OPEIU / COPE History (1946 – 2008)
Saskatchewan Insurance Employees’ Union, Local #1, a direct charter of the Canadian Congress of Labour, was certified as a bargaining unit and chartered in 1946. The Local was comprised of 31 members employed by Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office.
The first president of the Local—for the years 1946 and 1947—was Doreen Virginia Christiaens. The longest serving president was Bill Wittal, who served for ten years in the 1970’s and the early 1980’s. A total of seven of our 23 presidents have been women.
In 1948, with William (Bill) Turner as President, Saskatchewan Insurance Employees’ Union, Local #1 went on strike. The strike lasted 18 days resulting in a 35% wage increase for the members. The Local was the first Union to strike a Crown Corporation.
On May 1, 1956 the Local affiliated with the newly created Canadian Labour Congress and on October 9, 1957, we affiliated with the SFL.
The Local took a giant step forward on February 1, 1962 when it affiliated with the Office Employees’ International Union as Saskatchewan Insurance, Office & Professional Employees’ Union, Local 397. Joining a large organization such as Office & Professional Employees’ Union provided the strength and stability needed to remain a strong Local Union.
Local 397 provided strong vice-presidential representation to OPEIU’s International Executive Board. Local 397 Presidents that were elected as International Vice-Presidents have all enhanced the Local’s image with the International Union over the years because of the dedication they have shown in representing Region IX (the Prairie Region) on the Board. Bill Wittal retired as an OPEIU Representative in 1988. He remains as Vice-President Emeritus of the International Executive Board—a rare and important achievement for Bill and the Local Union.
In 1983, under the Progressive Conservative government, SGI planned to close Motor Vehicle Offices around the province. In order to protect our members, OPEIU Local 397 was successful in getting the first ever injunction against the Crown to stop the closures.
OPEIU Local 397 also collaborated with the NDP during the late 1980’s to stop the privatization of SGI. In addition to an advertising campaign, our members spent weekends leafleting around the province. With the combined efforts of our members and the NDP, the public put sufficient pressure on the PC government to stop the privatization.
On June 20, 2004, the OPEIU Locals across Canada took another giant step by separating from the International Union and creating a new Canadian Union named the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE). There are 46 Locals and 35,000 members across Canada. We are very proud to truly be all Canadian with all the member’s dues money staying right here in Canada.
Since the inception of COPE in 2004, the Presidents of Local 397 have served as the Vice President for Region 3 (the Prairie Region) on the National Executive, continuing the tradition started with OPEIU of bringing a strong voice and dedication in representing the prairies.
Today COPE Local 397 has approximately 1700 members. We represent seven bargaining units, including Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), the SK NDP Provincial Office, the SK NDP Caucus Office, the SK NDP Constituency Assistants, the RM of Alexander, the U of R Faculty Association and our Calgary Unit.