When Aimee Cho tries to recall the year she became a delegate to the New Westminster and District Labour Council (NWDLC), she arrives at the date by associating it with a workplace tragedy: the deaths of two lumber yard workers in New Westminster. The heartbreaking story is emblazoned in her mind forever, to be used as a reference point for events that took place in January 2016.
It’s not the only moment of this kind Cho recounts during our conversation. Each troubling incident she recalls, many involving a member of an equity-seeking group, reveals the extent to which Cho is impacted by the plight of others. Her empathy and concern for those around her are top of mind in the work she does for the Hospital Employees’ Union to improve safety in the workplace.
“People need to be able to go to work and come home in as good a shape or better,” Cho says.
A data administrator in HEU’s research department, Cho collects statistics on workplace safety related to the HEU’s 49,000 members, all working in the health care system as support employees in areas such as administration, maintenance and hospital units and in occupations that include technicians, clerks and porters. The data she gets is collected from external bodies such as WorkSafeBC, the Province of BC and regional health authorities, and is used to inform HEU decisions that help members stay safe at work.
Cho is a member of the Hospital Employees’ Staff Union (HESU) chapter, which joined the PEA in 2017. Having been an HEU member for many years and more recently one of its 150 employees, Cho is passionate about the HEU. “I care about all the things HEU cares about,” she says. The connection is reinforced because of family: her sister is an HEU member and her mother and two aunts were too.
“As a union, we have an obligation to support our members and help them,” she explains about her work with the HEU. “Without information, we don’t know who needs help; we don’t know where the issues are, or what the issues are. With good information, we can target where our resources need to go. We can follow up where our members are complaining violations are happening.”
She gives a practical example to illustrate her role. Care aides are a large component of HEU’s membership, but “they are one of the jobs that are at the highest risk for violence in the workplace and musculoskeletal injuries,” Cho says. She explains that care aides provide intimate care, including bathing, to patients, some of whom suffer from dementia and may not be cooperative. Their work is physically demanding and exposes them to violent outbursts, verbal abuse, threats and physical harm, particularly when they go into a patient’s home alone. To identify where care aides require support, Cho might examine data on WorkSafeBC claims filed by HEU care aides across the province. The data will inform what changes are needed and where.
“Everybody needs to be able to come home safely at the end of the day, mentally and physically,” she says. “The data helps target specific sites where workers are at greater risk of bullying and harassment, violence or injury, and it also helps identify sites that WorkSafeBC has never inspected.”
Essentially, Cho’s numbers help tell the story of HEU members in the workplace and their day-to-day experience. “Good information and good data analysis make unions more efficient,” she adds.
Cho came into the data administrator role in 2017. Previously, she worked with HEU as an administrative assistant, joining the team in 2010. Prior to that she was an inventory tech at Vancouver General Hospital, having shifted from a career in sales, the industry she trained for by earning a marketing management diploma from Kwantlen College in 1989.
As a new HEU member, Cho became involved in union activity, serving as a shop steward, a worker rep on the JOHS committee, a site rep and then secretary-treasurer of the UBC Hospital Local. Now a PEA member, she continues to dedicate her time to improving work life for the membership. She’s on several PEA committees, including the Equity and Diversity Committee. She has served on the executive of the small-union caucus of the NWDLC since 2016 and represents NWDLC on the BC Federation of Labour Human Rights Standing Committee.
Championing equity issues is something Cho makes more and more room for in her life. She says her interest in equity started at a young age, with “Sesame Street.” The TV show has long been a trailblazer when it comes to embracing diversity and inclusion, tackling issues like race and disability throughout its 48-year history. The show ignited in Cho, who grew up in the lower mainland, a spark to stand up for those whose voices aren’t being heard and to foster an environment where all people are welcome at the table and are part of the conversation.
That spark caught fire in adulthood, thanks in large part to her family: she and her husband, an immigrant from Hong Kong, are the proud parents of a transgender son. Her son’s decision to transition medically is what set Cho’s commitment to equity ablaze. “I realized I had a lot of attitudes and beliefs that were harmful to our relationship and that I needed to change,” she recounts. “It wasn’t good enough for me to just be accepting of trans people, I needed to be loving of trans people, not in spite of them being trans but because they are trans.”
In Cho’s work and personal life, helping others is the common thread. She doesn’t claim to be doing everything right, and she knows that no matter our good intentions, our level of education, or our exposure to equity-seeking groups, we all still have a ways to go to being accepting, supportive, understanding and loving of each other.
Lining up her actions with her heart and values was a good place to start.
Says Cho, “I really believe that we’re stronger together.”