Building a BIPOC Caucus

HSA member Easter Tocol is working with fellow members to create a space for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in HSA to share experiences and organize around anti-racism.

In August 2020, HSA launched the report “Confronting Racism with Solidarity: An Analysis of the 2020 Workplace Racism Survey.” The report analyzed over 200 surveys completed by HSA members identifying as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) on their experiences of racism at work. 

Respondents also provided HSA with feedback on how the union can better support BIPOC members. The report summarizes recommendations provided by members for combating racism at work and bringing transformative change to HSA. 

HSA member and social worker Easter Tocol contributed to the report, and has since worked to establish a BIPOC Caucus at HSA to provide leadership to the union on pathways forward for achieving racial justice. In the following interview, Easter reflects on HSA’s anti-racism work to date and shares insights on opportunities for action, learning, and support. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Easter, you’ve been an active leader in HSA on anti-racism. Can you tell us about your journey with this work? What has anti-racism looked like for the union since you’ve been involved?

I’m still on that journey. I’m always learning more about myself as issues come up with race – learning more of my values, attitudes and beliefs.

I’ve always been passionate about
anti-racism. I think it really impacts us in the workplace. Systemic racism is so embedded in our health care system and in our communities. I think society is recognizing the wrongs of clear hate and racism, but most of it is still so subtle. 

One couldn’t get through social work school without understanding colonialism. I’m a Filipina and I’m still learning about my own culture and all its history, and how that has impacted the values and beliefs of a lot of Filipinos. 

In 2005, I became active with other Filipino social workers who developed a Filipino social worker association in BC. We were social workers both here in Canada or previously in the Philippines. Most of us work in health, child protection, and non-profits. As a group we would talk about various issues regarding our culture, family, settling in Canada, difficulty with recognizing credentials, finding work, and how racism has impacted these things. 

Our jobs are hard and we needed each other for support, which we couldn’t always get in our workplaces. We educated and advocated for each other, we laughed at some of our craziest moments, and we also cried. This is why union work is important to me. We all need support. 

When the opportunity arose to review HSA’s “Confronting Racism with Solidarity” report, I was able to take part in the report and provide feedback. I really wanted to stay on the issue and help HSA move forward. There were a lot of good ideas in its recommendations regarding education and policies. And these educational workshops are taking place now, but I want to put some of these recommendations into action, and that’s how we started the BIPOC Caucus.

In 2020 you organized a BIPOC Meet and Greet at HSA’s virtual 2020 Convention. HSA had its first ever BIPOC Caucus meeting, which was a big milestone for the union. Why are spaces like these important when it comes to advancing racial justice work?

These spaces are really important because we want to bring together BIPOC folk, share experiences, and learn from these experiences. And the caucus is really an opportunity to get together and talk about the issues. 

It’s really important to recognize all the work that’s happened in the past. We’ve had members pioneer initiatives, and the work continues. With the Black Lives Matter movement and new news coverage on anti-Asian hate, all of a sudden, we’re dealing with racism now. But it’s always existed. 

The report was really clear that there’s a lot of bullying and harassment in HSA workplaces. And it’s very subtle. Racism is a public health issue. 

The beauty of organizing a caucus is that it gives us space to develop a collective voice, make decisions collectively, and have collective conversations. It’s been a really good experience. From there we can put motions forward.

The group is also important for providing mental and emotional support. I still struggle. I really do. I also feel isolated, and I know a lot of us in HSA do. But I’ve been meeting a lot of positive people along the way. It’s been nice to have conversations and talk about our experiences. I think that’s what we need – the space to have these conversations. Through this process, you feel empowered.

What are your hopes and aspirations for HSA when it comes to carrying out racial justice? 

I want to keep this conversation up front. And there’s so much that we can do. We’re putting a resolution forward at our 2021 HSA Convention to create a Racial Justice Committee. We really need resources to do this kind of work. But I still really want to be able to have this BIPOC Caucus space where we as members can come together and share. 

And eventually I would like to see more visibility in our union. There’s a lot to do within our organization regarding policies and initiatives.

We’re going to be entering collective bargaining soon, and I’d like to see some of our ideas put forward in the collective bargaining process. We need new ideas from people, and I know they’re there in our union. And so, I hope that people can come out and share these ideas with us so we can move forward. I think there’s so much that we can do. But it’s “we,” not “I.”  As a union, everybody needs to participate. And that’s why that caucus is really important. It’s an opportunity to hear ideas.

What should we keep in mind as a union as we move forward?

Everybody’s experience is different among BIPOC folks. There’s racism, there’s anti-Indigenous racism, and there are other intersectional experiences as well – being a woman, being transgender, or having a disability. There’s all of that that comes into play, and so it’s important to hear from those voices as well.