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Incoming, outgoing Young Workers’ Caucus leadership reflects on their experiences in new Q&A

Publish date: Wednesday, July 14, 2021 update

Zoom screenshot of Ben-Ari, Coffer, Cully and Hoy

Timna Ben-Ari, Labour Relations Specialist and the staff support for the union’s Young Workers’ Caucus, recently sat down with the transitioning leadership of the Caucus: outgoing Chair Sarah Hoy, outgoing Vice-Chair Caroline Cotter, and incoming Chair Chris Cully. Together, they discussed the work of the Caucus, the unique needs of young workers in our workplaces and within our union, and what’s next.

Timna: It’s great to be chatting with you all today! Can you give our readers some background on your roles at work and within AMAPCEO?

Sarah: I first started in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) as a summer student at what is now the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services, then completed my first full-time position as a Program Analyst in the same office here in Ottawa. I’ve been with the Ministry for just over eight years now.

I became an AMAPCEO activist by serving as the Chair of the Asian, Arab, and Latinx Caucus shortly after our union’s equity caucuses came together in 2015. And shortly after that, I got involved with the Young Workers’ Caucus. I’ve also been a member of both the Equity and Education Committees.

In my District (Eastern Ontario), I’ve served as a Delegate and as the Treasurer and Community Lead on my local executive.

Caroline: I’ve spent my career working in the arts world, first with non-profit arts organizations based in Ottawa. I joined the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) in 2014 and have been there ever since. As an arts program administrator, I help develop and deliver grant programs to support our province’s artists and arts organizations.

I first became an AMAPCEO activist in 2016, when I joined the Young Workers’ Caucus, and began serving as the Vice-Chair in 2017. Two years ago, I also became the Delegate representing OAC at the Annual Delegates’ Conference.

Chris: Similar to Sarah, I joined the OPS as a summer student, only for me, it was with the Ministry of Education. I ended up being hired on contract in the same branch where I have now become permanent. I’ve been with the Ministry ever since—five years—including six months working with the Reopening Secretariat. Our team supported the operation of schools during the pandemic and piloted asymptomatic testing for students and their families in schools. I’m currently an Education Officer with the Safe and Healthy Schools team.

My AMAPCEO activism started when I was elected as a District Delegate, and later as a Community Lead. Now, I’m the Vice-Chair of the Front District, a member of the Resolutions Committee—and the incoming Chair of the Young Workers’ Caucus, of course!

Timna: You’re all busy folks—talented professionals and committed activists. I’m curious as to what you do in your spare time, when you have it!

Sarah: I am a real sports fanatic: both playing and watching! I also love fishing, music, gardening, and volunteering—I am on the Board of Directors of a non-profit, and I volunteer at Bluesfest here in Ottawa. And of course, I love spending time with my family and friends.

Caroline: I’m also into gardening, and love crafting and tea! Since the pandemic started, I’ve been brewing my own kombucha, which is super easy and delicious! I’m also a certified yoga instructor.

Chris: I enjoy reading, music, and cars. I often take road trips and I love spending time with my dog, Rosie. Over the pandemic, I’ve started learning the Irish language (Gaeilge).

Timna: Busy folks! What drew you to get involved in the AMAPCEO Young Workers’ Caucus?

Sarah: As a young worker starting out in the OPS, I just didn’t feel supported. At the time, the Employer’s HR team gave me limited information on what signing a contract really meant for me. They also didn’t tell me much about my union, and so I didn’t hear much about what AMAPCEO was all about.

I wanted to ensure I could help improve the experience for others and become a mentor that I think young workers need when starting work in public service.

I also had a sense in the workplace and at the AMAPCEO Annual Delegates’ Conference that we weren’t doing enough awareness-raising with respect to young workers and age discrimination.

For example, when I signed my contract, I was told I was lucky to have the salary I earned at that age. This was my first experience of ageism at work. I’m only recently learning more about this term and coming to terms with it.

Chris: Sarah’s experience isn’t unique. Young workers are often given very little orientation to their workplace; HR representatives and managers only give vague details. This often leaves young workers in difficult situations, scrambling to find information.

I always make a point to talk with young workers on my team and make sure they understand how AMAPCEO represents them, what their rights at work are, and what to do if they have questions or need support.

I do my best to be a mentor for young workers, and with the Caucus, I feel I have a chance to do that on a larger scale.

Caroline: I was drawn to the Young Workers’ Caucus out of a need to meet with other young professionals who could relate to what I was going through. I started my career in a very difficult economic climate—the post-2008 recession—and I wanted to connect with others who had overcome the unfair perception of Millennials to forge their professional paths.

Timna: Tell me more about the work of the Young Workers’ Caucus over the last year. How did you adapt during the pandemic? What are you most proud of over your tenure?

Sarah: For starters, we’ve grown our membership, which is great news! During the pandemic, we’ve also been able to grow our executive membership within the Caucus to help us carry out our important work. We’ve built a solid team!

Looking back, I’m proudest of successfully speaking to, and debating on, resolutions that served the needs of our Caucus at the Annual Delegates’ Conferences. Through this, we’ve increased our presence, which has led to us making changes—whether in policy or the union’s Constitution—to ensure the needs of young workers are being met.

Caroline: The pandemic has really shown us how we can use technology to connect with our members. Whether it’s through Teams or Zoom, we’ve expanded our reach to be more inclusive of members in smaller communities across the province.

When the pandemic started, there was such a feeling of unease and uncertainty. The Caucus organized regular Zoom calls with our membership to share important information and updates from the union. These virtual events were very well attended.

I think the pandemic and remote work has shown us just how important it is to be connected. As a result, we’ve implemented monthly drop-in calls with our Caucus membership to discuss issues and share information. And we’ve established a Caucus newsletter that goes out every couple months.

Timna: We know contract and precarious work disproportionately affects young workers. Within AMAPCEO, about a third of Young Workers’ Caucus members are on a contract. What are some of the biggest hurdles facing young workers today?

Sarah: It’s hard to be on a contract. I feel many young workers don’t know where to begin if they want to become permanent. I have lived experience on this. I built up the courage to push this for myself and was successful; now I try to guide young workers or provide advice on this.

Unfortunately, there’s a stigma that young workers must wait and “gain years of experience” and that’s all that matters for permanent positions. It’s simply not true. Your skills and knowledge, and how well you do in your interview, matter.

I also think that there are many negative assumptions made of young workers on account of their age, which can hinder us at work. I know I’ve been subject to biases at work based on my age throughout my career in the OPS. And I know I’m not alone—the Caucus’ recent membership survey found 42% of members experienced workplace challenges they believe were attributed to age. This could include assumptions of inferior experience, being asked to cover off for other colleagues because they do not have dependents, and facing exclusionary comments from older colleagues.

The impact is even more significant on young racialized or otherwise marginalized workers, and I would encourage everyone to call it out when they see it and be reflective of your own biases, too.

As the outgoing Chair of the Young Workers’ Caucus, I also hope that all AMAPCEO members will become champions to help uplift young workers within the workplace, make the workplace as inclusive as possible on all fronts, and continue to learn about these issues.

Caroline: These preconceptions of young workers, coupled with our tough economic reality, have created a very real and very difficult challenge for young workers. The unemployment situation caused by the pandemic has resulted in an even more competitive job market. Many students and new graduates either lost their jobs or couldn’t find one during the pandemic, missing out on work experience that might otherwise have helped set them up to enter the job market. Now, new graduates are competing more directly against more experienced professionals. Add to this the shortcomings of governmental financial support the ballooning cost of education, and massive student debt, and it’s a bad situation.

Timna: Most certainly. Looking ahead, what’s next for the Young Workers’ Caucus? What are you excited for?

Sarah: More digital events!! We surveyed our membership, so have a good sense of what our Caucus members are looking for. We want to keep being creative with our digital events and leverage tools and fun activities to try and make enduring the pandemic a little easier. Even though I know a lot of us are tired of looking at screens!

We are excited to host our upcoming online networking event, which we hope will help members gain more understanding of career opportunities out there and learn from more senior AMAPCEO activists about their experience.

Chris: And AMAPCEO is sponsoring the Institute of Public Administration Canada (IPAC) Toronto Chapter’s “Building Skills for the Post-Pandemic World” virtual conference, which is exciting. This event is targeted to new public service professionals, and the union is co-organizing a panel. It’s important to us to see support for professional development of young workers and workers who are early in their careers.

Timna: Congratulations, Chris, on your new role as the Chair of the Caucus. And a big thank you, Sarah and Caroline, for your service on the Caucus! If you had one piece of advice for young AMAPCEO members, what would it be?

Sarah: In your current job, keep working hard at gaining a good reputation and continue to do quality work. It’ll pay off—you’ll gain a good rapport with people and it will lead to other opportunities. If you show how invaluable you are, your employer will work hard to keep you and build your skills and knowledge. And remember: there are always great leaders out there who will recognize your talents and your value.

Chris: Yes! Get involved and build relationships in your workplace. Participate in workplace opportunities such as the United Way appeal—they’re great ways to get to know colleagues and other members in your workplace so you can start to build relationships and networks.

And get involved in AMAPCEO. It’s our union, after all! There are so many ways to volunteer and support fellow members—whether as a Materials Lead for your workplace, a Member Engager for your District, joining the Young Workers’ Caucus or an equity caucus—the list goes on and the opportunities are incredible. The relationships you build will help you on your journey.

Caroline: Invest in yourself! Don’t wait around for someone to acknowledge your work or offer you up an opportunity. While that is always nice, it’s up to you to make sure you feel fulfilled professionally.

If you’re not where you want to be, make moves. Take a course to develop yourself. Find a mentor. Start networking and begin searching for your next opportunity!

Interested in joining the AMAPCEO Young Workers’ Caucus? Sign up here!

More about AMAPCEO and our Members: Established in 1992, AMAPCEO is a bargaining agent that represents 14,000 professional and supervisory public servants, most of whom work directly for the Government of Ontario in every ministry and in a number of agencies, boards and commissions; in 130 communities throughout Ontario and in 12 cities outside Canada. We also represent employees outside the Ontario Public Service in: the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario; the Ontario Arts Council; Ontario Health (Quality Unit); Public Health Ontario; the Waypoint Mental Health Centre in Penetanguishene; and in the former Offices of the Ontario Child Advocate and the French Language Services Commissioner (now part of the Ontario Ombudsman).