There are many women leaders in our union. They range from the first female National President of our Component, Shimen Fayad to local Stewards and the administrative staff who support our union work. They are strong women. Active in their union and their communities, helping to support and lift up everyone, especially the other women around them. Throughout March we will be profiling some of our UHEW women leaders to celebrate International Women’s Day and to offer encouragement for everyone in our Union who is fighting every day for social justice and equality. Here are two of them.
Faye Kingyens, Regional Vice-President Manitoba
Faye was always curious about science and how things work. She went to the University of Manitoba, got her BSc and started working in the Department of Physiology as a lab technician. Her first work was examining breast cancer tumors in order to determine the best treatment options, and then later in the purification of growth hormone for the treatment of dwarfism. She came to work for the federal government in 1998 at the National Microbiology Lab and worked as part of the National Sexually Transmitted Disease lab for several years and the rest in the Media lab. Today, she is the Quality Control Specialist which means she tests the media (buffers, broths, agars) to make sure they perform as they should. This includes examining pH, sterility, biochemical reactions and bacterial growth. This requires a certain degree of technical expertise, a little bit of curiosity and lots of attention to detail to make sure it is right.
That desire to get things right and to keep them that way led directly to her involvement with the Union. She started off as a Health and Safety representative for her Local in November 2009. With more union training and experience she started to take on more responsibilities and in 2013 became Local President. In 2017 she was elected as Regional Vice-President. In that role she participates in the National Policy Health and Safety Committee for HC and PHAC and Regional Labour Management Consultation Committees as well as the Workplace Health and Safety Committee and Local LMCCs. She also sits as Treasurer for the PSAC Winnipeg Women’s Committee.
Today she works every day to help protect members and she is involved in her Union at the National, Regional and Local levels. She helps support other women in her community as the Treasurer for the PSAC Winnipeg Women’s Committee.
“Working for the members has been an eye-opening experience which has just made me want to work harder for our members rights under their collective agreements. Going to work should be a good experience – one where each person is valued, respected and safe. This is what I fight for.”
Diane Girouard, Regional Vice-President National Capital Region
Diane has been a Union activist and leader in her Union since the early 2000s through many rounds of negotiations and picket line activities. In 2014 she took a formal leadership role as a Shop Steward, then becoming Co-Chair of the PSAC Education Committee, a member of the Health & Safety Committee and the Ottawa Regional Women’s Committee.
Being a public sector worker for many years, Diane has had her fair share of struggles as a woman. But working in technology and what was once mostly known as “a man’s world” has only made her stronger. According to Diane it taught her that no matter the gender, that women could still do the work and to be known for doing it very well. It made her more sensitive and aware of her surroundings and it gave me the ability to identify when my colleagues would encounter the same struggles.
This is a large part of why she wanted to be involved with her Union. The Union encouraged me to learn our rights, the accepted behaviours in the workplace, the insistence of fairness and equity. Today, she is a Regional Vice President for the UHEW and holds various positions for the PSAC. The one she is most proud of is being an active member of the PSAC Ottawa Regional Women’s Committee. That allows her to be involved in the continuing struggle and to find ways to assist, defend, educate and empower the women of our union.
“Being a voice for women who are too afraid to defend themselves or their rights, or to promote equality and transparency is what I do every day and I am proud of my accomplishments. My union has taught me to be strong, knowledgeable and to stand for what is right. I have learned that women CAN be leaders and to not let ourselves be told otherwise!”
Cheryl Sullivan Regional Vice-President Ontario
Cheryl Sullivan is a union and workplace trailblazer who has broken down barriers and created an opening for many women to follow. In 1985 she became one of the first women hired as a meat inspector for Agriculture Canada. In those days not only were all existing inspectors male, so too were almost all the people running the processing lines. There were a dozen women hired in this first ever cohort, but only Cheryl and two others would make it through the gruelling initiation in a chicken processing plant where they had no bathroom and no showers and dealt with a challenging environment of misogyny and piece work involving dead animals.
The women inspectors were told to wait until the men had finished cleaning up. Cheryl was having none of that and filed her first grievance to get this situation remedied. Her passion was quickly recognized by the local union rep and she was appointed immediately to the position of Chief Shop Steward. Hundreds of grievances followed and both the men and women inspectors came to her almost daily with complaints. In 1990 she moved from Agriculture into Environment in the Inland Waters Directorate and within six months she was Shop Steward of her Local.
Over the years with Environment Canada she served on every Local Executive position except Treasurer and through all those years she fought for justice and equality in the workplace and ensuring that the health and safety of employees was a priority. That meant standing up for herself and others when it was often unpopular and sometimes dangerous. She stood her ground against discrimination, harassment and misogyny with equal parts passion and determination. It was her passion for healthy workplaces free of harassment that motivated her to become an RVP in 2017. This opened doors to higher level managers and through those mechanisms of discussion was able to be very effective in cleaning up toxic workplaces. Along the way she helped build the union and strengthen the resolve of other members and union leaders to continue to fight back against repression and injustice in all its forms.
“And one day she discovered that she was fierce and strong, and full of fire, and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.” Mark Anthony
Darlene Lewis Regional Vice-President for Alberta, BC and Yukon
Darlene has been involved in the Union since 2002 and she has always enjoyed helping members to make sure their collective agreement rights are being protected, followed, and educating to stand up for what is their right. Some of her proudest moments in the Union have been plant gating, being a Picket Captain, attending rallies in support of Childcare and participating in marches and candlelight vigils in her community.
Darlene has been Chair of Edmonton Regional Women’s Committee where she learned firsthand about the barriers that women face from equal pay to childcare, human trafficking, and racism and discrimination. Although we have made some progress, she recognizes the need to do more’ particularly on ensuring that women and men are paid equally and fairly. She is also a strong advocate for universal childcare to ensure that women can take their rightful place in the economy and become leaders in business and labour.
On International Women’s Day 2021 she calls on women and men to join the fight for equality and social justice. She encourages everyone to get active and participate in rallies, campaigns, and to educating our women members how we can become stronger and help make changes happen.
“To my Sisters who are in the Trade Unions, to the women in politics, to our lab technicians and to so many more I am so proud that we too can do the jobs equally as the male gender. Make a difference, do your part to ensure that the future for women and girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.”