A Tribute to Evelyne Bemben – CUPE Local 949

President Gina McKay recently met with CUPE Local 949 following a discussion with Local 949 President, Donna Wolfram, on the passing of long time 949 member, Evelyne Bemben.

Sister Evelyne Bemben worked with the Seven Oaks School Division for 43 years, and she was the organizing lead that led to the ratification vote for Local 949, on March 2, 1965. Her efforts led to the establishment of the first clerical Union in Manitoba.

She was the first Local 949 President, and after 43 years with the School Division, retired as Executive Assistant to the Superintendent. Evelyne was a graduate of West Kildonan Collegiate.

Sister Bemben held the vote in the basement of what was the Ranch House Restaurant on Main Street, with staff voting 75% in favour.

Sister Wolfram spoke with Evelyne’s son, Richard Lewko, and learned that “she was a caring and compassionate soul. She was also motivated by the principles of equity and fairness. After three consecutive years without a salary increase (1962-1964), while teachers and members of CUPE 731 achieved increases in their compensation and benefits, over the same period, she was motivated to act.

Her efforts to organize workers faced many challenges.  For one, the length of the work day at the time differed between the schools and board office.  Many of those who opposed the union, later ran and were elected to its first executive, complicating her efforts as President to negotiate a first collective agreement.”

In honour of Sister Evelyne’s incredible efforts to organize and build her Local over her time as a CUPE member, the current Executive voted to re-name their Local Scholarship in her name. The Scholarship is offered to a graduating student at West Kildonan Collegiate.

The scholarship is now called The CUPE 949 Evelyne Bemben Memorial Scholarship.

Sister Evelyne’s son shared that “she could not have imagined that all these years later, members of that same union would be recognising her contribution in such a meaningful way by naming a scholarship in her honour.”

“My mother’s commitment to social justice continued for many years through her work in support of NDP candidates running federally and provincially in North Winnipeg. She also served as President of the Seven Oaks NDP Constituency Association for many years while Eugene Kostyra, former Regional Director for CUPE Manitoba, served as its MLA.”

Solidarity, and thank you to the Executive of Local 949 for honouring Sister Evelyne Bemben. Rest in peace and power, Sister.