Union School: Interview with Élisabeth Woods, PSAC Regional Coordinator

with Franck Binard
These days, finding 30 minutes to sit down with Elisabeth is a difficult thing. Our regional coordinator is clearly a very busy person. I met with Élisabeth, and if felt like I had stepped inside the eye of a cyclone. Elisabeth is serene, smiling even, while everything and everyone with a role to play in managing, planning, and executing the school in Montebello seems to swirl around her at 80 mph.
Question: Hi Elisabeth, it’s nice of you to find some time in your busy schedule to meet. How long have you been involved in social justice and in the labor movement?
About 10 years in union activities, 15 in social justice activities. I started through high-school politics. As a student, I volunteered a lot. I think I got involved because effecting positive changes gave me a sense of empowerment. I could no longer be a victim of events larger than me if I organized, united or advocated to produce change. High school, and later university, got me involved in politics. I did my undergrad in Quebec, where the student and the labor movements were often aligned around the same issues. Then, I did a master’s in labour relation at the University of Montreal. My topic was the renewal of unions in changing workplaces. I was interested in how unions adapt to changing environments, and to evolving work realities. I started working for PSAC when my master’s director, who’s really involved in the labour movement, told me about the opening for this job. I applied, and got the position.
Question: How long have you been preparing for this event?
Well, the planning for this project began in the spring. This project was Johanne Labine’s baby first, and the planning began before I even got involved… however, this last month has been really frantic. There is a lot of behind-the-scene work that needs to be done in order to bring an event of this magnitude to fruition.
As we speak, a member of Elisabeth’s team hangs around behind her for a couple of minutes, trying to catch her attention, before finally interrupting us for some urgent question for which he needs an answer now. Elisabeth answers him, then gets back to me:
…I had already worked on the Francophonie games, and coordinated other similar events, but nothing of this magnitude.
Question: What would you say was the hardest challenge you had to overcome in regards to this event?
It’s a hard question. I don’t think there’s one particular thing I could pinpoint.
As we speak, someone else from her team interrupts us. Eisabeth answers, then asks me to remind her what the question was. This time, she finds a better answer:
You know, one of the most difficult things about this event, now that I think about it, is to ensure that our regular commitments are still met at the same time as this project is being realized. This is a special project, but the day-to-day business of the union still needs to be addressed. The other challenge is…
Elisabeth’s phone rings, she briefly glances at it, looks at her watch, then comes back to the interview.
…the other challenge is that I came late to the game, but this is more a personal challenge.
Someone else needs something from her, and this time, she has to get up, and get back to the team’s headquarters, located in one of the small rooms adjacent to the workshop rooms. She comes back with two members of the team in tow. They’re still asking questions, and as they walk, Elisabeth fires brief answers. She sits back down on the chair facing me, looks at her watch, and asks me where we were.
Question: What do you like the most about coordinating this event?
The energy from our members. My day-to-day job is often confrontational. I deal with urgencies, cases where bad things have happened to good people. Here, I constantly get thanks and testimonies from members that are grateful for the information they’ve acquired, and for the contacts they’ve made. My regular job can’t compete with this kind of positive energy flow. I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from the close contact with our membership in this setting.
Question: What do you think is the future of these kinds of events?
These kinds of event help us understand the needs of our membership, so we’re going to keep on organizing them, but I think that in the next couple of years, we’re going to focus on our stewards’ network.
Thank you, Elisabeth.