UPDATE: At noon March 17, RankandFile.ca learned from multiple sources that ATU Local 113 President Bob Kinnear resigned. Kinnear was first elected Local 113 president in 2003. Kinnear has also withdrawn his letter to the CLC invoking article the justification process to disaffiliate from the ATU under CLC’s article 4.9. This article was originally published at 4am on March 17.
By Gerard Di Trolio and David Bush
On March 19, ATU Local 113 will hold its monthly general meeting. It will be the first such membership meeting to truly deal with the fallout of President Bob Kinnear’s attempt to take Local 113 out of the Amalgamated Transit Union.
RankandFile.ca has learned of a letter signed by numerous unions sent on March 3 to the CLC protesting its acceptance of Kinnear’s request to invoke section 4.9 of the CLC Constitution. Section 4.9 initiates a process in which members of a local can begin the process to change unions. Before we get to the details of the letter, it is worth taking stock of what we know about the situation.
We know that on February 1, Kinnear sent a letter to Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff requesting that he invoke section 4.9 of the CLC Constitution.
On February 2, Yussuff passed the letter on to ATU Canada’s President Paul Thorp. Then, as reported by RankandFile.ca:
Later that day Bob Kinnear’s public relations officer, paid for by 113, received a forwarded email from union consultant Bill Reno and was told to give it to Kinnear. The email, from a lawyer at Dewart Gleason, was cc’d to Anthony Dale, Unifor staff lawyer and director of their legal department, Scott Doherty, assistant to the President of Unifor, and lawyers from two law firms. The email outlined what to do if police arrive in the event of a trusteeship, it also had a draft notice of motion, for unknown purposes attached to it. It was clearly part of an on-going discussion between Kinnear and Unifor.
The ATU’s international leadership responded by initiating a trusteeship of Local 113 on February 3, removing Kinnear from the local’s presidency and appointing Manny Sforza as trustee. Sforza is currently an ATU International Vice-President and a former 113 executive board member.
On February 3, Yussuff told Thorp that the trusteeship was a violation of article 4.9, and was in effect blocking the democratic right to determination of Local 113 members. Yussuff then suspended the anti-raiding provisions of article 4.9. Also on this day, ATU President Larry Hanley informed Local 113 members of the trusteeship with a letter. Hanley’s letter pointed out that Kinnear did not follow the ATU’s constitution to try settle any dispute, which the CLC encourages all groups of members to do in section 4.9a of its Constitution.
Within a few days, 13 of 17 members of Local 113’s executive board had be reinstated under the trusteeship.
On Tuesday February 7, Kinnear and Unifor President Jerry Dias held a press conference. Dias’ explanation for supporting Kinnear was that he was defending Canadian workers from the actions of a US-based international union. In the meantime evidence surfaced about collusion between Unifor and Kinnear before the trusteeship came into effect. On February 10 Yussuff sent a letter to Thorp saying the CLC was reinstating article 4 protections
On February 21, Kinnear won a court injunction to be reinstated as Local 113 President. Kinnear’s argument centred on the notion that the constitution of the ATU stifles free speech and that asking article 4.9 to be invoked by the CLC should not result in trusteeship. The justice said Kinnear’s claims were unproven, but granted the injunction saying that the claims of the ATU and Kinnear must be tried.
Days after the court decision Kinnear published an open letter in three major dailies from him to the membership declaring victory. It is unclear who paid for these costly ads, but RankandFile.ca did confirm days after the court ruling that Kinnear’s legal fees through all of this are being paid for by Unifor.
In early March audio surfaced on the internet – republished by RankandFile.ca – of a conversation in late January between Local 113 executive board members Tony Barbosa and John DiNino.
In the conversation, Barbosa predicts with remarkable accuracy, the pending trusteeship, Kinnear’s strategy, the joint press conference of Kinnear and Dias, as well as the suspension of article 4 by the CLC. Barbosa states that the “big white shark”, which he calls Unifor is gearing up for a raid. Unifor denies it was planning on raiding Local 113 and says it was simply standing up for Canadian workers.
Numerous unions criticize CLC’s initiation of justification process
On March 3 a letter signed by the presidents of NUPGE, CUPE, USW, IAM, UFCW, and endorsed by UNITE HERE, SEIU Local 1, and UA was sent to Yussuff.
The letter notes that a “CLC affiliate (Unifor)” appears to have interfered in the “established collective bargaining relationship of another affiliate (ATU Local 113).”
The letter goes on to say that the the justification process of article 4.9 has undermined in the Local 113 situation, as the CLC constitution states that 4.9 is to be invoked at the request of “a group of workers,” and that the CLC granting justification to a single member, who is the president of the local, such as Kinnear was a slippery slope. An elected official may be part of a group that applies for the justification process, but they can not be the only person. Allowing tiny minorities within a local to ask for article 4.9 to be invoked in disputes without trying to constitutionally settle disputes creates a bad precedent.
The conclusion of the letter requests that the CLC declare the “original justification has been determined null and void, and that any investigation that is ongoing will focus instead on the actions of another affiliate (Unifor) that are in violation of 2 key sections of Article IV.”
Membership will weigh-in
At the March 19 meeting, Local 113 members will finally have an official forum to debate and weigh in on the future of their own local. Kinnear has declared his intention to move a motion to approve a membership vote on disaffiliation from the ATU. If this proposal is approved it will open up a new round of questions and a fresh debate about the future of the local. If it is rejected Kinnear’s moves will have been roundly rejected by both the membership and the elected executive board. In this scenario his future in the local would likely be at an end. If Kinnear thinks he is likely to lose, and he would have sense from doing workplace visits, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he decided to retire.
The intrigue and infighting over the future of the ATU 113 that has taken place over the past two months raises a number of questions for members of the local. For instance, when exactly did Kinnear contact Unifor about his intention of trying to take his local out of 113? Why is Unifor paying his legal bills? Who paid for the full page colour ads by Bob Kinnear in the three Toronto dailies? How is it in January that Barborsa accurately predicts the sequence of events a week before they happen? Why did Kinnear not take this debate to the members or the executive board first? Why did Kinnear and not membership file the 4.9 justification process? Was the trusteeship justified? Why exactly does Kinnear want to leave the ATU now, at this given moment?
These are questions that members should demand answers for. All the evidence to date points to backroom wheeling and dealing that has essentially cut out membership involvement.
There are broader political and strategic questions members must debate as well. For those wanting to leave the ATU International, what are exactly are the substantive issues at play? Are they legitimate issues or misdirection? If they are legitimate can they be rectified by fighting it out inside the ATU? What happens to the rest of the sector, especially other Canadian ATU locals, if 113 becomes independent? What is the best path forward for the members of the local and all those who work in the sector?
While Local 113 members will finally have an open debate over these and many other questions, there are still a number of issues left for the broader labour movement to sort through.
There is the issue of what a CLC investigation will reveal about Unifor’s role in the ATU’s internal crisis. Unifor is paying Kinnear’s legal fees and has openly admitted to colluding with Kinnear before the trusteeship. There is also hard evidence that events unfolding in the first week of the crisis were orchestrated well-beforehand. Will these revelations cause dissension in the ranks of Unifor itself? Well members and elected officials question the priorities of their own organization in light of this affair?
There is even a question about what role some in the CLC had in all of this. The unprecedented suspension of article 4 by the CLC, its ham-fisted public statements by its staff in the days after the trusteeship, and the leaked audio which alludes to active CLC collaboration raise serious questions about the actions of some inside the CLC.
The very real fissures that exist within the CLC have been deepened by these events precisely when there are growing attacks on the labour movement on both sides of the border.
Deep divisions and pitting Canadian workers against international unions are distractions from building continental wide solidarity to resist attacks on workers, and the racism and xenophobia conjured up by the Trump administration.
It’s time that members take charge and push their unions to fight the bosses and the politicians and not amongst themselves.