A special education teacher, Sandrine Hovington realized, as soon as she started her job in a school of the Rives-du-Saguenay school service centre, the importance of taking an interest in union matters. “When I arrived, I found that it was such a big organization and that there were so many people, that we missed a lot of information. That motivated me to better know my rights and working conditions.” For example, one needs to be on the lookout for the smallest detail about annual allocations since a small mistake can have big consequences, for example if it affects seniority.
Sandrine Hovington thus went on an information hunt and quickly became a resource for her colleagues. “In the beginning, I did it for me, but I quickly realized that it could also be useful for others.” That’s what made her want to get involved as a union delegate in 2018, which was one year after her debut as a special education teacher. She occupied this role in the three schools where she’s worked since 2017.
Helping make a difference
Pushed by the will to develop her leadership, to get out of her comfort zone, but mostly to help others, Sandrine Hovington then decided to become a candidate to the interim vice-president position of the Syndicat régional des employés de soutien (SRES-CSQ) in Chicoutimi, in May 2021. In November, she was elected president by acclamation. A most appropriate choice for one who describes herself as resourceful. “The ability to change things every day brings me a lot of pride. For example, when there is a dispute with an employer, we can then make a real difference in the lives of members,” she adds.
Sandrine Hovington is also working on a plan to protect workers against violence in schools. “I know this reality well, because I’ve had my share of blows and bites. I know it’s not exaggerated when I hear testimonies of people who explain what they’re going through.” A dossier that the president is overseeing with the school service centre. “I think the fact we’re working in collaboration allows to go even further.”
Getting the youth and women interested
Sandrine Hovington is, among the CSQ union presidents, one of the youngest, if not the youngest. Which brings some challenges. Indeed, even if women made giant leaps in the last decades, she feels it’s not always easy to establish her credibility, especially at her age. “I often have the impression that I start with two strikes.”
To prove herself, the president bet on discipline and preparation. “I’ve always made sure to be well informed, which helps me a lot. When you’re well informed, you’re surer of yourself when you intervene or ask a question. You can also ask others to validate your opinion.” Being involved in different committees, for example CSQ’s women or youth committees, also allowed her to familiarize herself with the different bodies, to better understand the inner workings, to develop her network and to get her first experiences. This shows the importance of events like the Semaine de la relève syndicale, which offers new recruits the possibility to have their first foray in the union world.
Moreover, it’s the opportunity to dust off one’s vision of workers’ movements that, while they’re still as important today, take new shapes in 2022.
“People still associate unions to the big strikes of the ‘60s, with lockouts or fights with employers, Sandrine Hovington thinks. But unionism defends much more than working conditions and is involved in different causes, like women’s and LGBTQ+ rights or the environment. Matters that young people relate to.”
To build our future, Sandrine Hovington thinks we need to generate interest for the new generations. “Union matters can be complex; that’s why it would be interesting to create trainings in the regional bodies for new employees, so they understand the role of the union, their rights, when to contact us, etc.” The new president would also like to put back on track the SRES-CSQ youth committee to stay connected with their concerns and offer them a voice. “It’s important to respect their rights, to take them seriously and to put their concerns at the forefront.”
Sandrine Hovington also hopes other members will take the same path she did. “It’s important to get involved in unions in 2022, even if it’s only by getting informed.” According to her, that’s how workers “will be able to keep their hard-earned rights, but also to contribute to making working conditions evolve and adapting them to the needs of the new generation of workers,” she summarizes. Matters that will always be current.