Anatomy of A Raid
SEIU Canada tells its story
SEIU Canada currently represents 84,000 healthcare and service workers in a range of public and private sector workplaces across Canada. Our members, 85% of whom are women, work in residential homecare, in nursing homes, hospitals and shelters. We work as cleaning and janitorial staff, as nurse practitioners, technicians, food service workers and aides. We work directly with seniors, with women who are attempting to put their lives back together after leaving violent and abusive relationships...
Two years ago, we began a process of change. We recognised that we had internal problems. We looked at our record on servicing and identified many shortcomings. We examined our internal democratic structures and found a lot of room for improvement. We knew we needed to rebuild our union, and we accepted that the process would not be easy. As members of SEIU Canada, we understood that it would be important to commit ourselves to a process of democratic change. We developed our plan and we put it into action. We called it: "Taking Charge."
Since 1998, we have launched worker education programmes, a member-organiser program, and our Stewards in Action. We have launched successful bargaining campaigns for home care and hospital workers. We have won major breakthroughs in bargaining, in organising and in our political action campaigns...
There has been a range of conflicting reports about the current raid being conducted by the leadership of the CAW. It is important to look at the history of this raid. This is not a 'dispute.' It is a raid...
In November 1998, SEIU Canada formed a task force [that became known as the November Group]... to build a new Canadian structure, to unite all of our locals in Canada, to redefine the nature of our relationship within our International Union. Our vision was for full, democratic, Canadian autonomy. And, led by then-Canadian Vice President, Ken Brown, we put that vision to work...
The November Group began meeting in November 1998. At exactly the same time, rumours were circulating that Ken Brown was cooking a deal with the CAW leadership. Brown repeatedly denied that there was any substance to these rumours. He committed himself to the work of our Task Force. He said he remained loyal to SEIU Canada and to our members.
What we did not know at that time was that Brown was feeding our work to the CAW national office. He was from the very start planning a merger with CAW. A memo dated September 1998 from CAW lawyer Lewis Gottheil was sent to Buzz Hargrove. In that memo, Gottheil spells out exactly how the CAW could raid SEIU. We found that document in our Windsor office this past winter.
In May 1999, Buzz Hargrove met with SEIU International President Andy Stern at the CLC convention. He warned Stern that there were problems in Canada, as he put it. But he also reassured Stern that, in his words, "the CAW had no intention of raiding SEIU."
By September 1999, Brown had a deal with Hargrove to merge Local 210 in Windsor with the CAW. The next step was to entice the top leaders of the other 7 Ontario SEIU locals to join the pact. Arrangements were falling into place with the presidents of 2 of the 7 locals, and plans were underway to bring the other 5 presidents onside. This is Brown's idea of true worker democracy. Out in the open.
By January 2000, while the rest of us were looking forward to the new millennium, anxious to leave behind one of the worst centuries on record for war and human suffering, Ken Brown and Buzz Hargrove were planning another kind of war. CAW legal counsel advised Brown and the presidents of 8 SEIU Canada locals on exactly what steps they should take to activate the secret deal Brown had already committed to with Hargrove.
By February 2000, the plan was put into action. In his capacity as SEIU International Canadian Vice President, Brown told our mailing house to give him a copy of all SEIU Canada members. He gave that list to CAW. All other copies of membership lists were destroyed. All collective agreements and union information was moved out of the SEIU Canada and local offices and given over to the CAW.
Next, Brown and the 8 local presidents, acting again in their capacity as officers of SEIU Canada Locals, approved a formal but secret merger agreement with the CAW. They agreed to hand over their locals, all local funds, records everything.
Between February 13th and 15th, SEIU VP Brown joined SEIU Canada officers from across Canada to unanimously endorse the report of the November Group at our Toronto convention. SEIU Canada now had complete autonomy in all our decision-making, financial structures and priorities as an organising, activist union. The Constitution respects the democratic process of SEIU Canada locals, of our Canadian Council and of our sister locals in Quebec. Our constitution respects and celebrates the full diversity of our membership.
For example, Ken Brown himself included the Canadian dues waiver provision. Under this waiver, SEIU Canada and all Canadian locals have full autonomy in setting our dues structure, exempt from any dues increase adopted by our sister locals in the United States. This provision was also unanimously adopted at our recent International Convention. Canadian dues are set by Canadian locals. Period.
At that time, Brown joined with the rest of us in praising the new structure. He promised to work to build a stronger SEIU Canada.
A few days later, on February 20, the so-called merger between SEIU Ontario and the CAW was finalised. This transaction looked more like the hostile corporate take-overs we read about in the business press. The materials produced by the CAW said that these 8 locals would become affiliates of the CAW. The leaders, acting in their capacity as SEIU elected officials, announced that a membership vote would be held on March 2. They implied that SEIU Canada approved this so-called merger. They agreed to transfer all bargaining rights to the CAW. They even agreed that if bargaining rights could not be transferred right away, they would continue operating as SEIU locals until the transfer went through.
The day after the 8 SEIU presidents and Brown made their secret merger deal with the CAW public, on February 21, they assembled all stewards of the 8 locals to meet at a downtown Toronto hotel. There, SEIU members were treated to a barrage of CAW leaflets, T-shirts, and a video produced by the CAW Communications Department aimed at SEIU members. The deal, as far as this select group was concerned, was becoming a reality. Nothing would stop them now.
That same day, a public holiday in the US, each of the 8 local presidents sent a fax to Andrew Stern announcing that their locals were disaffiliating from the International and that they would be holding membership votes March 2. They left out the part about having already signed a merger deal with the CAW, in their capacity as SEIU officers.
Over the next several days, local bank accounts were emptied of members' funds and transferred to legal counsel acting for the CAW, or into private accounts. Employers were even contacted and informed that a merger agreement had been signed between the two unions, even before the March 2 membership vote.
When this group of elected officers convened their 'meetings' with local stewards, they acted as officials of SEIU Canada. In fact, everything they distributed to members announced the deal as if it were a legitimate merger agreement between SEIU Canada and the CAW. I don't know about you, but in my mind, SEIU Canada means all of our members, all 90,000 members in all of our locals.
When they rushed their secret raiding deal to a vote under the cynical guise of a 'merger agreement only one-third of the local members voted. In other words, less than 30% of the membership voted on a deal that has not only attempted to rip apart SEIU Canada, but that now threatens the viability of our labour movement in Canada. Since then, the CAW has tried to defend its propaganda by stating repeatedly that the March 2 vote represented a 95% disapproval rating for SEIU. That's how the CAW describes it.
The CLC Executive Council stepped in early in March to try and reach a negotiated solution, even as the CAW filed raid applications against SEIU Locals, including a Local that was not part of the original secret deal. By May, over 70 raid applications had been filed. We continue to face new raid applications every week.
The CAW has violated the CLC Constitution and is guilty of raiding SEIU. Hargrove refuses to accept the findings of the Impartial Umpire and said as much in writing. In fact, the day after the umpire, Victor Pathe, released his decision, the CAW again filed further raid applications and continued signing cards in SEIU Canada units.
I have met in several sessions with CAW representatives, in meetings convened by the CLC. The CLC and SEIU have worked consistently to reach a negotiated settlement. Even as we met, SEIU Canada, myself and members of our union have been targeted by CAW propaganda. We came very close to reaching an agreement. That is, until the CAW demanded that we rehire those who attempted to destroy our union and allow the leaders of the 8 locals to run again for elected office.
We have had to go to court to seek the return of SEIU Canada property and union funds. We sought and won a court injunction for the return of money and files, and to seek the suspension of the March 2 disaffiliation votes. The Superior Court of Ontario ordered the former SEIU Canada officials not to portray themselves as SEIU officers. The CLC has found that CAW is raiding SEIU Canada. The OLRB has ordered hearings on the legality of disaffiliation votes conducted in SEIU units across the north.
In July, the CLC had no choice but to apply full sanctions against the CAW, forcing committed and dedicated CAW trade unionists to withdraw from organised activities within the labour movement across Canada. This raid has threatened every labour council, every labour-community coalition, and every federation of labour in every province and territory.
In late August, I attended yet another mediation session in Calgary with Mr. Hargrove convened by Ken Georgetti and Bob White. Once again, we attempted to reach a reasonable resolve and our efforts were shot down.
Every union is guided by a constitution. We all collectively vote on our constitutions. If the rules of the game are not clearly spelled out, you end up with anarchy. In the absence of democracy, you have all the conditions ripe for the schoolyard bully, the 'strong man' who can impose his will through compulsion and intimidation.
Like most other unions, our constitution provides for disaffiliation procedures. These guys knew it and decided to ignore it. That is why the 8 locals were put into temporary trusteeship as soon as the so-called merger deal was made public and their intentions became clear.
The CLC also provides for a clear process of union secession, with justification and with clear timelines. Once again, these guys knew it they decided to ignore it. And now we are asked to believe that the real issue at stake is democracy. Looks more to me like changing the rules after the fact so you can't be accused of breaking them.
But there is more at stake here than agreeing to work together according to a common set of rules. We all know how important the collective bargaining process is. We also know that without unions, employers are free to impose capricious standards, to hire and fire on a whim, to harass, intimidate and exploit working women and men. And they do. We fight back through collective bargaining. But we also know that the union is each and every one of us and that we are strongest when we fight back through collective actions...
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