Union Matters: Giving Back

We are in the midst of the holiday season, when people turn their minds to giving to others. But the NSGEU actually gives back to the community all year round!

On this week’s episode of Union Matters, we sit down and talk to NSGEU’s First Vice President, Sandra Mullen; Secretary-Treasurer, Darren McPhee; and Board member & Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Melissa Marsman, about the different ways the NSGEU gives back.

See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:

Hello! Welcome to this week’s episode of Union Matters, NSGEU’s weekly podcast. I’m your host this week, Holly Fraughton, and I’m joined here today by Sandra Mullen, NSGEU’s First Vice President; Darren McPhee, NSGEU’s Secretary-Treasurer; and Melissa Marsman, board member and chair of the Human Rights Committee. Welcome to all of you!


So we are in the midst of the holiday season, and this is a time when we think about giving back to others. But the NSGEU really does give back all year around. Why would you say it is so important for us to do this, as a union?


DM We’re part of the communities of Nova Scotia, we’re always singled out by government and we’re trying to show that we’re not only workers working for government and agencies and companies, we’re actually part of your community. So, being part of your community is doing with your community, so not only volunteering, but actually giving back to the community.


HF So, we do give back to the community in a few different ways, both in time and in financial donations. Sandra, you are also the executive liaison to our Women’s Issues Committee. This year the Women’s Issues Committee launched a 60 for 60 initiative. Can you tell us what that’s all about?


SM Sure. The Women’s Committee in the early part of the year decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary of NSGEU by donating 60 hours of time to various community groups. We started with Feed Nova Scotia. We have an 8 member committee plus myself as liaison, so we sorted food with Feed Nova Scotia, we moved on to our next event which was volunteering at The Lodge That Gives here in Halifax, and we brought our women’s committee over and we cleaned the 160 windows in the Lodge for the Cancer Society. We enjoyed doing it and enjoyed giving back. These organizations depend greatly on the efforts of volunteers. We have a few more hours to give this year, so we’re looking to somewhere else to donate some time.


HF That’s a great initiative. A lot of the time people will say that your time is actually the most valuable thing you can give. What kind of feedback have you gotten from the different organizations you worked with?


SM Certainly in two ways. The organizations are thrilled to have us as a group committed putting in some time. They also have educated our committee members on the services that they offer. Just seeing the organization at Feed Nova Scotia and how all of the donations they have and all of the food that they receive from various parts of the city and the province need to be sorted, weighed, wrapped, whatever. Our committee members really learned a lot, so that was very informative. And our time at the Lodge, a lot of the women that we had with us that day knew nothing about the Lodge That Gives and the services they off to all Nova Scotians.


HF So it was a great learning experiences for everyone.


SM Absolutely.


HF On the other side of things, we actually do make monetary contributions to a wide range of organizations, So far in 2018 NSGEU has made donations to the tune of $52,000, which is a pretty substantial amount. It’s interesting because, the labour movement as a whole, we advocate for an ideal society, a society where people shouldn’t need to rely on charitable donations. We want everyone to have fair wages and good working conditions. But until we manage to achieve this standard for everyone, I guess we’re, in the meantime, trying to do our part and give back. Is that how everyone feels about that?


DM Yes, for sure, I think that as you strive towards ideals there’s things that you need to do along the way to make sure you’re getting towards that, so, besides giving time and publicity on the efforts that we raise as a union, we’re also giving back to the community and making sure that things are available for people who don’t have those opportunities.


HF So, Darren, what are a few of the different charitable initiatives that our union’s involved with this year?


DM Convention directs three-year donations, province-wide donations. That’s the bulk of what we do on a yearly basis. The last donations were, as Sandra had said, Feed Nova Scotia is a large one, Transition Houses of Nova Scotia is another one, Kids Help Line is another one, which we had a presentation to the Board from that. Just knowing what that donation does and how much that donation’s needed, was pretty uplifting to hear that presentation. Not only do we give to these agencies in the community, but they come back to tell us what that donation has done for us. This has really kindled us to continue those donations for many agencies. Without that donation, many agencies would have circumstances they would have to look at what happens. As a Board member and as your Secretary-Treasurer for NSGEU it was really uplifting to hear that a small donation of $5,000 can do so much.


HF It really makes a difference.


DM It really does.


HF As our Secretary-Treasurer, Darren, and you’ve been on the executive for quite a long time, you touched on this a little bit in what you just said, but could you explain, as a union, how we decide which organizations receive financial support?


DM At our Triennial Convention there’s $42,500 now, it was a different amount before, but at one of our conventions the amount was changed and it was upped by convention delegates. The Board brings forward recommendations for the agencies that we would divvy up that $42,500 for, and convention would debated and look at it for the next three years.


HF So it’s ultimately decided by the membership at convention every three years.


DM Yes, the bulk of that. The rest of the donations, our Board would have approximately $10,000 a year of discretion that we would get requests for and the Executive would have about $5,000 a year that we have requests for, but, again, they come in and they’re voted on like everything else, so the Board would be voting on it and the Executive would be voting on it. Mostly agencies and things we would give to would be social humanitarian or labour donations. They would be not individual donations or donations to companies. They would be more around strikes or labour agencies like MayWorks and things like that that would be in the community doing things for our members and raising the level of the standard of living for people in communities.


HF So it’s a democratic process but there is some flexibility as the need may arise.


DM Yeah.


HF We talked a little earlier with Sandra, but we don’t jet give back financial contributions. Melissa you are the chair of the Human Rights Committee. Can you tell us a bit about some of the initiatives that the committee takes part in to give back to the community?


MM We’ve started a new initiative, it’s called Feed Our Future, and it’s going to run from January to June 2019. What we’re asking is for every member that has a meeting at one of the four NSGEU offices, if they would bring a non-perishable food item. In June we’re going to have Feed Nova Scotia come in and take all those items. We thought as a committee that when the children aren’t in school during the summer there would be a need for people to go to the food banks and that would be a good way for us to help.


HF And another one the Human Rights Committee’s big annual campaigns is the Sock It To Poverty campaign. What’s that all about?


MM It is for members to donate new socks, mittens, gloves, cold weather items. They can bring those to any of their local meetings. The end of January is when we distribute all of our items. Any money that we raise, and to date we’re at $4,500 would go to Stanfield’s in Truro and we buy bulk amounts of socks and we divvy them up between the 8 regions in Nova Scotia.


HF I looked at the figures from last year and the committee collected more that 2,100 cold weather items (gloves, hats, scarves, socks) and distributed them throughout the province. Does it go regionally?


MM Yes, regionally.


HF So if members are interested in making donations this year, who should they get in touch with?


MM Members can contact their presidents for a list of the places that we distribute our items to, or they can check the link on the website. Or members can email me or the Human Rights Committee. We have an email address on the NSGEU website.


HF The other program a lot of our members might not know about yet is the Cancer Support Fund. It’s a relatively newer program NSGEU offers to members. Can you tell me a bit about that, Sandra?


SM Sure. The Cancer Support Fund was actually created through the Women’s Issue Committee some years ago and was administered externally for a long time through the QEII Hospital Foundation, which was wonderful, but it was a lot of work on the persons at the Foundation that had to confirm that the applicant was a member. This past term they turned it back to us and so it’s administered within NSGEU by one person processing an application. The application is available online. In this case now we’re doing gift cards of either gas or food. It’s a $200 one time contribution that we send out to the member. It’s for a member or their immediate family.


HF So it’s to alleviate some of the financial hardship experienced by someone who either has cancer themselves or has a loved one who has cancer.


SM Their immediate family, yeah. It is somewhat started by the Women’s Issues Committee, but it’s been funded ongoing through the union at convention. The locals can donate and so on.


HF This year we have given out almost $9,000 to members who are effected by cancer. That’s a pretty great amount and it sounds like it does a lot of good.


SM It is, it’s been very well received by the members and it provides some anonymity by the person applying, because they’re not seeking support from their local, they’re not having to identify and from the local perspective, they can recommend, if they hear of somebody in their local who is undergoing treatment or have need for assistance with travel bills, they can make that application should they wish to.


HF The also sponsor a student at the Cody Institute at St FX. Darren, can you tell us what that’s all about?


DM A number of years ago we were contacted by the Cody Institute for a donation. The Coady Institute sponsors an international course every year. Nearly 100 students from around the world apply. They come to the Coady Institute to learn skills and abilities to bring back to their country to develop governments, to develop labour organizations, to work on human rights, things like that. When we got the first request it fit really well with a national donation we had to do through our national organization, NUPGE. We started donating through that a number of years ago and in the last year, all across Canada, all of our brother & sister organization unions in each province through NUPGE, decided that everyone had established those international donations so we no longer had to send any of the funding to NUPGE. So the Board, this term, decided to continue with the Coady Institute donation and to use all of the funding from that to create a scholarship for somebody that’s coming from another country and we would sponsor a part of the costs that they bear to come here to learn all of those skills. Usually what happens is the Coady Institute will pick somebody who links up very well with us as a labour organization, us as a humanitarian organization, us as having very strong women’s issues committee and background and that participant will come to a presentation. The course is from June until December, so those people are leaving their families (most of them have had families) because they’re dedicated to building their own skills and abilities to ensure that they transfer those skills and abilities to building their own communities. They’re very humble people that we’re meeting from everywhere. We’ve had one from Uganda, one from Northern Africa, one from the Caribbean, this year, Ghana. They’re from all over the world and we go down and participate in meeting them and seeing the ceremony they have. As an organization, donating some funding to assist somebody that’s going back to develop their own skills and abilities fits so well with the way we give back to our communities. This is giving back to other communities who otherwise may not be a community. Being at the Board and hearing their stories would give you shivers. We sit around thinking about giving donations because there’s unfortunate people in our country. The situations in their countries are really at a different level than what we’re talking about. It’s good to hear that we can so something.


HF It’s interesting, because we’ve just talked about a few vastly different initiatives we’ve been involved with just last year. Do you feel like people, and even our own members, are really aware of the ways that the NSGEU and other unions give back to our communities?


DM I don’t know that we’ve been very good at telling people that. I know because I presented it to convention on behalf of the Board. For us as a union it wasn’t that long ago we started to realize that we are part of the community and we need to give back to the community. When we’re asking the community to support our causes and campaigns we’re having as a public service worker, as a home care worker, as a health care worker. As part of the community we expect the community to help advocate on our behalf and know what’s going on, well if we’re not showing we’re part of the community in other ways, well, asking for government to look at us while bargaining and fighting for fair wages, we’re not going to hold any credibility. We do so many things in the community, as I said before. We’re not only public servants and health care workers, we’re cub leaders and church leaders involved in organizations all across Nova Scotia. We just don’t really tend to sell ourselves that way. We’re always just the job, we’re not the parent or the volunteer down at the end of the road.


HF It comes back to the idea that our members aren’t just the jobs they do, they’re also parents, they’re also volunteers. It will also be interesting to see that delegates at convention will identify as priorities for charitable donations for the next three years.


I think that’s everything I had for you guys today. I really appreciate you all joining us. We will let you get back to the board meeting now! To our listeners, thank you so much for tuning in to Union Matters. We hope you enjoyed this episode. Please don’t forget to subscribe. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter at NSGEU. Have a good one!


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