By Daniel Tseghay
On November 8, the Unifor National Executive Board voted to revoke the local union charters of a number of British Columbian staff representative locals.
These previously Unifor locals were made up of members who worked at other unions. This consisted of members of Unifor who work for the British Columbia Nurses’ Union, the Hospital Employees’ Union, the Health Sciences Association, BC Teachers’ Federation, and local 467, an amalgamated union consisting of staff representatives who work at the BC Government and Services’ Employees Union, the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union, the Professional Employees Association, and some Canadian Union of Public Employees Union locals.
“This is pretty unprecedented,” says Melissa Moroz, a member and vice-president of 467, who’s also on Unifor’s national health, safety and environment committee. Moroz is a staff representative with the Professional Employees Association.
Speaking on her own behalf and not that of Local 467, Moroz links getting de-chartered of Unifor with the recent collective agreement signed between Unifor 888 and the BCNU. Unifor ratified a deal that had members crossing picket lines.
The BCNU has been kicked out of the the BC Fed for raiding which RankandFile.ca has written about previously. When clerical workers who work for BCNU represented by MoveUP, went on strike in late-July, they were joined by BCNU staff representatives who are members of Unifor 888. The Unifor members, however, went back to work and a signed a contract many see as in conflict with the spirit of the labour movement.
The tentative agreement, signed while MoveUP members were still on strike, read: “As required by management, Unifor 888 members will work from home for the duration of the job action and will be provided with the necessary resources to carry out their work.”
“That agreement was ratified,” says Moroz. “So the rest of the labour movement was like: How do you sign something like this? This goes against one of our basic principles.”
Sometime after, during a BC Federation of Labour (BCFED) meeting, representatives from various unions expressed concerns about the tentative agreement. Unifor leadership then left the meeting and, consecutively, asked their BC locals to not attend the BCFED Convention, and advised the locals to de-affiliate from the BCFED. Unifor then took the unprecedented step of de-chartering the staff representative locals.
Unifor National has not been clear on why they de-chartered these locals but Moroz suspects it has to do with a clash of union cultures and Unifor’s more top-down decision making practice.
“The leadership of my local are guided by the rank and file members of the local and not the National Executive Board,” says Moroz. “This put us in conflict with a few important political decisions made by National. For example, my local supported then Unifor 467 member Aaron Ekman for secretary treasurer of the BC Fed. To put it mildly, Unifor National did not approve. My local was not in favour of strategic voting nor were we supportive of any kind of relationship with the BCNU while they were raiding.”
“The National Executive Board wanted unconditional loyalty from members. They didn’t get it from us.”
And loyalty matters when many question Unifor’s relationship with BCNU in light of its history of raiding other unions. “Unifor partnered up with the BCNU to do an ad campaign for the federal election,” says Moroz. “A significant portion of our time is warding off BCNU raids and then we see our union partnering with BCNU to do an ad campaign. So my local sent a letter to Jerry Dias saying “the nurses are raiding and this is bad. Please stop partnering with them.” Their response was they’ll do what they want.”
Fortunately these locals are still unions. Their collective agreements are still in effect and many of them are looking at addressing Unifor’s actions legally. It’s an open question, for instance, if this move is consistent with the constitution of the Canadian Labour Congress.
But, whatever happens there, this move raises concerns that Unifor can remove the charter of its locals effectively punishing disloyal locals without much deliberation and democratic discussion.
Tomorrow will be the final day of the 5-day BC Federation of Labour Convention and Unifor locals were not in attendance. Instead, Unifor placed ads in the Vancouver Sun and the Province newspapers with the stated desire of an inclusive and activist Federation.