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BC's largest public sector union chooses new leader

The province's largest public sector union, representing over 85,000 members and traditionally a significant donor to political parties and candidates, has chosen a new president.

Selected just before the B.C. election, CUPE BC President Mark Hancock told The Tyee in a recent phone interview that he would welcome a "government that is willing to talk and one that is concerned for quality education and believes in public services," and that he is supporting the NDP.

He said he hopes a new government will mean more balanced appointments to the Labour Relations Board, where some Liberal appointments made observers "scratch their heads." He added hopes that in future negotiations with the provincial employer, CUPE negotiators would be at the table with decision makers.

Over the past decade, he indicated, provincial negotiators often came to the table without the power to actually make a deal, leading to delays and frustrations.

Hancock was elected April 13, and steps into office after the retirement of long-serving president Barry O'Neill. Hancock served on his union's executive board for a dozen years. During his time as a union officer, he chaired CUPE BC's political action committee for eight years and in 2005 was elected to the executive board of CUPE national, serving on the political action committee at that level.

Hancock has been a member of CUPE since 1984, when he went to work for Port Coquitlam as a self-described "rink rat." Before moving into full time work for CUPE, he also worked as a garbage man and sewer foreman.

From 2005 to present, according to Elections BC, Hancock's union has given $293,971 to the provincial New Democrats, and $4,805 to the BC Liberals.

CUPE BC also gives to candidates in municipal elections, with the local that represents city workers in Vancouver alone giving $185,000 for the 2011 elections. In the 2008 municipal elections, CUPE BC and its locals gave $700,000 to local candidates and parties.

The union created election campaign videos for this B.C. election.

"For 20 plus years, (CUPE BC has) been involved in elections at all levels," Hancock said. "We need to represent all our members and all B.C. residents. We will continue to protect our members' rights and grow as a community union. We're not ashamed of how we spend our money."

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at [email protected].

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