care of their clients will not have those clients for long. As Local President in Surrey, I have sought to bring the same approach to protecting members’ interests. When I practised labour and employment law, I often worked on the management side, and this experience gives me an understanding of how employers think.
REACHING OUT TO MEMBERS
Surrey is the largest local in the BCTF, with more than 6,000 members: contract teachers, teachers teaching on-call, adult education teachers, and associated professionals. While our size gives us considerable resources for providing services and opportunities for members, it also creates challenges in terms of connecting with those members. As a member of the Surrey Executive Committee since 2014, reaching out to all members–not just our activist core, but also members who feel disconnected from the union–has been a priority for me. I have visited about 100 schools and learning sites to listen to members’ concerns and address their questions, and it is the best part of my job. My hope is that all members will feel a sense of ownership over their union. The union is not “it”, or “them”; it is “us”.
BUILDING A MORE EQUITABLE AND INCLUSIVE UNION
The BCTF prides itself on being a progressive organization. Yet in that there is a danger of complacency, and of focusing more on building a more just society than on examining our own structures and processes. For example, my work at both the local and provincial level has shown me that many members continue to experience racism not just in their community and workplace, but unfortunately, in their union as well. We need to re-examine our union and its processes through an anti-oppression lens, so that all members will feel a sense of belonging and empowerment. We have taken preliminary steps, but the next year will bring the work of deeper change in the union based on our ongoing equity audit.
Surrey is a diverse local. I believe in transparency and listening to all views. I have shown that I can work effectively with people of different perspectives. As a member of Surrey’s Mediation Service, I received training and experience in helping others resolve conflict, and I often call upon those skills in my work. In a union, we will not always agree on everything. When a tough choice needs to be made, we debate freely and vigorously, and once the decision is made, we must move forward together, because what unites us is far stronger than what divides us. As Shakespeare said,
And do as adversaries do in law, Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.