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The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE, French: Syndicat Canadien de la fonction publique) is a Canadianmarker trade union serving the public sector - although it has in recent years organized workplaces in the non-profit and para-public sector as well. With more than half a million members across Canada, CUPE represents workers in health care, education, municipalities, libraries, universities, social services, public utilities, transportation, emergency services and airlines. Over 60% of its members are women, and almost a third are part-time workers. CUPE is affiliated to the Canadian Labour Congress.


CUPE was formed in 1963 in a fashion resembling industrial unionism by merging the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE). The first national president was Stan Little, who had previously been the president of NUPSE. Having led public sector unionism through a period where almost no workers had the right to strike, Little has been credited with bringing public sector unions "from collective begging to collective bargaining." By the time of Little's retirement, CUPE had already grown to 210,000 members and had eclipsed Steel as the largest affiliate to the Canadian Labour Congress.

Little was followed in 1975 by Grace Hartman, a feminist activist who was the first woman to lead a major labour union in North America. Hartman led CUPE to involve itself in broader struggles for social justice and equality, and emphasized the role of social unionism, as opposed to the more conservative business unionism practiced by many North American unions. She was arrested for leading Ontario hospital workers in defying a back-to-work order from the Ontario Supreme Court in 1981 and sentenced to 45 days in jail. She retired in 1983.

Hartman’s successor as president was Jeff Rose, a Toronto city worker. Rose's time as the defining face of CUPE was marked by membership growth from 294,000 to 407,000 members (largely through organizing), a strengthening of CUPE’s infrastructure and rank-and-file skills, and his outspoken opposition to Brian Mulroney-era wage restraint, free trade, the GST, privatization, deregulation, and cuts to public services. Under Rose’s leadership, CUPE was particularly effective in improving pay and working conditions for women. He stepped down in 1991 after eight years, becoming deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs for the Ontario NDP government.

In 1991, Judy Darcy followed Rose and became the defining face of CUPE. One of Canada's most visible and colourful labour leaders, Darcy was a vigorous opponent of privatization, two-tier health care, and free trade agreements. Darcy was firmly committed to the union's involvement in broader social issues, and under her tenure CUPE strongly attacked the invasion of Iraq, condemned Canada's involvement in ballistic missile defense, and spoke out loudly in favour of same-sex marriage. Darcy stepped down in 2003 after 12 years as president, and was replaced by Paul Moist.

Internal organization

CUPE has an extremely decentralized structure, in which each local elects its own executive, sets its own dues structure, conducts its own bargaining and strike votes, and sends delegates to division and national conventions to form overarching policy. Advocates of this system claim that it places the power in the grassroots where it belongs; critics believe that it makes it difficult for it to organize concerted action and leaves the union highly balkanized with policies and strategies varying widely from local to local and sector to sector. This decentralized structure is often described as "CUPE's greatest strength and its greatest weakness." This political decentralization is mirrored by an organizational decentralization. Although CUPE has a national headquarters in Ottawa, it is relatively small—the vast majority of its staff are scattered across over 70 offices across the country.

Organizationally, there are provincial divisions for each province, as well as the national organization. Nationally there are two full-time political positions—the National President (currently Paul Moist), and the National Secretary-Treasurer (currently Claude Généreux).

Internal Labour Relations

CUPE's employees have organized into two main bargaining units. The Canadian Staff Union (CSU) is the larger of the groups. It represents National Representatives and specialist staff in Area and Region Offices across the 10 Regions of CUPE. In 2008 CSU absorbed the Administrative and Technical Staff Union which represented about 60 administrative and technical staff at the Ottawa National Office. The Canadian Office and Professional Employees union (COPE) Local 491 represents support staff workers in the National, regional and area offices of CUPE. Additionally, a handful of CUPE Locals have dedicated CUPE staff working in their own offices.

Disinvestment from Israel and boycott

In May 2006, the Ontariomarker wing of CUPE voted unanimously to pass a resolution to support the “international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israelmarker until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination.”

CUPE National responded to the Ontario resolution by stating that: "CUPE National respects the right of its chartered organizations to take a stand on all issues. As a national union we are governed by policy resolutions adopted at our national conventions. And as such, we will not be issuing a call to our local unions across Canada to boycott Israel."

The United Church of Canada's Toronto Conference has expressed support for CUPE's position as did the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians (now Independent Jewish Voices . Columnist Lysiane Gagnon in the Toronto Globe and Mail and the editors of the Canadian Jewish News took issue with some CUPE leaders comparisons between Israel's policies and South Africa's apartheid system.Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League labelled CUPE's action as "deplorable and offensive." The Ontario regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Steven Schulman, characterized the vote as "outrageous."

In January 2009, CUPE Ontario's University Workers Coordinating Committee proposed a resolution banning Israeli academics from speaking, teaching or researching at Ontario universities. CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan stated that "Israeli academics should not be on our campuses unless they explicitly condemn the university bombing and the assault on Gaza in general." Ryan argued that the resolution was a reasonable response to Israel's attack on the Islamic Universitymarker, which he likened to the torching of books by Nazis during the Second World War. Ryan subsequently apologized for making the comparison.

The resolution was criticized by Leo Rudner of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who stated "I think it's ironic individuals who speak about freedom of speech jump to the opportunity to take that freedom away from other individuals."

Paul Davenport, President of the University of Western Ontariomarker stated that his university will not participate in any boycott of Israeli academics.

CUPE's national president, Paul Moist, issued a statement declaring that the resolution "would violate the anti-discrimination standards set out in the CUPE Constitution and that "I will be using my influence in any debates on such a resolution to oppose its adoption." CUPE Ontario subsequently removed its call to boycott individual academics from its website with a statement that "this is not a call to boycott individual Israeli academics. Rather, the boycott call is aimed at academic institutions and the institutional connections that exist between universities here and those in Israel." Despite his initial statements, Ryan later stated that he agreed with Moist and that the original resolution calling for boycotts of all Israeli academics who did not condemn Israeli military tactics was wrong. He defended the new resolution which he stated "broadens and deepens" a 2006 resolution on Israel to support a campaign of economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel for its occupation of Gaza. Ryan also stated that CUPE will investigate whether its pension plans are investing in companies developing weapons in Israel.

On February 22, 2009, CUPE's university workers committee passed a version of the original resolution which called for members at Ontario universities to boycott working with Israeli institutions doing research that benefits that nation's military, but not individual academics. The resolution was intended to protest Israel's military action in the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict"

Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), claimed the resolution was discriminatory and anti-Semitic. B'nai Brith Canada called it "discriminatory and racist."

CUPE 3903 spokesperson Tyler Shipley said his local would be supporting the boycott, and that it would be "unconscionable for us not to take some sort of action."

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the resolution "intolerant" while his Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism claimed that CUPE was "singling out and targeting the Jewish democratic state of Israel for opprobrium." Opposition Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff wrote an op/ed piece which stated that his party "condemns the CUPE resolution in the strongest possible terms."

National Presidents of CUPE


  1. Israel and Jewish supporters of CUPE Ontario Resolution 50, CUPE Ontario
  2. Slurs will not silence us
  3. Ontario union calls for ban on Israeli professors by Vanessa Kortekaas, National Post, January 5, 2009
  4. CUPE Ontario to recommend support for ban on Israeli academics in response to Gaza bombings, Press Release from CUPE Ontarion, January 5, 2009.
  5. CUPE chief apologizes for Nazi comparison, Toronto Star, January 8, 2009
  6. Western rejects CUPE call for boycott by Kate Dubinski, London Free Press, January 8, 2009.
  7. Steve Janke: CUPE pulls Ryan proposal from union web site, National Post, January 14, 2009.
  9. CUPE passes milder anti-Israel resolution by Trevor Wilhelm, Canwest News Service (printed in the National Post), February 23, 2009.
  10. Canadian union adopts Israel boycott resolution, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), February 23, 2009.
  11. CUPE union votes for academic boycott of Israel, Toronto Star, February 22, 2009
  12. CUPE `intolerant' of Israel, Tories charge, Canadian Press (printed in the Toronto Star), February 23, 2009.
  13. Michael Ignatieff: Israel Apartheid Week and CUPE Ontario’s anti-Israel posturing should be condemned by Michael Ignatieff, National Post, March 5, 2009.

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