Update: On April 30 2014 the editors of RankandFile.ca learned of a letter written by Ken Georgetti dated April 25 2014 responding to Marie Clarke Walker’s open letter. It can be downloaded here.
On April 23, Marie Clarke Walker, an executive vice-president at the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) sent out an open letter to the executives of the CLC and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Over the next few days the letter was widely circulated amongst union officials and staff, even appearing in hard copy at Unifor’s Ontario Regional Council of April 25-27.
In the letter Marie Clarke Walker describes a culture of abuse at the CLC. As an officer of the CLC, her expenses, travel, and official attendance at meetings were subject to Presidential approval. She claims that CLC President Ken Georgetti used this power to isolate and diminish her role in the CLC. When RankandFile.ca contacted Ken Georgetti for comment he was unavailable. Georgetti did reply to Marie Clarke Walker’s letter on April 25. In his letter reply he said he “emphatically disagree[d]” with the allegations of which he was “deeply saddened.”
She claims her requests to attend routine labour and community events were denied, that she was isolated from the CLC staff and meetings, and that she was made to work out of the Toronto office. Speaking to RankandFile.ca, Hassan Yussuff, the current secretary-treasurer and CLC presidential candidate, said that making Walker work out of the CLC office was very unusual. He was not aware of any other instance in the history of the CLC where an executive officer was not based in Ottawa.
Walker commented to RankandFile.ca that although some of these instances may seem petty, they were part of a systematic culture of abuse and sexism. There were, “undertones and overtones of sexism and racism at the CLC.”
She claimed that quite a few women and racialized staffers had left the CLC because of the culture of abuse and mistreatment. Walker stated that the culture of abuse started as soon as she was elected 12 years ago, but escalated in recent years. According to Walker this culture of abuse was something that emanated from the very top of the CLC: the current President Ken Georgetti. She claimed other exec members and other union leaders, such as Paul Moist knew about these problem and that more could have been done to correct it.
Yussuff, who received the open letter on April 23, believes that Walker’s letter is an accurate representation of her experience and what he has witnessed at the CLC. Yussuff said it was why he is making respect for officers and staff and collaborative working relationships key ideas in his campaign.
Hassan Husseini who is also running for CLC president agreed saying, “all those challenging Georgetti want to see change at the CLC and a new era of respect for staff, officers, affiliates and social movement allies.”
Both Husseini and Yussuff stated that they fully support Walker coming forward.
In the letter she references a torrent of misinformation now being circulated against her in CUPE, her own union. She claims that some on the CUPE executive were told that she was in favour of higher levy to pay for the Fairness Works campaign – the recent CLC advertising campaign to raise awareness of workers’ rights and advocate for stronger benefits for workers. Before the Fairness Works campaign was adopted, the executive board was presented with two options: a costlier option of TV ads alongside new media and print media, and a less expensive option of only TV media.
Walker claims she was not in favour of either. Rather, she supported a less expensive variation of the first option. She believes that her position was purposefully mischaracterized. She said that “If they want to characterize that as supporting a higher levy, that is BS.”
She claims that she is not being supported by CUPE National President Paul Moist in her reelection bid because she does not support Ken Georgetti’s bid to be reelected as president of the CLC. As she stated, “the only reason I am not being supported by the CUPE President is because I’m not supporting Ken Georgetti.”
Walker did not want to write an open letter and did not want to talk to any media, but she felt compelled to speak up for two reasons. First, as she claimed in her letter, she was put in the unconscionable position of being pressured into supporting her abuser’s election bid. Second, she thinks that labour movement leaders must be held to higher standards.
“How can the labour movement point fingers at employers for things like bullying when this is going on inside the labour movement?” asked Walker.
Below is the text of the open letter, you can download a copy of it here
“April 23, 2014
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
“No Person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.” –Alice Walker
I announced on April 9th, that I was re-offering for the position of Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Since that announcement, there have been a number of things that have been posted, sent to others and
said that have not been respectful or truthful.
First of all, I believe in the labour movement. It is important for me to say that because some of the things that are being said would have people believe otherwise.
I also have great love and respect for most of the staff, officers and rank and file members of my home union the Canadian Union of Public Employees. The members of CUPE and some of the leaders have been incredibly supportive and encouraging at the risk of facing backlash internally for doing so.
I have decided an open letter is necessary, given the powerful political forces that I am currently up against. I find myself in the untenable position of not only having to defend my decision not to support Ken Georgetti, who has been
my abuser for the last 12 years at the Congress, but I am now also faced with clearing my name from the torrent of misinformation now being circulated against me within my own union.
Sisters and Brothers, during the first few years at the Congress when I was still trying to find my way for whatever reason I became the target of Ken Georgetti for differential treatment from the other two officers. I have known adversity therefore I thought I could handle this quietly and matters could be resolved. When my work environment was worsening I looked to my National Union Leadership for support and sadly it has not been there. Despite the lack of support I have continued to be supportive of the campaigns, members and leadership. In writing this I realize that I was in denial about what was happening to me and all the classic signs of abuse that I knew so well from human rights workshops, were at play and I found myself immobilized.
While this letter is difficult as I re-live some of what I have been through it is also very freeing at the same time to finally, publicly break my silence. If good people who believe in a movement that should be a voice for everyone, especially the marginalized and disadvantaged are being threatened, silenced and bullied, how can we help strengthen and build a movement? How can we successfully fight back against neo-liberal, global forces and a hostile federal
government? So how did the abuse manifest itself? I was minimized, intimidated, marginalized
and invalidated which was meant to make me invisible and ultimately destroy me.
As the CEO of the CLC, which Ken Georgetti regularly reminded me of that fact and with the approval of the CUPE National President the following is a brief snapshot of what I have endured:
-Almost immediately, everything that I did was questioned, he questioned
my ability, my knowledge, my honesty and my integrity
-Took away my files of responsibility to ensure that my profile at the Congress would be diminished and he could say I wasn’t doing my job as an officer.
– I was sent to work out of the Toronto office to exclude me from
everything that was happening at the CLC headquarters including
meetings with the other Officers and Executive Committee Meetings which
were held as “Heads of Union” meetings
– CLC Staff at Headquarters were told to not include me in much of the
work of the Officers at the Congress
-Any requests for me to speak or attend events, had to be sent to the
President and most requests were denied. My strategy to offset this was
to attend many events at my own expense and suffer any backlash for
attending events unauthorized and, in doing what work I could was how I
Sisters and brothers, I have not been the perfect Executive Vice President. I have made some mistakes along the way but none of those would I consider malicious, underhanded or not in the best interest of workers. It is almost impossible to flourish in a toxic, hostile work environment, however, for 12 years, in order to remain in a position that allowed me in some way to make lives better, I stayed quiet about the level of bullying and abuse within the CLC and
my own union CUPE.
Most recently this abuse has resulted in the bullying of another sister to not run in the upcoming CLC elections. We have both been told that if we didn’t support an individual with a history of abuse and differential treatment, and since I am a
racialized woman, I would add a history of sexism and racism, then we would not get the support of our Union. A Union that we both love and respect.
I am sure you are thinking why would I want to continue? The answer is simple, I haven’t endured this to allow another racialized person who loves and believes in the movement to be pushed out. I still believe as I did in 2002 that by working
together with community and labour we can make incredible gains and change the world for the better.
Now you tell me, based on this small sampling that I have shared, would you support the current President or want anyone like him to lead the largest labour body in this country. I can’t call myself a feminist and look at myself in the mirror
as a strong racialized feminist and allow this to continue.
In Peace & Solidarity,
Marie Clarke Walker
“It is imperative that we maintain hope even when the harshness of
reality may suggest the opposite.”- Paulo Freire”