A Coquitlam resident and former CUPE local president in Port Coquitlam is now in charge of the union's 633,000 members across the country.
On Wednesday, the 2,100 delegates at the CUPE national conference in Vancouver elected Mark Hancock to replace Paul Moist, whose latest two-year term was up.
Hancock said he ran for the top job against Fred Hahn, CUPE's general vice-president in Ontario, at the encouragement of the national executive and CUPE regional leaders.
Immediately after his win, congratulations streamed in via social media, including from Port Coquitlam Coun. Brad West, Raman Braich, president of CUPE Local 825 in Port Moody, and BC NDP leader John Horgan.
"This is huge. I'm humbled and I'm excited," Hancock told The Tri-City News during his victory party Wednesday. "I'm full of emotions right now. It's incredible."
Hancock acknowledged he has big shoes to fill. Under Moist's 12-year leadership, CUPE grew by 100,000 members and he was seen as a strong champion for workers.
As the sixth national president in CUPE's 52-year history, Hancock said he pledges "to spend each and every waking moment that I can fighting for the rights of our members — and god knows there are lots of fights across this country."
Hancock cited the union's recent successes, including a new 10-year deal for Air Canada flight attendants and the agreement reached between the education support workers with the Ontario government; however, there is unrest within the public sector in Quebec, he said.
Across Canada, Hancock said the union's most common threat is "the right-wing folks who are pressing for austerity and using that as an excuse to reduce public services. They're using that as a reason to attack public-sector workers. It's a tool to limit our abilities to make a fair and decent wage."
A CUPE member since 1984, Hancock was 25 years old when he was elected president of CUPE Local 498, which represents PoCo civic workers (he is technically on leave from the city and remains on the local roll).
In his 15 years as the local president, Hancock was known for taking an active position in supporting members: in 2003, he led about 170 employees off the job for two days to protest the firing of a bylaw enforcement officer and 28-year employee who was also the local's vice-president (the Labour Relations Board ordered the local back to work).
As for his CUPE BC gig, for which he was re-elected this past May, Hancock is expected to officially quit on Friday, with secretary-treasurer Paul Faoro taking the reins. An election will be held in 2017.
CUPE represents workers in many fields across Canada, from health care, emergency services and education to social services, transportation and municipalities.