In the 2013/14 academic year, Trans-identified members of CUPE 3903 not only self-organized into what is now the union’s official Trans Caucus, but also led a union-based advocacy and organizing effort to implement significant Gender Identity- and Gender Expression-related practice changes at York University. This activity arose from a host of issues, one of them being York’s failure to implement non-discriminatory processes for Trans-identified union members and students to process a name and/or gender-identity change, whether these were formal legal ones, or were simply those chosen/preferred.
After members of what was to become the Trans Caucus held meetings with various York bodies in attempts to address and resolve the Gender Identity-based discrimination they were experiencing – which is illegal under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the CUPE 3903 Collective Agreements – they contacted the union’s Equity Officer. Months of strategic organizing ensued, using a combination of the grievance/arbitration process, building on relationships with allies within the union, bringing in allies external to the union (such as Egale) and finally meetings of the Chief Stewards to shepherd the process to what is now (almost!) its final resolution just before the start of the 2014/15.
The timing of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s unveiling of the new Policy on Gender Identity and Gender Expression was taken into account as part of the process. The results are many: a new form designed by the union, with explicit input and direction from the Trans Caucus; a new, clear procedure for implementing the changes requested on the form; orientation of York staff to this process; an upcoming public communication by York on the ground broken with this new procedure; and a slightly more healthy Trans Fund at the end of the 2013/14 year.
The overall lesson? Self-organizing plus active and broad ally-based support, along with creative politicization of the grievance/arbitration process, leads to meaningful union wins!