|Carpenters resist restructure
BC Carpenters union demands democracy
A short outline of why BC Carpenters applied for justification at the Canadian Labour Congress
by Doug McCorquodale
Ever hear the one about an "International" union launching legal proceedings to require the American federal government to impose tariffs against Canada, thereby protecting American union jobs and slashing Canadian union jobs? How about the same "International" union removing the right to vote for members in its subordinate bodies and imposing Washington appointed leaders, without union membership approval, into a newly restructured administrative regime -- ever hear that story? Finally, have you heard about this same "International" having its General President, among other trustees of a union trust fund, investigated by a Grand Jury over an exclusive stock deal that enriched the participating trustees at the financial expense of the union trust fund? As bizarre and unbelievable as it may seem, these are no joking matters but the tragic reality of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
Since 1995 and the ascendancy of Douglas J. McCarron to the highest position, the General President, of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA), the union has been turned on its head. Throughout North America, McCarron, relying on a single sweeping section of the constitution that gives him unrestricted and uncontested power, removed all direct democracy in the union, replacing it with an orchestrated "representative democracy."
Locals were merged without membership approval (contrary to Canadian labour laws), bargaining right were transferred; and local funds and all bargaining authority were ceded to a single administrative structure called a regional council. This new council was subjected to mandatory bylaws issued from the McCarron leadership in Washington. There were no votes on any of these questions.
Corporate odour -- staff and delegates appointed
The hired staff to administer this new regional council is appointed. The initial delegates to the new regional council are appointed and are mostly the same people as the appointed staff. This distinctly corporate flavour is extended to the senior position in the new regional council. With a decidedly "CEO" smell to its name, the EST, or Executive Secretary Treasurer is the supreme despot in deciding all questions including the handling of the union trust and pension plans.
The new regional council structure was not included in the constitution until almost five years after it was first imposed on the UBCJA. In some jurisdictions it required bodies of armed men to take over locals and subordinate organizations. In other jurisdictions the existing leadership meekly allowed McCarron to decree the new regime.
The construction unions in North America, like the industrial and public unions in the United States, have been declining in real numbers. It is estimated that union density in the USA is a third of what it is in Canada. McCarron justifies imposing his regime as the salvation of the union. Uncorroborated claims of growth in the last American building boom is used to justify the draconian measure of vote removal. McCarron boasts it is about organizing; it is about money and power.
McCarron also boasts that he removed the old boys club! Such deceit uttered by the man who disenfranchised members in the Carpenters union is beyond contempt. In British Columbia, thwarted by the lack of support from the membership and defeated in legal proceedings, McCarron has yet been unable to inflict his regime on the BC membership.
Membership mandates autonomy
Since 1943, the BC construction carpenter locals have been affiliates of the British Columbia Provincial Council of Carpenters (BCPCC). The BCPCC is the bargaining agent for the construction locals. The BCPCC also has industrial and school board locals affiliated. The industrial and school board locals hold their own bargaining rights and obtain assistance from the BCPCC. The opposition to McCarron in British Columbia comes from the provincial Council and its constituent and affiliated locals.
Just last year, the Council received a mandate from the BC membership to press on and negotiate an autonomy settlement with the International. The results of this referendum require that any autonomy has to include the right to elect officers and ratify collective agreements, membership votes on union affairs, and the right to hold property and govern without interference from the International. In a mail-in-ballot referendum conducted by BDO Dunwoody with a return from over half the membership, 77 per cent voted yes for autonomy.
In October 2000, the Provincial Council applied to the CLC in a justification application. The justification the Provincial Council is seeking is the authority to directly affiliate with the CLC and then upon some mutually agreed upon date balloting would be conducted to determine the future of the BC Carpenters. The CLC Executive makes the determination. The decision would be binding on all the affected parties and the CLC constitution allows for penalties, including expulsion, if the decision is not respected.
International schemes to merge locals
The International certainly has not respected the wishes of the clear majority in British Columbia. Four years ago two locals decided to merge. They had discussions, settlement agreements and finally a vote in each local. McCarron sent in a representative "to investigate" and declared officially that a bargaining unit in one local was to be hived off to a third local that could be considered a proxy for the International. This was all determined without membership approval or knowledge.
Merger ruled unfair by board
The Labour Relations Board found McCarron guilty of an unfair labour practice concerning the treatment of the merging locals. The board noted that majoratorian principles apply to labour relations in BC and that locals or unions can transfer bargaining rights only with a vote of the membership.
In July of 1999, McCarron -- still determined to force his will -- concocted a scheme to impose three regional councils in BC to break up the majority of membership into factions. This would be in contrast with the one large regional council that covers many NW American states south of the border. In order to implement his new three-regional-council regime, he began a campaign to win over the Vancouver Island locals.
The first stop for the McCarron entourage was Local 513, Port Alberni. He was greeted by a suspicious crowd of local members and some members who had traveled from all over British Columbia. The President of the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters, Len Embree began the meeting by asking McCarron two questions: first, would the members get to vote on implementing a restructured union and secondly, would the members get to elect the founding officers of this new regional council. MCCarron said, "No to both (questions)." Embree informed McCarron and the meeting that he wasn't going to debate the merits of democracy as, "some things are just not debatable." Embree left the meeting. The members spontaneously followed yelling, "vote, vote," leaving McCarron and his traveling colleagues alone in the dark.
Industrial local vindicated
After the 2000 BC Provincial Council of Carpenters convention, the International, relying on its supposed constitutional authority, sought to do an audit of the Council. The BC Carpenters have been down this road before. In 1998, the New Westminster industrial Local 1928 was audited by the International which brought a trusteeship hearing, also conducted by the International. The International only agreed to a fair hearing that included legal counsel and the right to cross-exam witness after legal threats from the Provincial Council of Carpenters. The right to be represented by legal counsel and the right to know the charges and other principals of natural justice were contentious issues for the International, which had another kind of hearing in mind.
After the hearing was conducted the local was vindicated. The local would continue using their own auditor and things would stay much as they were. It was not the decision that the International wanted but it was hard to conclude otherwise -- the Local 1928 auditor is a chartered accountant while the International auditor was an unqualified student from Ontario. In addition, some false accusations from the International were flatly proven wrong.
So, the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters challenged the International's right to conduct a search and seizure for an audit when we are in a political and legal dispute about the union and its democracy. In a democracy you would not expect your legal adversary to have the ability to seize your books! Despite audited financial statements and minutes having been dutifully filed with the international every year since 1943, the International and two compliant BC members launched a court case that will be heard in October attempting to force access to the Council books and records. This lawsuit is on top of an ongoing one instituted in 1999 by McCarron against several BC Locals claiming they are at fault for not participating in the International's Union Officers' Pension Plan even though they could not afford premiums for both the BC Carpenters Pension Plan and an American officers-only plan not even registered in Canada.
UBCJA pulls out of the AFL-CIO and launches softwood action
In the meantime, McCarron took the Carpenters out of the AFL-CIO and the Building Trades Council, stating, "We will not spend our members' money to support a Washington bureaucracy." This refrain from McCarron is not lost on British Columbia carpenters who send upward of $1 million a year to support McCarron's Washington bureaucracy.
Then he signed onto a petition to the Us departments of Commerce and International trade calling for punitive tariffs against Canadian softwood lumber, plunging thousands of Canadian workers into the despair of job loss.
But the latest peccadillo involves McCarron enriching himself at the expense of Union Pension Funds.
Grand jury probes McCarron
In April 2002, both a US federal grand jury and the US Department of Labor launched separate investigations of UBCJA General President Doug McCarron and other trustees of ULLICO, a union-owned insurance company which administers trade union life and insurance funds.
The Wall Street Journal and Business Week Magazine report that the grand jury is probing whether McCarron and other US union leaders violated criminal and labour laws by using their positions on the board of governors of ULLICO Inc. for personal gain, while their unions' own investments plummeted in value.
In 1997, a year after McCarron was appointed to its board, ULLICO invested $7.6 million in a risky telecommunications company start-up called Global Crossing.
While initially incredibly profitable, last year Global Crossing became the fourth largest bankruptcy in US history.
But during the good years, according to business week, board members were allegedly given the opportunity to personally purchase ULLICO shares at bargain prices in anticipation of the big gains the fund was set to make in Global Crossing investments.
Board members, it's alleged, were then able to sell their shares back to ULLICO before their value had been reset to reflect the unavoidable reduction in price related to Global Crossing's accelerating fall during the recent industry-wide telecommunications crash.
Even though they knew ULLICO'S troubles were jeopardizing their own unions' finds, board members personal shares were protected because they voted in a procedure that fixed their personal shares final selling price.
Several anti-union corporations are primed to use the scandal in their propaganda against persistent organizing drives by their workers.
BC Provincial Council President Len Embree says McCarron should do the right thing and come clean about his personal investments. "He should resign if in fact there is any conflict or wrongdoing," Embree said.
Whirlwind tour for special-called meetings
It has been a whirlwind tour for the Provincial Council this spring, with no sign of it letting up anytime in the near future.
Immediately following our convention in April, the Council officers embarked on a tour of the province, attending special-called meetings in most areas to present the proposed construction industry settlement between the Bargaining Council of BC Building Trade Unions and the CLRA to the membership.
The ratification votes have been mailed out to all active members in the province. They will be picked up at Vancouver's main Post Office on June 13, to be tallied by the Tabulating Committee. The results of the Carpenters' ratification vote then will be reported to the Bargaining Council ratification meeting on the afternoon of June 14. In order for the industry settlement to be ratified, it requires a double majority - approval of more than 50 of the Bargaining Council affiliates (at least 8 of the 15 international unions) and approval of more than 50 per cent of the combined votes from all trades. Predictions are that the overall voting results will be very close. The Provincial Council will be notifying all our construction affiliates of the results as soon as possible after the June 14 meeting.
In addition to trying to finalize a collective agreement with the CLR, the Provincial Council also is faced with the task of negotiating collective agreements with two large general contractors, PCL and Dominion, who have decided to leave CLR and bargain as independents. The council officers have had preliminary meetings with both contractors, and the sub-contracting clause has been identified as the main issue. More sessions have been scheduled for the coming weeks. In the mean time, both contractors are choosing to pursue work as project management in order to avoid their collective agreement obligations.
The Council officers also have been spending considerable time dealing with our dispute with the International. Following our application to the Canadian Labour Congress for protection under the "justification" provision of the CLC constitution, CLC President Ken Georgetti appointed former BCGEU President John Shields as the ombudsperson. His assignment is to investigate the complaint and report back to the CLC executive. Prior to that happening, however, his role was expanded to include mediation, in an effort to find an early resolution to the problem. To date, there has been two mediation sessions, and a third one is scheduled for June 24 and 25. Should mediation break down, Shields' role will revert to that of ombudsperson and he will file his report. Numerous days have also been spent in examination for discovery, in preparation for the International's lawsuit against the council. Court dates have been set for October.
This court action by the International has proven to be very time-consuming and very expensive. In fact, the financial drain on the Provincial Council's General Fund was sufficiently severe that the Finance Committee brought forward a number of recommendations to our recent Convention. The Convention approved proposals that the Convention Fund, used to subsidize delegates travel costs to convention of the International and some other bodies, and $100,000 from the Bursary Fund be transferred into the General Fund. The overwhelming majority of delegates supported these moves in order to carry on our defense against the International. The delegates also approved an amendment to the Provincial Council Constitution that would allow for the use of Strike Fund monies to be utilized to pay the cost of defending the Provincial Council or its affiliated Local Unions and District Councils from the International.
This proposed constitutional amendment will be taken to a referendum vote of the membership this autumn. At the same time, if the proposed agreement is successfully ratified, the construction membership will have the opportunity to vote on the allocation of increases in the new agreement.
In our spare time, the Council also has been involved with the BC Federation of Labour's fightback campaign against the actions of the provincial government, by participating in the big rallies held in Victoria and Vancouver. The importance of our other struggles really pales in comparison to the fight against Campbell's attacks on the working people of the province. If you are not already involved, I would encourage you to contact your Local Union to find out what you can do. Don't let Campbell's Liberals run roughshod over the people of BC.
Province-wide tour found warm reception
The hospitality afforded the provincial Council officers by Locals was very gratifying, and included an opportunity to increase my intake of fresh fish. The genuine warmth expressed by our Local Union officers and rank-and-file members helps considerably in shortening the otherwise long days of being on the road.
I should add our apologies to those Local Unions we weren't able to get to. The timing of the final offer and the logistics of our getting around made it necessary to get the assistance of the provincial Council Vice-Presidents to help present the agreement details in some Locals. By all accounts, they did a commendable job, and they have the thanks and appreciation of the provincial Council officers.
The awareness of our members of the difficulties facing is all recalls the old adage that "the membership usually is ahead of the leadership" on issues around collective bargaining. That is not to say anyone is happy with the contract proposal, but they do recognize the benefits of getting an agreement for the construction sector signed and in place.
Heading the list will be our justification application. Considering that the mediation process remains ongoing, this issue may or may not get dealt with a convention. The softwood lumber issue and the international's support for the countervailing tariffs ranks a close second. I'm sure this issue will generate considerable discussion.
May 25 Rally
Campbell and his gang like to say that these demonstrations won't deter them from following their agenda. What an attitude! Some democracy! Thousands of citizens frequently protest in the streets, and their response is "So what?" Not very astute students of political history. Seems to me we have to up the ante.
Unfortunately, common sense is unlikely to prevail with the International gang, and I'm sure they will continue down the road of threats and intimidation. What more can we expect from an organization that hired three more International Reps - with our money, by the way - ostensively to organize in BC? Never mind that the International is not a trade union under the BC Labour Code; never mind that there was no consultation with the elected leadership in this province. They continue down that road at their peril.
Having just attended numerous membership meetings around the province, it is quite apparent that our membership remains committed, indeed is demanding, that the Provincial Council get on with establishing autonomy on their behalf.
That's the view from this corner.
Spotlight on organizing by Josh Coles, provincial organizer
The Liberals "smaller government" mantra is the justification behind the recent changes to the labour code, employment standards act, and workers compensation. Less interference in business, they say, means better business. But what's good for business does not translate into safer and fairer working conditions for workers. The government's irresponsible decision to stop protecting its citizens means that in order to survive, citizens will start taking matters in their won hands.
As more and more sectors lose faith in the government, our union has the opportunity to show leadership, to become part of the new solution. Since traditional government won't curb workplace dangers, fix health care, end poverty - then we'll have to do it ourselves and the process devise an alternative model of governance for BC.
BC is heading the way of South Africa and Argentina: our professional politicians have sold us out -- they court big business and the Olympics, yet there is no money to sustain or nurture the most basic public services. And they attack small communitites, just as the softwood dispute drops its own brutal axe.
The current crisis of faith in government is an opportunity for our union to be part of creating a new solution. We can wait for more industrial accidents, lower wages, and lack of legislative protection to divide and weaken our numbers, or we can defy the government and become stronger, more militant and actively defend our fellow citizens. We can start in our own families, our own neighborhood and within our union.
ITAC gone -- nothing in its place
"This is incorrigibly insane," says Carpentry Apprenticeship coordinator Bob Whitaker. "When they cut as deep as they have, there is no foundation left to build from."
It looks like the new plan for apprenticeship and trades training, which seems to come straight from the head of ICBA's Phil Hochstein, will be to modularized, shorten, and dumbdown training to make the trades more specialized and less mobile, according to Whitaker. "Here we are faced with a predicted shortage of tradespeople and they're axing the only program that has a chance of addressing that problem.
Whitaker says the two main issues facing apprentices are:
CAW-Starbucks dispute ongoing
According to the CAW, Starbucks is bent on busting the union this time around. "They have been dragging their feet in bargaining and continue to say a flat NO to each and every proposal we have put forward. More telling, they are proposing the virtual elimination of seniority as it affects job security and the scheduling of hours."
Effectively, Starbucks wants to create a situation where the only difference between union and non-union stores is the payment of union dues.
The "Unstrike for Justice and Dignity" is a modern version of the old "strike on the job" tactic that was successful for the local in previous campaigns at Starbucks and the Terminal City Club in Vancouver.
Starbucks sales will probably top $3 billion this year, making an astounding 31.5 per cent return on investment. They plan to add 1200 stores to its current 5000 (160 in BC).
The workers are asking anyone with a Starbucks "smart" card to deplete it at a unionized store and not use it again. These cards represent an interest-free loan to Starbucks (and if you lose it you've made a donation to the company).
CAW Starbucks Locations