ON THE LEVELJune 25, 1999
ON THE LEVEL is dedicated to representing Carpenters Union members views and news
and reporting on social issues of interest to working people in British Columbia.
The issue is the protection of the democratic right to vote
'Just cause' just natural justice - Embree
The BC Provincial Council of Carpenters has asked the provincial government for legislation to help protect provincial and local unions from unjust, undemocratic takeovers by absentee International parent bodies.
Council president Len Embree said "there is no legislation in British Columbia that protects the democratic rights of union members in this situation." He called on the Minister of Labour to provide "just cause" protection within current legislation.
"It would be a simple matter to amend the section of the Code that already deals with the subject of trusteeships to put the onus on the International to demonstrate that they have just cause for imposing such a drastic step on a local body," Embree said. "Just cause flows from natural justice in common law and should be a motherhood issue."
Embree suggested some simple additional wording to Section 150 of the Labour Code:
1. No provincial, national or international trade union shall assume supervision or control over a subordinate trade union or otherwise interfere with the autonomy of a subordinate trade union without just cause.
2. No provincial, national or international trade union shall suspend, remove from office, or change the duties of an elected or appointed official of a subordinate trade union without just cause.
Since 1954, the BC legislature has intentionally excluded international or national unions from the definition of trade union so that key collective bargaining issues are not determined by people located outside the province. But this is not sufficient to protect the autonomy of local trade unions and the rights of their members, Embree said.
Local union members are urged to lobby their MLA to promote this just cause issue. A phone call or fax from several hundred Carpenter Union members would go a long way to bringing this issue forward, Embree said.
Click for listings of Provincial MLAs. http://www.legis.gov.bc.ca/mla/
General President sues Locals
Carpenters Union General President Doug McCarron has launched lawsuits against three BC Local Unions, claiming they owe years of back pension contributions.
The three Locals: Port Alberni 513, Cranbrook 1719 and Duncan 1812 are among a group of 11 BC Locals that made a decision many years ago not to participate in the International officers' pension plan. Those Locals could not afford two pension plans, so opted to support only the BC Carpenters Pension.
Duncan Business agent John Starkey said his Local could not have hired a representative if they had to pay the International pension. He also said his Local couldn't possibly afford to pay the back assessments the International is asking for.
"They want 13 per cent back to 1981 and 10 per cent from 1967 until then. Our Local cannot continue to exist if we are forced to pay this exorbitant bill," said Starkey.
In its suit, the International asks for "contributions due and owing in respect of the employment by Local Unions of full-time officers and representatives from January 1, 1967 to the date of judgment." The suit also asks for interest damages from the Locals.
Starkey suggested the timing of the suit is suspicious. "The fact that the International acquiesced on the pension payments until now (during the debate on restructuring) is not a coincidence," he said.
Bay Area fights back
"Fighting to take their union back," San Francisco area carpenters shut down several major construction projects in wildcat strikes at the end of May, protesting what they term an inferior four-year contract foisted on them by their union leadership.
Angry with low wages and a lack of coffee breaks, several hundred union Carpenters picketed the $2.4 billion San Francisco International Airport as well as other sites in the Bay area, putting over 2000 tradespeople out of work. Members of more than two dozen Carpenter Locals in 44 counties calling themselves Working Carpenters for a Stronger Union downed tools to protest what they called an "illegitimate, illegal vote" that was "shoved down their throats" by Northern California Regional Council executive secretary John Casey.
"We told Casey we wouldn't strike if we got a chance to re-vote the contract, but he told us to shove off," said lather Bill Banuelos.
The carpenters claim that Casey and his appointed staff rushed approval of a four-year contract extension through an illegally constituted Special Called Meeting of the Regional Council.
Carpenters have urged the leadership to have a new vote. They argue the delegation, which voted 127 to 107 for the contract, doesn't represent the 16,000 working members.
Carpenters for a Stronger Union chair John Reiman told On the Level that his members are disgusted with the $5 increase spread over the life of the agreement. "It is less than inflation and comes at a time when construction is in its biggest boom in living memory in the Bay area," he said. "It's also the first contract in the history of our union where the rank and file didn't get to vote," he added.
Reiman said his members are dissatisfied with the "piddling wage increase," the lack of coffee breaks, the straight time Saturday makeup days for work lost to mechanical failure or weather, and the way the agreement was rammed through with no time for discussion with the membership.
"They mailed out a survey that many members never got to see" said Reiman, which just asked, "Are you in favour of extending the master agreement a further four years, with no details."
Regional Council president Gary Martin said 73 per cent of those who answered the surveys approved the contract extension. Only 10 per cent returned the surveys.
"But they only got one side of the story," Reiman said. "Most Locals had no chance to meet to discuss the deal before the survey had to be in."
According to Reiman, "Nobody on the job was in favour - 2000 walked."
"Times are booming," said carpenter Jonathan Noel, who is helping build a nine-storey parking garage at the airport. "Electricians and plumbers are making $34 an hour and carpenters are the lowest paid men on the job." The current carpentry rate is $26.50 per hour," said Reiman, "but it should be $31.40 just to keep up with inflation."
Carpenters for a Stronger Union are calling for a further day of protest and walkout on July 1 and many Locals across the US are indicating they may be joining their Westcoast brethren by walking out at noon on sites as far away as New York City.
Still no ballot on restructuring
GP McCarron calls impasse
The following letter was sent to the membership of British Columbia and eventually found its way into the hands of On the Level courtesy of some of those same members. The accompanying articles on this and other pages were prompted by the receipt of this letter. Despite the tone of the letter, in no place does the General President concede the right to vote on any issue to the membership. Nor does he explain just what he means by consultation and input, meaningful or otherwise. There can be an argument over the number of Locals proposed by each side as the Provincial Council maintains it may be necessary to cut the number to eleven plus the School Boards, but the main issue of following a democratic procedure to arrive at mergers and elect Pension and Benefit Plan administrators and Business Representatives is completely missed in all proposals put forward from the International office. See below for more comments on this issue.
UNITED BROTHERHOOD OF CARPENTERS AND JOINERS OF AMERICA
Douglas J. McCarron
June 1, 1999
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
By now you know that the facilitation process between the Brotherhood and the Provincial Council appears to have ceased. Despite the best efforts of representatives from both sides an impasse was reached. However, both sides did agree on the need for dramatic structural change in British Columbia. For example, the Provincial Council proposal calls for a reduction from 17 carpenter locals and 2 industrial locals to a total of 7 locals. Our proposal anticipates a reduction to approximately 12 locals. The moral of the story is that there has to be change.
You have also received a special edition of On the Level which "attempts to inform" the membership about restructuring. Sadly, it is difficult to detect the few facts scattered amidst the fear-mongering and rhetoric. Let me assure you that there will be no changes in British Columbia without direct consultation with, and input from, the membership!
Let me also take this opportunity to set the record straight on a number of issues that are very important to our membership:
1. The pension fund will remain in British Columbia under the control of the membership in British Columbia. The same is true for the Health & Welfare Plan.
2. The membership will continue to conduct ratification votes on collective agreements. Province-wide bargaining under Bill 26 will continue.
3. As I have stated since the beginning of the dialogue on restructuring, all proposed changes will be a product of consultation and will conform with the laws of British Columbia.
4. Local hire and mobility provisions will be subject to the collective agreement.
5. The tentative agreement reached with the Pile Drivers, Millwrights, Shipbuilders, Floorlayers, and School Boards regarding their distinctiveness within the provincial structure remains in place.
We have every intention of restructuring the Brotherhood in British Columbia in a manner that makes sense for British Columbia. Our market share has fallen to a disastrous low of about 12% leaving us little leverage in collective bargaining. Organizing successes are few and far between. We need to become more efficient and more focused on our clear objectives - organizing and increasing our market share.
If carpenters - union and non-union alike - are working non-union, its going to be non-union wages that set industry standards, not ours. In British Columbia the Provincial Council has informed me that of our 7,000 carpenters in the province, only 3,000 worked under the collective agreement last year for a total of 3 million hours. Approximately 2,000 of those carpenters averaged only 500 hours under the collective agreement. We have an enormous challenge ahead of us to reverse this. I look forward to your assistance as we take on this challenge.
You will be receiving further notices to keep you informed on the restructuring process. I have requested that this letter be published in the next issue of On the Level. I have also requested each local to read the letter to the membership at the next meeting.
I hope that as active members of the Union you will take advantage of every opportunity to assist us in restructuring the Brotherhood in British Columbia so that we can turn the tables on the non-unions and the rat unions alike.
(signature) Douglas J. McCarron
101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001 Phone: (202) 546-6206 Fax: (202) 543-5724
IN MY OPINION The view of a former president of the BC Provincial and Canada Councils of Carpenters
Union rightfully belongs to the membership
The restructuring of our union as dictated by the International, in my opinion, has nothing to do with organizing or making the union more open to change, organizing or otherwise.
The development of our union - and I say our union because it rightfully belongs to the Canadian membership who built it, organized it, and nurtured it over the years - has gone through continual change.
Over 50 years ago, a few Local Unions wisely decided that they needed a Provincial Council to become the centre and provide the leadership for the carpenters in this province. Our structure from that time has gone through many changes initiated through local union resolutions to convention and ratified by membership referendum ballots.
Our union has a proud record
We can be proud of what has been accomplished but, as nothing is perfect, changes continue to be needed to suit the times. And we will make those changes - without interference from the International.
There is not a state, provincial, or other council, including the International office in Washington, DC, that knits together a union under one roof, as we do in this province, with responsibility for everything from province-wide bargaining, financial administration, health and welfare, pension, apprenticeship, education, litigation, arbitration, and this publication to name only a few. We have achieved this through our Provincial Council Constitution, approved by the membership over the years.
General President Douglas McCarron, in his arrogance, shows only contempt for the Canadian membership in his mandated bylaws or so-called restructuring; as if the only way is his made-in-USA way.
Well, let's take a look at the figures we have on McCarron. When he took office as president of the Southern California District Council in 1987, we understand there were 45,000 members. Today we are told there are approximately 11,000 members. His arrogance is certainly not based on performance. Especially when he tries to imply he has the book on organizing. It is also our understanding that there are membership losses in many, if not all, of the areas where restructuring has taken place.
If the International had approached us saying they had some good ideas for us to consider, we could have discussed them as equals, decided on changes, programs or initiatives, taken them up with the membership, discussed them at convention, voted on them, made the necessary constitutional amendments, and moved on. This would have been our normal process - involved, informed and democratic.
But what has taken place? The International, under the leadership of General President McCarron, has come in with new mandatory bylaws that basically turn our union upside down. They would take away most of the democratic rights we have enjoyed over the years, change our structure and, I suggest, create chaos, disunity and apathy. McCarron's arrogant, dictatorial program has nothing to do with trade unionism but a lot to do with the high-handed tactics of an International leadership that wants to negate the long-established and proven role of the Provincial Council, the District Councils, The Local Unions, and their relationships with each other, the trade union movement, and government bodies such as the Labour Relations Board.
A money grab
The International has never yet been able to dictate to our union in BC. Over the years, we have put forward the just issue of Canadian autonomy, or being masters in our own house. To take complete control of the union in BC (as well as elsewhere, since there are court fights going on in Ontario and parts of the US over the same issues) they want to emasculate the Provincial Council by setting up three regional councils in our province. This will divide us, create disunity and labour relations problems, and allow McCarron to move in and appoint agents to control our pension plan and other funds as he has done in New York and other areas.
It is a case of divide and conquer. It is about undemocratic control from across the border and, more than anything, I believe it is about control of our assets, like the pension plan (worth over $200 million), our strike fund of over $6 million, and real estate such as union halls around the province. It is just a money grab. A grab for money that belongs to us, money that has been taken out of our paycheques and is not the property of Cash McCarron, as he is referred to across the border.
Yes, brothers and sisters, we get all this heavy handed, undemocratic interference from people who do not know or want to know who or what we are and our relationship as Canadians in the Canadian community.
We are being asked to surrender to a lot of undemocratic, unworkable and unacceptable propositions and for this we pay about $1 million dollars a year in per capita taxes. Enough is enough!
If McCarron gets his way, I predict there will be no union to speak of in a very few years. Who would want to be a member disenfranchised from the process - taxed without elected representation? In most cases even the so-called "rat" unions get to vote on contracts and elect their leaderships.
Finally, I would hope that General President McCarron will rethink this ill-advised, undemocratic, and unacceptable edict. I for one, and I know there are many more who have paid their dues over the years and worked hard for the union, will not stand by and see the democratic control and rights of the membership destroyed.
Bill Zander, Local Union 1995
Level Letters Contents
Carpenters walked off the job on strike against their own union
Talks at an impasse from the start
Brothers and Sisters,
On Friday, June 11, I received a letter from our General President that says he wants to set the record straight on restructuring issues. Things must be getting serious if the venerable Brother finally deems it fit to send me the first piece of communications I have ever received from him and his group on how my democratically elected representatives in the Provincial Council are dealing with the 33 amendments that delineate the Washington office definition of restructuring.
The first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the letter when it states, "Despite the best efforts of representatives on both sides an impasse was reached." Funny how our Council's BEST EFFORTS to present restructuring proposals that were to be decided and voted upon by all our Council members contrast with the BEST EFFORT position of McCarron's representative Jim Smith, which was, in effect, THE INTERNATIONAL WAY OR NO WAY. It was an impasse before negotiations even started.
The letter goes on to tell me in a nice way that the information contained in the last special issue of On the Level is untrue "fear mongering and rhetoric" and then assures me that my concerns for my pension and Health and Welfare, my democratic representation, and my vote on any collective agreement, will all be looked after under the umbrella statement of, "no changes in British Columbia without direct consultation with, and input from the membership!" These guys have already dispensed with my "direct consultation" and my vote by totally disregarding the proposals and negotiating position of my Council representatives and stating, "We have every intention of restructuring the Brotherhood in British Columbia" (my emphasis).
One has merely to look at results of McCarron's US and Canada reorganization efforts to see where the credibility of this letter rests.
Union reorganization of agreements in San Francisco, that members have no say in, is so bad that carpenters have walked off the job on strike against their own union.
McCarron has appointed himself and his cronies as trustees and thus taken over pension plans in districts the International reorganized.
These trustees have moved $1.7 billion of New York pension funds from a successful local administrator to privately run Zenith Corp. in Chicago. McCarron just happens to sit on the board of Zenith's parent company.
Retired members' benefits in New York are now smaller as their medical insurance is no longer paid by the fund.
The Carpenters Union in the US is presently reported to be under a massive government investigation.
Given this track record, I place much more credibility in the position taken by my elected and accountable Provincial Council representatives and plan to back them to the max in this rather than "take advantage of every opportunity to assist" McCarron and his minions to take over my union district and rob me blind of both my democratic rights and pension benefits.
John Middleton Local 1812
PS anyone with web cruise capabilities should check out UBCMEMBERS@onelist.com
McCarron guilty of fear mongering
GP in conflict of interest
Mr. McCarron's letter to the membership demands a response. Fear mongering and rhetoric are his tools alone.
McCarron's strategy for dropping wages and doing the contractor's bidding fits his corporate strategy well. His position on the Board of Directors of a large heavy industry contractor in the US is not inconsistent with his view of a corporate union structure - certainly not a democratic one for and by the members. It is a conflict of interest to sit on the Board of Directors of a construction company and be the President of the Carpenters Union.
McCarron suggests that the pension will remain in BC under control of the membership, yet in the US he has appointed his own administrators wherever he can (We note with horror the current record of pension plans in the USA being investigated by the government). We presently have elected union members running the pension plan and we want to keep it that way.
Is McCarron offering the vote? I think not. He offers "direct consultation" not votes. McCarron sent some hand picked BC International supporters to a course in Las Vegas without the consent or knowledge of their local (Local 1995). This is an example of McCarron's "direct consultation".
Local hire and mobility will be subject to the collective agreement, according to McCarron's letter. Those same agreements will be negotiated by McCarron's appointees because there are no elections under his structure. San Francisco members' wildcat to protest an inferior agreement shows McCarron's strategy; negotiate rat union agreements without membership approval.
McCarron's "tentative agreement" with the Pile Drivers, Millwrights, Shipbuilders, Floorlayers, and School Boards sounds similar to his actions in Northern California. Make promises, then, after the carpenters are "restructured", sweep them into his appointed Regional Council.
Can McCarron count? The Provincial Council proposal suggests there be 11 Locals in BC plus the four School Boards, not seven total as he claims. But the biggest difference is the Council proposal says no mergers should be forced, "Everyone must have the right to vote on the future course of their union."
McCarron has nothing to complain to us about "fear mongering." He takes away democratic rights like voting, contracts out the administration of pension plans and uses threatening tactics on people who oppose him - entering union offices after hours to take control. Not very honorable, Mr. McCarron!
We in British Columbia will follow the Provincial Council restructuring plan but certainly not your International Corporate Restructuring program.
Recording Secretary Local 1995
Rogers says member consultation key
Northeast merger talks demonstrate democracy
The president of Local 1237 Dawson Creek has directed me to provide a response to Brother McCorquodale's article in the May special edition of On The Level to hopefully offer some insight regarding the Central BC District Council.
At the 1997 provincial convention, it was obvious that the province was at a crossroads and that growth and reorganization were the paramount requirements for the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters.
That year, Local 1237 made the decision to invest a large part of its reserves into organizing and hired a full time organizer to work with the business agent in the residential market but found they could not win the hearts and minds of the residential workforce.
In 1997, Prince George Local 1998 business agent Bert Kerkhof chaired a provincial committee that tried unsuccessfully to put a recommendation together on restructuring. Bert communicated to Local 1237 throughout this process. By November of that year, sparked by speculation at the District Council level, merger discussions began in the Local and a "14 Points to Consider" proposal was sent to Local 1998. Amalgamation became a topic of discussion at most membership meetings over the next two years.
A Special Called Meeting of Local 1237 in February 1998 adopted a draft merger document and a motion was passed favoring merger with Prince George.
The Stan Lanyon interim report on restructuring stalled any further merger discussions as did elections in both Locals. By the Fall of 1998, merger discussions began again between the executives of both Locals and the Provincial Council was asked to assist with proofreading the proposed merger agreement language.
Wording of the merger document was finalized in a joint meeting of the executives held in Mackenzie in February, 1999. In March, a Special Called Meeting in Prince George unanimously endorsed the merger and on April 11, 1999, Local 1237, in a Special Called Meeting, endorsed the merger by a 77 per cent majority. Representatives of both Locals attended each other's meetings as observers.
The merger document was then signed by executive members of both Locals and forwarded to the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters with a covering letter.
This is the way I believe the Carpenters Union members of British Columbia would like to have issues such as mergers collectively decided - with the membership involved. These are important and sometimes emotional decisions and the Local's elected executives and rank and file membership have to be involved to have a real conclusion. Yes, it does take time, energy and dialogue. But nothing worth having comes easily.
The May special edition of On The Level does not offer answers to the restructuring issue - it just tells both sides of the equation. I suspect that this is because of the legal issues pertaining to the Brotherhood constitution. I would like to say, however, that I will support the duly elected officers to the Provincial Council as I understand that respecting the will of the majority is paramount in a free democracy. Furthermore, having children who may become carpenters, I am not one to accept the McCarron vision of totalitarian dictatorship lightly.
Business Representative Local 1237
Projectionists win back their local
The 60 BC union projectionists have scored a victory in their latest round with their International. In an oral hearing handed down June 16, at the Labour Relations Board, the trusteeship and state of emergency of Local 348 IATSE (BC projectionists) was declared null and void.
LRB vice-chair Bob Peckles told the International to restore the Local's offices and bank accounts "to their former condition."
Local president Damon Faulkner said he demanded, "Gimme the keys" just after the ruling was made, "and they did."
In a brazen attempt to take over negotiations, the International marched in last month and declared an emergency, putting the Local into trusteeship, seizing the Local's bank accounts and taking over the office. It is reported that they had also approached the employers to reopen talks prior to making their move on the Local.
Faulkner said "The International thought we would just roll over and die, and realistically, we should have. But we had natural justice on our side and a very committed membership."
The LRB ruling was based on a narrow natural justice argument as the International had denied the Local legal representation during the takeover hearings. "We had a host of the other arguments but the Board decided to just deal with one issue (of natural justice)," said Faulkner.
"It was the worst of all possible times (to take over) in the middle of a labour dispute," Faulkner explained. "We want to get back into the fight (with the employer) as quickly as possible."
The projectionists, in the seventh month of a province-wide lockout declared by Famous Players and Cineplex Odeon, have held out against 60 per cent wage cuts accepted two years ago by other Canadian Locals at the urging of their International body.
The projectionists prompt moviegoers to "Join the Rebellion" and rally against high prices and poor presentations in theatres. Starwars creator George Lucas has promised to pull his film from any venue that has more than fifteen people complaining about presentation in a single night. Anyone having difficulty seeing or hearing the film just has to call 1-800-PHONE-THX or visit http://www.thx.com to register a complaint. Also, Faulkner advises, to combat rising movie food prices, "People should just start taking their own snacks."
Faulkner is asking the BC Labour movement for support as he can see little aid coming from his own International organization. "Our members are strong," he said."We had over 80 per cent of our members sign affidavits of support for the Local during the first two days (of the takeover)."
Faulkner attributes the Local's website at http://www.bcprojectionists.com as key to winning the dispute. "It's an incredible tool," he said. "It informs other unions and our own members." The projectionists entire argument at the LRB and the Supreme Court is available on their website for download by interested surfers.
Council Comment by Dave Flynn
Arrogance will undo most dictators
It's time to stand and demand respect
The IATSE Projectionists are the latest BC Local of an International Union to fall victim to dictatorial leadership from south of the border. After months on the picket lines resisting employer demands for 60 per cent wage cuts, most trade unionists would expect the parent organization to come to the support of their locked out members. Instead, the Local officers show up one morning and find the locks changed, bank accounts frozen, strike pay and benefit cheques bounding, and the Local under trusteeship. And as we have come to expect from International Head Offices, their solution to the lockout is to agree to the employers demands, completely disregarding the overwhelming support of the members to continue the fight. (editors noteafter this was written, the projectionists won their challenge at the Labour Board and the International was forced to retreat, returning control of the Local to the membership. See Projectionists Page 1).
Not dissimilar was the recent wildcat walkout at the huge San Francisco Airport project, when members of the Carpenters Union downed tools to protest the project agreement negotiated by their Regional Council and then ratified by a select group of delegates to the Regional Council. Again, the wishes of the membership were disregarded. Once again, arrogant leaders are telling the membership to do as theyre told as, We know whats good for you.
These two recent incidents clearly demonstrate why the Carpenters Union in BC is so concerned about General President Doug McCarrons proposed Regional Council structure. In other areas where McCarrons structure has been imposed, the top officer is initially appointedIm guessing only after swearing fealty to McCarron and his regime. The executive is also appointed, again with McCarron loyalists. This group then hires all full-time representatives and organizers. The structure provides for no accountability of the leaders or representatives to the membership. All accountability is to the General President and the General Executive Board membersdo as youre told or you are out of a job. Under McCarrons structure the members have little recourse if the union enters into agreements against their wishes. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows someone to arbitrarily make a decision in Toronto or Washington and impose it upon members in BC.
During our recent restructuring negotiations with the International General Executive Board member, Jim Smith was asked, How long would it be after the officers are appointed before elections would be held? His response was a vague, As long as it takes. As long as it takes for what? A look around North America where Regional Councils have already been imposed would suggest as long as it takes to crush any opposition and ensure the McCarron appointees election.
For decades, the Carpenters Union in BC has struggled for an autonomous Canadian Union. Some progress has been made. The CLC established minimum standards for Canadian sections of International unions that assures Canadian members a level of self-determination. The Canada Council of Carpenters was chartered in 1995. During the Lucassen administration there appeared to be more recognition of Canadian issues. Now the McCarron regime is attempting to undo all that by moving absolute control of the union to Washington. And make no mistake about it, the real objective in the Internationals restructuring initiative is consolidating power and control. Membership concerns in BC have been brushed off with what can only be described as contempt.
Arrogance is the undoing of most dictators, and if nothing changes, this appears to be the road that McCarron and his cohorts are headed down. Working men and women are entitled to some respect. If they arent given the respect they deserve, they will eventually stand up and demand it. The events in San Francisco indicate that the time has come to stand up and demand some respect. The membership there will not allow themselves to be treated with contempt. The message to McCarron is clear, change your dictatorial ways or well vote with our feet.
Presidents corner by Len Embree
Paper builds case for Canadian autonomy
Research supports membership democracy
One of the positive things about visiting libraries is that you inevitably find something useful to read and enjoy. At times, you may even find something that provides you with some particular knowledge on important issues of the day. Such was the case when I came across a thesis out of the Industrial Relations Centre of Queens University at Kingston. Titled The Relative Decline of International Unionism in Canada since 1970, the paper was part of a Masters thesis written by an industrial relations graduate, Colin Jonathan Dawes. Considering the current state of affairs in our union, it probably should be required reading for all concerned.
Mr. Dawes paper provides reliable statistics to support his thesis on the relative decline of international unions in Canada. Of particular interest to our union in B.C. are his conclusions on the causes of the decline. In an attempt to keep his opinions in context, we are taking the liberty of quoting his conclusions in total, as follows.
The relative decline of international unionism in Canada from1970 to the present day has resulted from both economic and non-economic factors. Non-economic factors that have been particularly significant in the decline of international unionism include the growth of public sector unions, the failure of international unions in Canada to organize the unorganized in the 1960s and 1970s, and the disaffiliations of Canadian sections of international unions over such issues as autonomy, concession bargaining, political philosophy, and international union support of the interests of American members over those of Canadian members.
The future of international unionism in Canada will depend upon several factors. Considering economic factors, membership in international unions is likely to continue to grow at a slower pace than the national component of the Canadian movement for as long as they continue to be concentrated in the manufacturing sector. International unions moving into the service sector will face many obstacles, such as the already established public sector unions, in their organizing efforts. Freer trade with the United States would affect some international unions negatively and some positively. National unions will be affected in a similar way. Until the exact contents of any free trade deal are known, it is difficult to predict what the overall effect of freer trade will be on Canadian trade unions.
Canadian dissatisfaction with international unions is likely to continue to exist and result in disaffiliations for as long as international unions insist on aggravating the leadership and membership of their Canadian sections over the various issues discussed in this paper. Even were international unions to make a concerted effort to appease their Canadian members, the future of international unions would still be in doubt. The argument can be made that international unions that grant a large measure of autonomy to their Canadian sections are no longer truly international insofar as that designation pertains to substantive issues such as autonomy or collective bargaining practices.
Nationalist elements exist in the movement which remain staunchly opposed to the very existence of international unions in Canada. Proponents of this view will continue to work actively against international unions, claiming that the only solution to the international union issue is that there be no international unions in Canada.
It is somewhat refreshing to remember that the issues that we are trying to resolve have a definite historical perspective. It is also refreshing to realize that historically whenever the International has tried to browbeat or intimidate their Canadian membership, it very seldom has worked; in fact, over time it never works.
A quick review of events in British Columbia history leaves no doubt as to the results of trying to bully Canadian workers: IWA, PPWC, CEP, CAW, CASAW, CAIMAW, etc. all were originally subjects of American International unions but now enjoy full Canadian autonomy and independence.
Our position has remained consistent on the issue of the membership having their right to ratify any changes affecting their participation in our union. Pretty basic stuff membership democracy and participationin our opinion, the glue that has held our union together over the years.
Bursaries set at $450 this year
12 BC Union bursaries offered
The BC Provincial Council Education Committee is pleased to continue offering some small financial assistance to members, or their immediate family, who are taking post secondary education or training. The provincial bursary program, established in 1992, will make available two $450 bursaries for each District Council area this year.
Any member, or the immediate family of a member, of any Local of the BC Carpenters Union is eligible to apply for a bursary. This includes spouses, children and grandchildren of members. Bursaries are not limited to academic institutions, but are also available for commercial, technical, vocational or art school programs. Each District Council area will receive a maximum of two awards this year.
A selection committee of impartial community leaders decides the winners based on a 500 to 1000 word essay on some aspect of trade unionism in history, politics, economics or social reform. Academic student essays will be judged on proper essay style so should include references and bibliographies. These will not be calculated in the final word count. Non-academic essays can be more personal and anecdotal but should also have some attribution or reference if articles or books are quoted or ideas or facts are borrowed from someone else.
The deadline for applications is September 2, 1999 and all applications must be forwarded to the Provincial Council Education Committee by that date.
Health & Safety corner by Steve Watters
Convention considers advocacy and safety resolutions
Several important health & safety and advocacy resolutions were considered at this years Provincial Council convention in April.
The one resolution which passed unequivocally was a change to the Workers Compensation Advocates Advisory Program (lets just call it the Program). The Program is available to business agents handling particularly difficult WCB appeals and lets them access the services of a lawyer. This little-known program is administered by the Benefit Plan and, in my opinion, has been underutilized (22 cases provincially in the past five years). Curiously, coverage was only extended to those who had injured themselves while in the employ of union contractorsa seemingly arbitrary and restrictive condition. This has now been rectified and coverage is expanded to allow all members of the Carpenters Union in BC to be eligible for the program, regardless of where they were working when they were injured. Business agents should be aware of this change and, of course, the Local still picks up 10 per cent of the legal costs.
Resolutions from the Vancouver and Duncan Locals to look into the cost and feasibility of providing long-term disability benefits (LTD) as part of our Health & Welfare benefit package have been referred back to the Plan trustees to report back to the next convention. As we currently have no LTD benefit in place, this would be a big step for us with many implications, pro and con. Those with strong feelings about this issue should contact their trustee and let their views be known.
Two safety resolutions submitted by Okanagan District Council were passed unanimously. One involved the size of hooks on safety lanyards for scaffolding, resolving that large size hooks able to accommodate two-inch diameter components be mandatory on all scaffolding operations and that the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters advance the use of these large-size hooks.
The other involved identification on fall arrest equipment, specifically; that it be mandatory that all pieces of fall arrest equipment be clearly tagged for identification and capacity rating, which would assist during safety inspections; and that negotiations include that a system be developed to confirm adequate inspections have taken place prior to transport to the next job site.
These or similar resolutions have been advanced tirelessly by members involved in this work over the past several years. They should be applauded for their efforts. One life saved as a result of these changes would more than make up for the previous disappointments.
Two resolutions near and dear to my heart did not pass at convention. One, regarding the union paying for medical-legal opinion (MLO) in WCB appeals has been referred to the Plan Trustees for reconsideration. MLOs are often the deciding factor in winning a WCB appeal. They can be costly to workers at a time when they can least afford them. If the appeal is won, the cost is reimbursed by WCB (I have recouped the cost of every MLO so far), but this may take a year. I dont think this would be a very expensive program and we are perhaps one of the few unions who do not pay for this on behalf of their members.
The last resolution promoted the hiring of a provincial advocate for WCB, CPP and EI to assist, advise, educate and represent members with regard to all aspects of problems in these areas. The advocate would also keep statistics (of which we presently have none) and report each year to convention. I believe a provincially co-ordinated program would make great strides in health & safety in this industry. This matter has also been referred to the Plan Trustees and the Provincial Council Executive for reconsideration.
What do you think? Let me know by phone (604) 437-0491 or fax 437-9798 or mail C/O On the Level 304 - 2806 Kingsway, Vancouver, V5R 5T5
Spotlight on Organizing by Josh Coles
CLAC: The Sequel
The Internationals proposed changes would make our union look more like CLAC than like a union worth joining.
Having a meaningful reason to join is crucial to the success of any unions organizing program. But the Internationals vision has it that the only reason a worker would join the Carpenters Union is the very same reason why workers join CLAC to get a job.
Workers looking to fight off an unfair employer, or to participate in democracy would not join an International-led Carpenters Union any more than look for this in CLAC.
CLACs pro-employer, undemocratic structure was exposed last year by Jan Noster, an organizer with, ironically enough, the newly restructured Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters (the UBCJAs Alberta division).
When Noster, also a renegade member of CLAC, sought candidacy in CLAC elections, they expelled him from the union and refused to place his name on the elections ballot. CLAC argued that Noster violated his membership pledge of acting only in the interests of CLAC and was therefore barred from seeking elections.
Noster filed a duty of fair representation complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board and successfully won a ruling (decision No: GE-02748, available at www.gov.ab.ca/alrb) that stated CLACs arbitrary election processes were discriminatory and unfair.
The Board ruled that a new, transparent and open election be held and that Noster be entitled to candidacy.
Nosters case is a victory for Alberta workers and is one that should be replicated in BC. It is clear support for workers individual rights to participate in a unions decision making process.
What is sadly ironic about this case, however, is it shows how dangerously close the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters itself came to suspending the very principles that CLAC violated.
In July 1997, the International imposed trusteeship on the Alberta Carpenters Union. To ram through this restructuring it replaced elected officers with International appointees and refused to give members a vote or referendum.
A set of council delegates, Noster among them, was also appointed to oversee the new union along with freshly appointed Executive-Secretary Martyn Piper. This new un-elected Council made decisions concerning collective agreements, health and pension plans, dispatch procedures, membership requirements, and other matters normally reserved for elected bodies to decide.
The Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters birth and subsequent conduct was not unlike CLACs in the Noster case.
The Alberta Labour Board agreed that by not allowing Noster to seek election CLAC voided a fair and just election process. Likewise, the Internationals Council delegate appointments were also missing genuine democratic input from the membership.
The Alberta Labour Board ruled that in its effort to silence dissidents like Noster, CLAC crafted a decision-making process that was only politically expedient, and not transparent. Likewise, the International demonstrated in its formulation of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters that it imposes change by any means necessary, including discarding democracy as a mere nuisance.
For their part, the Alberta Regional Council held delegate elections eight months after being restructured. By this time, however, the tone and structure had been set and many of the appointed delegates were elected.
This is not the type of union that underrepresented workers want to join. Under the Internationals leadership the only reason workers would join the Carpenters Union is the same reason as why they join CLAC not for improving their workplace or lives, but for simply getting a job.
We will not be able to successfully organize under the International model. CLAC would simply outrun us by cutting their rate lower than ours and gaining more work. And, when times are tough, workers go where the work is.
But with the International, low-wage work is all we have to offer. We couldnt offer membership input, membership control over collective agreements, membership involvement in all the affairs of the union.
We would be nothing better than CLAC: The Sequel
Labour to remain united says Feds Sinclair
Jim Sinclair of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union CAW, was elected as the new president of the BC Federation of Labour in May. He replaces longtime president Ken Georgetti, who leaves at the end of June to take over as the new leader of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Sinclair pledged to work very hard to preserve the unity that had been built by Georgetti and others. The Federation is an extremely strong body for working people in this province and Im looking forward to continuing that traditioncontinuing a tradition where people are united in the province to defend our rights to make sure that people have the dignity on the job that they deserve, and that they have the incomes and wages and benefits that allow them to raise healthy and happy families. Thats the tradition of this labour movement and thats the tradition I hope to continue under my leadership at the Federation, he pledged.
Sinclair has a history of social activism that usually places him on the left of West Coast labour politics. He supports progressive causes in Latin America and has always taken part in left wing labour caucuses.
Sinclairs election may signal a shift back to the traditional working class militancy of BC labour, although few expect an immediate change in direction by Federation leadership as Sinclair is an avowed NDP supporter.
Georgetti, elected CLC president unanimously in May, leaves Vancouver to replace Bob White who retired after seven years in the post. Georgetti is credited with the CLCs recent push to Organize the Unorganized a major push at the CLC convention.
CLC vice-president Dick Martin also retired this term, being replaced by Hassan Yussuf, a CAW member and the first person of colour to be elected a CLC table officer.
Convention report positive
Carpentry Workers Plans again report solid footing
The Carpentry Workers Benefit Plan continues to be in a stable position and is able to deliver the promised benefits to members and their families.
This is confirmed by the audited financial statement.
The Plan structure is one of the main reasons for its success. The Plan was set up to provide security and stability for members and their families. The hour bank, which provides the basis for this Plan has the ability to react almost immediately to movement in the hours and dollars reported to the Plan on behalf of the members.
The hour bank gives the ability to provide a number of packages to the membership with subsidies or non-subsidies.
Benefit changes made during the past year included changing the Hearing Aid coverage to 80% of $800 once every 5 years.
In conclusion, the Plan is on a solid foundation and positioned to meet future challenges whatever they may be.
Pension Plan well positioned
The Pension Plan is similarly well positioned to continue to offer a secure retirement income for our members.
This year marks the 29th year of providing security to carpenters and their families. On December 31,1998, 3,647 members and beneficiaries were receiving retirement benefits totaling $1,316,802.82 per month. During the year a total of $15,336,190.64 was paid to retired members of the Plan, the majority of whom live in the province of British Columbia.
The current employer contribution rate of $2.34 per hour has been in effect since October 2, 1993. The policy adopted by Convention in 1989 pegged contributions at or near 10 per cent of the institutional wage rate of pay. Contributions are currently 9.56 per cent of the institutional wage rate. The negotiating committee was asked to increase contributions to the 10 per cent level in this round of negotiations.
The Canadian economy is showing signs of slight improvements with an estimated growth of close to 2.5 per cent for 1999. For the past number of years the federal government has been talking restraint. Today, government spending and surplus is back in fashion. The top-up of health care transfers, as well as enriched equalization payments, goes at least part way in restoring funding cuts in previous budgets and puts money back in the hands of the provinces. The British Columbia economy has been in a slowdown as a result of slowdowns in our major industries such as lumber, fishing and mining. The other area that had a big effect on our economy was what was taking place in Asia. It is anticipated that Asia is currently in a recovery mode and we should feel the effects of this in the second half of 1999. The injection of funds from the federal government into each province will have a positive effect. Provinces should have additional funds to look at some capital projects such as highway, school and hospital construction.
For the past 28 years, John Turnbull of Turnbull and Turnbull of Winnipeg has provided actuarial services to the Plan. Over this period of time, the Plan has made some big gains especially in early retirement, rule 80, and full retirement at age 60 with 10 years of service. With these changes and others, the Plan maintained its fully funded status. John Turnbull made the decision to enjoy the benefits of his own pension plan and is in the process of winding down to enjoy his retirement. We wish John the best in his new career.
The Board of Trustees decided to employ the services of Ellement & Ellement Ltd. consulting actuaries from Winnipeg. Dennis and Louis Ellement both worked for Turnbull and Turnbull and are familiar with the Carpentry Workers Pension Plan of B.C.
A number of legislative changes have been suggested that will make the legislation more effective. Part of the package that will affect multi employer plans is the introduction of legislation regarding the return to work after retirement and the focus on early retirement. The amendments will allow for the termination of pensions where a member returns to work in the jurisdiction of the union within the jurisdictional area of the pension plan. This would mean that a member who retired early prior to age 65, returning to work as a carpenter or millwright (union or non union) in the Province of BC will have their pension terminated.
Once the pension has been terminated, in order to re-qualify for pension, a member would have to make application to the Plan.
Spotlight on Schools
School Board Locals busy with negotiations
The school year is coming to a close and School Board Carpenter Local Union activity has been busy. At least four school board units have their agreements expire this year.
The Fraser Cascade School Board Unit Local 2423 has been working on their pay equity program. The Local supports the initiative but the methodology of implementation has been and continues to be controversial. The Local is formulating a proposal for the membership to reform union dues contributions. Their agreement expires at the end of the year.
Local 2545 Quesnel School Board has been preparing itself for negotiations with the assistance of Brother David Flynn. In addition, the Local is getting set for their first arbitration in living memory. The issue involves the use of a casual position to replace a regular position. Their agreement expired at the end of February.
The Local 2106 Prince George School Board agreement expired at the end of May and they are mapping out a strategy to deal with the Government wage controls of 0-0-2 per cent over three years. The Local has been involved in an on going dispute with the employer about Medcan, a private medical corporation. Medcan investigates employees on medical leave.
Dawson Creek School Board employees in Carpenters Local 1237 settled their collective agreement in February. Their agreement expires at the end of June. The Dawson Creek School Board has two other bargaining units as well as the teachers. They are BCGEU and Teamsters. At press time the BCGEU had served strike notice and was preparing to strike. At the 11th hour a conciliator/ mediator was brought in to seek a solution to the impasse.
The Local 1995 Carpenters in the Vancouver School Board are still without an agreement. Negotiations have been on going for over a year and there is still no deal in sight. The employer has had two different negotiators at the table and continues to move the goal posts.
CUPE has formulated a position to bargain province-wide with the School Boards in British Columbia. They sent a proposal to the School Board trustees organization, the British Columbia Public School Employers Association (BCPSEA) for a voluntary bargaining relationship. BCPSEA shut the CUPE proposal down. CUPE has told the Provincial Council of Carpenters that they would at some point like to meet with a representative of the Carpenter School Board Locals.
There are pending amendments to the pension plan that affects the School Board Locals. These changes include the advisory committee and the Board of Trustees. The intention is to have greater union/employee input with the plan. More details will be provided when they become available.
Fort St. John School Board Local 2397 has sent a letter to the BC Provincial Council Education Committee thanking it for providing a shop steward course this spring. Local president Agnes Aikins said 23 of her members attended and all agreed it was time well spent.
John Starkey (Local 1812) and Judith Pilkington (Local 2545) did an excellent job of facilitating and we all benefited from their experience and expertise, Aikins wrote.
She said the education program is a valuable service and she hoped to have the opportunity to participate in more courses of this caliber in the future.
The School Board view
Med Can hired to police sick leave in Prince George
by Dave Sewell
The School Board Local delegates to the provincial convention in April met prior to the main convention to discuss issues unique to their sector. Some delegates expressed concern that they would be suffering further job losses this year, some through layoffs and others through attrition.
School Boards seem to have an increasing expectation of us to do more with less. In some districts our custodial members are now expected to clean up to 17,000 square feet in one eight-hour shift.
Most School Board Locals have suffered fairly severe job losses in the past few years, resulting in more and more volunteer groups attempting to do work at the schools that would normally be performed by our members.
Many of our schools have boarded windows because it is claimed there is no money in the budget for glass. Many schools are deteriorating inside and out because of a lack of maintenance as Boards claim a lack of provincial funding.
Addressing our meeting, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians spoke of similar events taking place elsewhere, whereby the whole school system is allowed to deteriorate to the point where justification can be found to privatize.
Another alarming problem has surfaced in Prince George School District. The Board there has retained the services of a disability management company to monitor what the Board believes is an abuse of sick leave benefits. This company steps in after an absence of five days (ignoring whatever diagnosis your own doctor may have made) and attempts to have employees sign a waiver form that would basically give Med Can the right to have you see one of the doctors on their payroll for a second, third...whatever opinion of your medical condition and share this information with whomever they saw fit.
The Board seems to overlook the small fact that we and other unions have provisions in our collective agreements that lay out procedures for sick leave.
To date, the PG Teachers Association, CUPE and the Carpenters have remained united in an effort to boycott implementation of this program. The Board insists it will implement the system in September. Well be watching this one.
By the way, the PG School Board engaged the services of Med Can for a mere $500,000. Is it a coincidence that the projected budget deficit is estimated at $481,000 this year? You decide.
Dave Sewell, Industrial vice-president and Local 2106 president.
On the job 40 years serving members of Local 1598
Victoria Local celebrates Dan Millars 40 years
On June 1, 1959, 22-year-old Brother Dan Millar was hired as office secretary for Victoria Local 1598. Dan was selected for the job by a committee of Art Kilgore, Art Leam and Barney McCannit was the best decision ever made in Local 1598.
People form opinions of organizations by the service they receive and the manner they receive it. Dan Millar, who excels in both service and his delivery of service, has gained the respect, friendship and gratitude of members and their families over the years.
When members think of Local 1598, they often visualize the smiling face of Dan Millar, eager to help them and converse on a personal level or to update them on the work picture. Its truehe also did take their money!
The only thing about Dan that has changed in forty years is the shade of his hair (all of which he still has). His smile today is a great as it ever was.
In recognition of Brother Millars 40 years of service, the Local executive took Dan and Anne, his wife of 42 years, out to dinner at the Olde England Inn.
The membership of Local 1598 has been fortunate to have Brother Millar for the past 40 years and, given my personal reliance on him, I hope Dan can be counted on for at least another 10 or 15 years.
On behalf of the officers and members of Local 1598, thank you Dan.
Wayne Cox, Business Manager Local 1598
Carpenters union bc web site up and running
The Carpenters Union in British Columbia has begun to establish a presence in cyberspace. Those with internet cruising capabilities can visit our World Wide Web site to keep abreast of the debate on restructuring or look up references on Carpentry Workers Benefit and Pension Plan information as well as access the latest On the Level and other interesting stuff.
The Web site, hosted by Carpenters Local 2300 in Castlegar, and maintained and operated by Dave Livingston, can be found at http://www.carpentersunionbc.com and features links to many other interesting related sites.
Dave (Doc) Livingston urges any Local Union interested in setting up a web page to contact him with plans and ideas. He will assist you in setting up and posting to your own site and connect you to other carpenters interested in doing the same.
Email Dave at: email@example.com or phone Castlegar Local 2300 at 250 365-2813 fax 250 365-2164 for more information.
On the Level Archive, exerpts from April 99 including Projectionists 348 update
this page last updated 3/15/02 CUBC home page