Interviewed by Keith Reynolds
Colleen Jordan was born and raised in southern Alberta. Through her early jobs she saw several examples where union members made more money than non-union, but where men were included in the unions and women were excluded. She studied at the University of Alberta where she got involved in anti-apartheid protests. Colleen turned down a fine arts scholarship, got married and moved to back to B.C. She went to UBC to qualify as a school librarian and ended up working at the Burnaby School Board in its media resource centre. That’s when she joined CUPE.
When her CUPE local president refused to allow a women’s committee, she gathered a group of her sisters and elected an all-woman executive. In 1981, the Burnaby and Surrey school board locals joined municipal CUPE locals on strike; teachers respected the picket lines and schools were closed. In the agreement ending the strike, CUPE won pay equity. In 1991, she was elected secretary-treasurer of CUPE BC and was involved in administrative reforms within the union: changing the dues structure, paying greater attention to LGBTQ and minority rights, and establishing all-presidents meetings to build solidarity across a diverse union.
Several strikes highlighted for her the need for political action. So too did a decision by Richmond City Council to contract out garbage collection. CUPE walked out in support of the 2004 Hospital Employees Union strike and the Richmond decision led CUPE to endorse candidates in local elections.
Colleen was also active outside the union. She and others in the Vancouver and District Labour Council defied the CLC by supporting the anti-apartheid struggle. She worked with Ken Novakowski to set up the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and sat on the board of Blue Cross. In 2002, she ran for a position on Burnaby City Council and remained on council for 20 years.
Fort McLeod, AB; University of Alberta; anti-apartheid protests; Burnaby School Board; Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); CUPE Local 379; pay equity; 1981 CUPE strikes; picket lines; BC Federation of Labour; TWU (Telecommunications Workers Union); Mike Kramer; Jack Munro; B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF); B.C. Labour Relations Board; Vancouver and District Labour Council; City of Richmond; contracting out; political action; Barry O’Neill; injury-to-all policy; Health Employees Union (HEU); Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA); international solidarity work; credit unions; municipal politics; Blue Cross; Burnaby City Council; Canadian Labour Congress (CLC); South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU); boycotts