Organizer faces monumental task of growing the membership


It’s day two on the job for Dave Bosveld and he can barely contain his enthusiasm for the monumental task ahead: Help to turn around the precipitous decline in union numbers across North America.

He begins as Organizing Director for CWA Canada by blazing trails in relatively unmarked territory.

Rather than wait for disgruntled workers to come to the union, he says, his goal is to have CWA Canada be proactive and select specific targets for organizing. It’s time that things were done differently, he says: “All unions are at a critical juncture. We need to change or die.”

Bosveld, 37, has been an activist for eight years and an organizer for four. He cut his union milk teeth from 2007 to 2009 as president of a local that represents 1,300 Bell Canada workers in the Toronto area. Last fall, he wrapped up a campaign to organize 1,600 workers at a Bell Mobility call centre that culminated in an application, which is now before the Canada Labour Relations Board along with Unfair Labour Practise charges that were filed in September.

Although the “resistance from that company (Bell) was incredible,” it only served to whet his appetite. When he was made aware of the CWA Canada position, he didn’t hesitate to go for it. “Good union jobs don’t come up often, especially full-time organizing,” he says.

It’s organizing that’s going to save unions, declares Bosveld. He notes there has been a lot of economic growth, such as an explosion in call centres operated by communication giants such as Rogers, Bell and Telus, and “we’re on the sidelines.”

It is important for a union to grow, says Bosveld, not just for financial reasons, but because it needs to become more powerful.

In his experience, the most common issue that comes up in a non-unionized workplace is fairness or rather, lack of it. Favoured treatment for family or friends is often a bone of contention. But other issues, such as pay, job security and hours — all of which can be addressed in a collective agreement — are major factors in a group of workers’ decision to seek a union’s help.

Bosveld says that, while the Web and social media are great tools for organizing and he intends to use them, he still favours “face-to-face and one-on-one meetings with workers.”

“It’s crucial,” he says, “to have two-way communication and encourage workers to understand that it’s about them and they have to build an organization that takes ownership of their issues.” What these people need, says Bosveld, is CWA Canada’s support as they create their own union.

He acknowledges that employers “clearly have the upper hand in North America” thanks to right-wing agendas and regulations that favour business, all of which has a negative impact on workers.

Bosveld also knows that he’s up against anti-union sentiment that is characterized by an attitude of ‘I don’t have that so you shouldn’t get it.’ “We have to flip that,” he says, “and get workers saying ‘Why am I NOT getting that?'”

He faults our education system for not teaching the “labour side of the story in history class” with the result that students don’t realize that “this weekend is brought to you by organized labour.”

They also need to understand that celebrities they idolize, such as Michael Jordan, would not be as well off as they are without associations and unions that protect their interests.

Bosveld is passionate about organizing and draws inspiration from legendary figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights activist who was a strong advocate for the labour movement. While his “I Have A Dream” speech has become a defining moment in American history, his addresses to labour organizations such as CWA Canada affiliate AFL-CIO also invigorated activists in the 1960s.

Like King, Bosveld has a dream and he hopes his efforts will bolster the faltering Canadian labour movement.