By David Bush and Gerard Di Trolio
On March 27, CLC Investigator Barry Thorsteinson submitted an 11 page report to CLC President Hassan Yussuff on the ATU Local 113 crisis. His report notes that with the March 17 withdrawal of Bob Kinnear’s request for the CLC’s justification proceedings, the case ends with the filing of his report. No full investigation is to be conducted.
The Thorsteinson report makes a number of preliminary findings. The first is that Unifor stands in violation of the CLC Constitution for its interference in this dispute. The report notes that the CLC will determine what response if appropriate.
Thorsteinson’s report also notes that the ATU has failed to cooperate fully with the justification process by ceaseless attempts to discredit the CLC and calls for the process to terminate. To a much lesser extent, during this investigation as described earlier is two specific instances of refusals to cooperate by withholding requested information.
The report also finds that President Yussuff and the CLC were not involved in any plot to assist Kinnear, or Unifor, in the justification process.
Hassan Yussuff sent a letter along with a copy of the report to the affiliates. In that brief letter he notes the investigator cleared the CLC and that he calls for unions to strengthen the Article 4 protocol.
The problems of the CLC report
Both the report and Yussuff’s letter fall far short.
Thorsteinson’s report, while not a full investigation, is riddled with omissions and specious interpretations of events. In one notable section of the report aimed at showing disapproval of the International amongst the membership, Thorsteinson summarizes the minutes of an ATU 113 membership meeting in October where a member questioned belonging to the International “to allegedly strong applause.” How one can can gage the strength of an applause via the minutes is perplexing. This barely noteworthy instance is used by Thorsteinson later in the report to show that there was membership support for Kinnear’s actions.
Thorsteinson, through a handful of interviews and a creative reading of minutes, concludes Kinnear was acting as “a group of workers”, which is the definition required Kinnear to initiate section 4.9a. Kinnear never sought nor got approval from the membership nor the elected executive board of ATU Local 113 to initiate the justification process. But Thorsteinson, in a curious use of logic and the English language, claims because he is a president of a local Kinnear himself is by definition of “a group of workers.”
Where he finds Unifor clearly guilty of the CLC Constitution for interference in another union’s business, he fails to adequately outline what happened. He states there is no need to detail the facts of this interference because Jerry Dias told him, in a 20 minute phone call, Unifor had been in contact with Kinnear a week prior to the trusteeship. Dias admitted to this because the evidence of Unifor collusion by the time of the interview had been overwhelming and public. Kinnear’s legal fees were being paid for by Unifor. Unifor had also been caught colluding with Kinnear about the situation before the trusteeship.
What is revealing is Unifor’s misdeed are left at that. Who paid for the 3 full page ads in Toronto’s major dailies from Kinnear to his membership? When exactly was the first contact between Kinnear and Unifor about the situation at the ATU 113? How did a recorded phone call between 113 executive board members predict with startling accuracy Unifor’s involvement?
While many of these question require a full investigation, Thorsteinson seems uninterested and unwilling to address these questions. The contempt for ATU in Thorsteinson’s report oozes in every section, he talks about reprisals against members (there has been zero evidence this has occurred), the uncooperativeness during the investigation and their attacks on the CLC President.
Thorsteinson also finds the CLC and Hassan Yussuff were not involved in the ATU 113 crisis beyond the role of ensuring the integrity of the justification process. Thorsteinson calls the ATU allegations of the CLC involvement in the crisis at ATU 113 a conspiracy. He argues that Yussuff warned them not to trustee the local. Thorsteinson describes and dismisses the claims by ATU Local 987 President Travis Oberg who stated that Kinnear told him that 113 had a deal Yussuff to take the local out of the International.
On the face of it this claim does seem far fetched, but when put together with other facts it warrants at the very least a serious investigation. The Barbosa call before the trusteeship which described in detail how the CLC would strip article 4 protections for 113. This is exactly what happened after the trusteeship. For no valid reason the CLC stripped article 4 provisions. As we would later learn the affiliates were none too pleased with this action.
Yussuff in his letter about the report states, “as you can imagine, I have been extremely frustrated by the public nature in which the ATU and others have chosen to attack the CLC and my handling of this file.”
However, what this and Thorsteinson’s report fail to address is the very public manner of the CLC intervention into the crisis. It was Chris MacDonald, Yussuff’s assistant, who was talking to the media throughout the weekend when the crisis first broke. He told the Toronto Sun, “Our view is that (the takeover is) an inappropriate, retaliatory response to workers trying to exercise their democratic right to decide which union they want to belong to,” MacDonald said. “The ATU doesn’t own those members.”
What MacDonald knew, and did not disclose, was that no group of members filed the justification process, it was only Kinnear. This selective intervention in the media was one-sided and inaccurate. Thorsteinson makes no mention of this. Yussuff’s outrage about the the public nature of crisis at ATU 113 is hard to stomach. The CLC itself choose to publicly intervene by taking sides in public and then actually withdrawing the Article 4 protections.
As we reported earlier, 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 stating the justification process of article 4.9 has been 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.
This letter directly rejects Thorsteinson’s report about Kinnear’s acting as “a group of members,” and clearly shows that Yussuff and Thorsteinson’s report are not reflective of the opinion of the majority of the affiliates.
CLC affiliates respond
In response to the Thorsteinson report presidents of two CLC affiliate unions have expressed deep misgivings towards the report and the circumstances surrounding ATU Local 113.
UFCW Canada National President Paul Meinema wrote to Yussuff on April 7. In his letter, Meinema states that it is UFCW Canada’s position that a local union president cannot remove a local from a union on their individual initiative. Meinema was also concerned that Article 4 remained in force even after trusteeship was declared by ATU over Local 113. Meinema argues that this suggests that this means that the CLC Constitution is essentially trying to override ATU’s constitution, and that this conflict could be an issue for the Canadian labour movement moving forward.
Meinema goes on to say that the investigation was vague and shed little light on the issues stating, “the only substantial finding of the report was that an affiliate had violated the CLC constitution, via interference. This was not new information, as it was pretty clear from the very beginning.”
Meinema was concerned over the role the CLC played in the crisis and the lasting impact this will have on the labour movement in Canada:
“We have a situation where the CLC was heavily involved in advance of the Executive Committee meeting, and was not transparent about those prior actions; leaving the committee ill-informed about the matter. Then the CLC then made the decision to join the media circus that erupted, continued to justify its application of Article 4, and launched a questionable investigation that has now submitted a report understating the CLC’s direct involvement. Additionally injurious was the insult to all Canadian presidents of international unions affiliated to the CLC. Not only has the CLC’s reputation been damaged in this respect, but also trust is never regained easily once it has been broken.”
On April 3, NUGPE President Larry Brown sent a letter to the CLC stating his concerns with a number of issues pertaining the the situation.
First, Brown was concerned that all it took was a single individual, in this case Kinnear, as Local 113, in order to have the justification process invoked despite the fact that the CLC Constitution refers to a “group of workers” being needed for Article 4. What constitutes a “group of workers” remains vague.
Brown also notes that questions remain after the posting of a recording that featured two members of Local 113’s executive board successfully predicting many of the things that would happen as a result of Kinnear’s actions.
In his concluding paragraphs, Brown writes of the CLC investigation:
“It is very hard to see where either of those provisions was followed in the ATU case. Everything seems to have been aimed at proving the alleged legitimacy of the complaints, and defending Mr. Kinnear, not at assisting the members to stay with ATU.”
Unifor President Jerry Dias sent a letter on April 4 to all CLC affiliates. Dias says ATU International President Larry Hanley has slandered him and Unifor and lists Hanley’s retraction of his comments.
Dias also goes on to justify Unifor’s actions despite being found in violation Article 4 by the investigation for not notifying the CLC when they learned of Kinnear’s actions:
“The Thorsteinson report finds that Unifor was in violation of Article IV for not notifying the ATU and the CLC when approached by Bob Kinnear. As I explained to the Investigator we did not notify the International for the obvious reasons that the trusteeship demonstrated. I also acknowledged the financial support we provided Bob Kinnear to take legal actions. Without the support of Unifor, the judgement of Ontario Supreme Court Judge Penny overruling the trusteeship and reinstating Kinnear would not have been possible.”
Both Justice Penny and Dias believe the trusteeship was used to quell dissent in Local 113. Dias argues in his letter that Kinnear has the local’s support because he has been elected president several times.
However, as been highlighted by Brown and Meinema, and by the letter from 8 affiliates, Kinnear was acting alone in his attempt to get the CLC to invoke Article 4.
Though the Local 113 executive board has withdrawn from some ATU voluntary structures after frustration over events at the 2016 ATU International Convention, withdrawal from the ATU was never discussed. And after trusteeship, 13 out of 17 members of Local 113’s executive board acknowledged their loyalty to the ATU and so did 95 per cent of the 53 stewards.
The investigation itself concluded that “It is impossible to determine the will of the membership in these circumstances and with further examination having been terminated.”
Dias also claims that Kinnear resigned the presidency of Local 113 “because of intimidation and concerns for his personal safety.”
Moving forward from this crisis
Despite Kinnear’s resignation and the termination of the CLC’s investigation, many issues remain. It is only a matter a time before another disagreement over Article 4 provisions emerges from an attempted raid or dispute between a local and its union’s head office. The CLC must clarify what a “group of workers” seeking the justification process actually means.
And while the concern of the presidents of CLC affiliates over this issue is welcome, preventing further crises like this can’t be prevented or solved at a high bureaucratic level.
If the ATU crisis was not dragged out from the back rooms and into the light there was a strong possibility that this whole debacle would have been swept under the rug with little to no accountability. The very fact that some tried to use the issue of nationalism as a cover for misdeeds shows why we must insist on transparent and open debate in our movement.
Unions, whether Canadian based or international, must return to a membership driven model to improve internal democracy, be responsive to workers and prevent the kind of behind the scenes bureaucratic maneuvering that has taken place during the ATU Local 113 crisis.