New CUPE Sask. president focused on ‘making life better’ for workers

Heywood Yu/Saskatoon StarPhoenix. New president Kent Peterson speaks during annual CUPE Saskatchewan convention in Saskatoon on March 15, 2024.

“Doing nothing isn’t an option. We have to double and triple down our efforts of what we were doing,” Kent Peterson said.

Trillian Reynoldson, Regina Leader-Post

After being involved with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Saskatchewan for over a decade and serving as the secretary-treasurer for the past four years, Kent Peterson has been sworn in as the union’s president.

While being elected as president is an honour for Peterson, he said it isn’t just about titles and positions — it’s about making life better for Saskatchewan workers.

“They’re my friends, they’re the people who provide public services across the province and they’re really the folks who power our communities in a lot of ways,” he said during an interview on Friday. “For me it’s always been about doing the work to get them fair pay, to eliminate violence in their workplaces, to better their working conditions, and all of those other issues they face every day.”

Representing 31,000 members across the province who work in health care, education and municipal sectors, Peterson said there’s a lot of work to be done and he has a responsibility to lead those efforts.

“Those places of work under this provincial government are not very fun places to work,” he said, adding that his approach is a continuation of what CUPE has already been doing, but the difference is the crisis that members are facing has reached a breaking point. “Doing nothing isn’t an option. We have to double and triple down our efforts of what we were doing.”

CUPE plans to organize and mobilize all members across the province. Peterson said this involves talking to members about the issues that impact them at work and in their home life and then connecting that to the policies, laws and decisions of the government.

“We hear from our members every single day, in health care for example — that sector is in crisis and there’s no other way to describe it,” he said.

“We talk to our members about that and we let them know that it is this provincial government under Scott Moe that has been underfunding health care and refusing to hire good, permanent, well-paid health care staff, which leads to that understaffing and burnout and those unsafe working conditions.”

Peterson said services have been privatized, funding for public services has been cut and Saskatchewan workers are being shortchanged.

“That’s why medical wait times are out of control. It is why kids don’t have enough EAs (educational assistants) in school. It is why wages aren’t keeping up. The workers I represent have had enough,” he said in a release from CUPE.

With upcoming school board, municipal and provincial elections, Peterson said he will encourage CUPE members and all workers to “vote for change” and elect progressive candidates.

“This year bigger paycheques are on the ballot, good jobs are on the ballot, protecting public services are on the ballot, and just a basic level of decency and respect for working people is on the ballot,” he said.

In February, the union called on the province to raise wages for health-care workers as the cost of living outpaces salaries, according to a nine-question survey taken by nearly 2,000 CUPE 5430 members between Nov. 1 and Nov. 9. The survey found 17 per cent of respondents have one other job and three per cent have two or more. Eighty-six per cent of respondents said they cut back their grocery budget to make ends meet.