October was designated as Women’s History Month by the Government of Canada in 1992. This month is an annual celebration of the achievements and contributions of women throughout Canada’s history. Women’s History Month includes International Day of the Girl on October 11 and Persons Day on October 18.
As we have been digging through the history of UCTE, we learn more about those that built the union. Did you know that the first woman to sit on the national executive did so in 1971, just 5 years after our founding convention? Glenda Cushing was an Air Traffic Control Assistant at the Edmonton Airport when she stepped in as the Western Regional Vice-President to fill the seat of the departing occupant. While she only held that office for 2 years, she is credited with organizing 3 new locals in her region: Fort St John, Fort Nelson, and Yellowknife, bringing the total number of locals to 10. Since the RVPs were not full-time and the communications were by mail or telephone, she did a great job in such a vast region. It was said that she had a 70% success rate in winning grievances for the members she represented.
Glenda first became active in the Canadian Air Services Association in 1964. She was Secretary of the UCTE Edmonton local for two years before becoming President in 1972, a position she held for most of the next decade. She served as a member of the National Committee of Air Traffic Control assistants. And was the founding editor of the local’s newsletter, “COMSAC.”
In October 1980 the PSAC CR strike began. Over 40,000 federal low paid employees, mostly women, took part in a national walk out. At that time Glenda found that her position was designated as essential and she not able to take part. She fought that and had the decision overturned allowing her to join her sisters on the picket-line. That strike 41 years ago is seen as a turning point in the union’s history, one lead by women.
Glenda twice ran for higher office in the union. In 1975 at the 3rd Triennial, she ran unsuccessfully for 2nd Vice President. In 1981 when she challenged for 1st VP Don Bennett, her nominator, said this of her:
“Sister Cushing would not want you to vote for her as a woman but as an accomplished and dedicated unionist with your interest foremost in mind and to act according to that.”
At the 1978 Triennial convention, 3 women followed in Glenda’s footsteps when Christine Holiday (RVP ON), Lavern Randell (RVP North) and Tamara Brooks (RVP Pacific) were all elected to the UCTE National Executive. Our first female National President was Christine Collins elected at the UCTE 14th Triannual Convention. She had been the first woman National Vice-president before becoming President.
The labour movement is made up of thousands of Glenda’s. Women who take on challenges, who fight for others, and for what is just. Their names are all too often lost in the dusty pages of history. It is only right that we blow some of that dust off our pages and let a little light shine in. This October we remember all the Glenda’s that built the UCTE.