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Back in the mid-1980’s, our workplace looked very different than it does today. There was a job classification that existed solely for all our female members. It was the position of Cleaner. If you were a woman, you could post for one position only, and that was Cleaner. Now if you were a man, you could be an Assistant, or a Fireman or a Head Caretaker, full-time, 40 hours per week. If you were female, you were restricted to being a Cleaner and rarely, if ever, were those positions full-time. A few of our Sisters took the brave step and applied for male-dominated positions and were invariably denied. We fought for our Sisters on a case-by-case basis with limited success. We were very aware that the Employers’ promotional and hiring policies violated the Human Rights Code and everything CUPE stands for. It was a discriminating and antiquated practice that we were determined to change.

We decided to fight this through the grievance procedure and filed a policy grievance. Of course, the Employer denied the grievance and we found ourselves heading to arbitration. Arbitration is the final step to an unresolved grievance. It is the court of Labour Law in which our Arbitrator, who is essentially a judge, decides the validity of the Union’s case. We prepared long and hard for this case. We retained one of the best labour lawyers in the province, Nelson Roland. We knew we had a fight on our hands and were determined not to lose. The day the arbitration began, as it always does, we submitted our preliminary submissions and made our preliminary arguments. The Arbitrator quickly reviewed the evidence and called the parties together for a talk, a practice which is not uncommon. What was unusual is what he said to the Employer. He told the Employer, in no uncertain terms, that they were to sit down with the Union and negotiate a satisfactory settlement with us. And that if he was to hear the case, the Employer would not like what he would rule! Just like that it was over…We Won! But what did we win? We were very aware that our job was just beginning. Although this was a ground-breaking decision, not only for our Local but every Local in the province, putting it into practice was another thing entirely. Discrimination is not eliminated by the stroke of a pen. Even some of our own Brothers were not happy that they were going to face much more competition posting for jobs. The Employer was certainly not happy. Doing the right thing is rarely the easy, or the popular thing to do.

Without going into details of all the battles we had to fight after winning this case, the results are clear today. It changed the entire landscape of our jobs. Eventually the position of Cleaner was eliminated. Our Sisters obtained the equality they rightfully deserved! In addition, we successfully upskilled their jobs. They were no longer “just cleaners.” This created enhanced job security for all of us!