Media Release November 21, 2003 (original as pdf)
BC Carpenters vote to leave International
British Columbia Carpenters Union members have voted decisively to sever ties with their International parent in Washington DC.
In a referendum, members voted overwhelmingly to cease their affiliation with the Washington dominated United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and seek an alliance with a Canadian Union.
Our members are clearly demanding freedom from American control, said BC Carpenters Union president Len Embree in a statement issued today. The ballot mailed to members asked Do you wish to transfer the affiliation of the British Columbia Provincial Council of Carpenters and its affiliated Local Unions from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America to a Canadian Union? The membership voted 83 per cent in favour.
BC Carpenters Union president Len Embree said, This is the clearest demonstration yet that the members of the BC Carpenters Union are determined to control their own destiny. They demand the right to elect their own officers and representatives and to vote on decisions that affect their livelihoods.
Reacting to numerous American takeover attempts, BC Carpenters have indicated in several referenda that they will not tolerate American interference in their elections of officers and business representatives or the merging of Local Unions or negotiating collective agreements. Embree said that those collective rights have been fought for over generations and We are not going to hand that over now, or ever.
Embree continued, Only as a free and autonomous organization will we be able to make the changes necessary to grow and properly represent Canadian workers. For further information contact: President Len Embree or Secretary-treasurer Dave Flynn 604 437-0471 fax 604 437-1110
BC Carpenters sever ties with UBCJA
In September, 1995, Douglas J. McCarron was elected as the General President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. In 1996 he introduced his plans to restructure the entire union. The restructuring included the forced mergers of Local Unions and the transfer of all assets and authority to newly established Regional Councils. It also provided that McCarron would appoint all the officers and delegates of any newly established Councils. The membership in BC solidly rejected the proposed restructuring, and instructed the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters to take any steps necessary to resist the structure being imposed in BC. Negotiations facilitated by former Labour Relations Board chair Stan Lanyon failed to find a resolution between the parties.
In July, 1999, McCarron came to a meeting in Port Alberni where the membership walked out after they were told that there would be no vote on mergers of Locals and no elections for the founding officers of any new Locals or Councils. Attempts by the International to force mergers and form a Regional Council on Vancouver Island failed when the Provincial Council successfully defended a Labour Relations Board decision that prevented any transfer of bargaining rights without a vote of the affected membership. In the summer of 2000, the International and a few of their supporters in BC filed a lawsuit against the Provincial Council when we refused to turn over our books to their auditor. The International lost this suit when Madam Justice Brown found that they had acted in bad faith in attempting to use the General Presidents constitutional authority to further their political battle against the Provincial Council.
In October, 2001 the Provincial Council applied to the Canadian Labour Congress, under the justification provisions of their constitution, seeking a CLC supervised vote of the membership that would allow BC Carpenters to affiliate directly to the CLC. This led to another failed round of mediated negotiations and ultimately, over a year after our application was submitted, the CLC advised us that they would not proceed with a vote because in their view our application did not meet their constitutional requirements. Delegates at the Provincial Councils 2003 convention then endorsed a resolution directing the Council to negotiate an affiliation with a large Canadian Union. Before we can proceed with these negotiations we need to be able to demonstrate that this is clearly the wish of the membership in BC. That is the reason for this referendum vote. And that is the reason why it is important to remember what the issues are. McCarron has said that restructuring is necessary to make the union more accountable. Where his views differ from ours is that he believes the membership should be more accountable to the leadership we believe the leaders should be accountable to the membership.
Aligning with a Canadian Union is probably the only means left to prevent the International from taking away those vested rights that the membership in BC have cherished for over one hundred years.
BRITISH COLUMBIA PROVINCIAL
COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS
#305, 2806 Kingsway Vancouver, B.C. V5R 5T5
Telephone: 604 437-0471 Facsimile: 604 437-1110
March 21, 2003
Sent by fax
TO: CARPENTERS LOCAL UNIONS ACROSS CANADA
On March 20, 2003, the Supreme Court of British Columbia found that the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America acted in bad faith during attempts to force restructuring in BC.
The ruling by Madame Justice Brown is not only a defeat for the International; it is a condemnation of the strong-arm tactics of Vice-President Jim Smith and General President Douglas McCarron. Already desperately lacking membership support, the International has now failed in their attempts to use the courts to muscle their way into BC.
First launched by the International in 2000, the case included a trial where Smith, McCarron, Dan McCarthy and other plaintiffs testified along with myself and other defendants. While ultimately about preserving membership rights and restructuring, the case proceedings touched on nearly every aspect of our struggle for autonomy from the International.
We know that this ruling will give strength, both legal and political, to pro-autonomy forces across Canada. A copy of the ruling is available at www.carpentersunionbc.com
If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me at 604.437.0471.
L. G. (Len) Embree
For immediate release 2003-03-21
BC Carpenters have won another round in their fight for Canadian autonomy.
Madame Justice Brown of the BC Supreme Court has ruled that the International Union (United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America) was not acting in good faith when General President Douglas McCarron issued an order attempting to seize the books and records of the BC Provincial Council of Carpenters for examination. An order that the Provincial Council refused to comply with.
Justice Brown, in dismissing the Internationals action, concluded McCarron issued the order to obtain a political advantage in the ongoing political skirmishing between the International and the Provincial Council. This is not a proper contractual purpose (of the International Constitution), she stated.
BC Carpenters have been involved in a long running dispute with their international parent to achieve autonomy and democratic control of their own organization.
The International has resisted by launching a multitude of court suits and labour board motions that have all gone, so far, in favour of BC Carpenters.
A copy of the Judgment titled United Brotherhood Carpenters v. BC Carpenters 2003 BCSC 432 can be downloaded as a PDF file at:
For further information and background on this dispute, please call:
Len Embree, President, BC Provincial Council of Carpenters, 604.437.0471
David Flynn, Secretary-Treasurer, BC Provincial Council of Carpenters, 604.437.0471.
B.C. Supreme Court Decision available as Adobe PDF download
BC Labour Relations Board Decision - Adobe Reader download (22pg.-105K):
"Barbarian rides tiger" by Doug McCorquodale
McCarronism took another blow from the British Columbia members of the Carpenters union. In a Labour Relations Board decision released on February 17 2000, the Board found that the International breached Section 10 of the British Columbia Labour Relations Code. (Unlike the United States, labour relations matters are regulated in Canada in each province by separate Labour Acts and codes.)
Section 10 of the Code deals with internal union affairs. The actual wording of the section is the following:
Internal union affairs
10 (1) Every person has a right to the application of the principles of natural justice in respect of all disputes relating to
(a) matters in the constitution of the trade union,
(b) the person's membership in a trade union, or
(c) discipline by a trade union.
(2) A trade union must not expel, suspend or impose a penalty on a member or refuse membership in the trade union to a person, or impose any penalty or make any special levy on a person as a condition of admission to membership in the trade union or council of trade unions
(a) if in doing so the trade union acts in a discriminatory manner, or
(b) because that member or person has refused or failed to participate in activity prohibited by this Code.
(3) If a trade union charges, levies or prescribes different initiation fees, dues or assessments inrespect of a person according to whether the person applies or has applied for membership in the trade union before or after an application for certification by the trade union to represent the person as bargaining agent, the fees, dues or assessments are deemed to be discriminatory for the purpose of subsection (2) (a).
The general principles of section 10 that applies to this matter deals with the principles of natural justice which set out the procedural rights requiring notice in the form of the right to know the case against individuals and the particulars of that case. "There is also a right to a hearing, the ability to call evidence and introduce documents, the right to cross-examine and to make submissions. The obligation to respect natural justice also requires trade union decision-making bodies to provide reasonable notice of the proceedings. A breach of natural justice can be founded on the absence of notice and an opportunity to make submissions."
In April of 1999 the Construction Locals in northern British Columbia Local 1237 in Dawson Creek and Prince George Local 1998 effected a merger wherein Local 1237 would merge into Local 1998. The membership in both locals voted and each local overwhelmingly approved of the merger. The locals sent a request to Washington to approve the merger. The 10th District Board member James Smith sent Alberta International Union Representative Ray Drisdelle to Northern British Columbia to investigate the merger. There was no indication from Drisdelle, Smith or McCarron that the merger would be not approved in any other form than already agreed to by the membership in the Locals. It came as a complete surprise when McCarron carved out the members of Local 1237 Dawson Creek school board Maintenance bargaining unit and transferred them into the all employee Fort St. John School Board Local 2397. McCarron approved the merging of the remaining construction members of Local 1237 into Local 1998.
This was contrary to the agreed merger between Locals 1237 and 1998. Local 1237 and the School Board local 2397 never voted on a merger between themselves.
Locals 1237 and 1998 appealed to the Executive Board to overturn McCarron's decision. It was denied. The Locals then made an application to the Labour Relations Board under section 10 and 37. Section 10 deals with the denial of natural justice. Section 37 sanctions the transferring of bargaining rights between unions.
The Board found that the International violated the code under Section 10 of the Code. The Board stated that the International's propensity to issue edicts without reasons breaches the principles of natural justice. The Board concluded that:
As I do not accept the International's arguments attempting to mitigate the lack of notice, I find there was a breach of natural justice by the General President when he made his decision. I also note that aside from the inadequacy of the notice, there may be a further defect in the General President's decision by its failure to offer any reasons for his conclusion, a matter dealt with more fully below.
The Board also concluded that the International could have corrected itself.
A defect in natural justice can be redeemed if due process is afforded subsequently. A tribunal may cure its procedural defaults through review or appellate proceedings where a party has been accorded a full and fair hearing at a later stage.
The Board noted further failings of the International to correct its errors.
The International's offer of an opportunity to appear in person before the General Executive Board to make oral representations was a half-way measure that went some way to remedying the original breach, but it is not one sufficient to overcome the original defect. The flaw in the appeal proceeding in this case was there was not a complete rehearing with the right to question witnesses on material issues of fact underlying the opinion that formed the basis of the decision. The hearing before the General Executive Board was not what is known in legal terms as a trial de novo (e.g. a complete rehearing of the matter). Although the Locals were free to call their own witnesses to offer evidence, there was no right to call those advocating a different view to test their opinions under cross-examination.
The Board concludes finally that," The combination of the absence of reasons at the first level with the lack of an opportunity to cross-examine leads me to conclude that the defect in natural justice has not been cured. Although those two grounds provide sufficient basis taken by themselves for that finding, yet a further issue arises in relation to the adequacy of the reasons of the General Executive Board. The decision of the General Executive Board is most brief."
Besides denying a fair hearing the International's fondness of issuing edicts and pronouncements on decisions without reasons damaged their case severely. The Board pounced on the fact that even with the most "charitable reading" of the International's "decision" there was no explanation, just conclusions. In addition the appeal was dismissed by a "simple confirmation of the General President's decision, which in turn had no reasons."
The Board went to say that "I am mindful that unions are not organizations run by lawyers, nor should they be", and," the Board does not expect internal union bodies to render a decision with the same complexity as a Supreme Court judgment", however, "the degree of formality and completeness required may be tied to the level of sophistication of the union body that is being challenged."
The Board's view of the astuteness of the International is embarrassing.
"Just as the duty to respect natural justice may vary with the nature of inquiry, so may the content of the duty vary with the nature of the decision-making body. In this case a different level of sophistication would be expected of the General Executive Board as the highest level of the union hierarchy. At the very least, some statement would be expected of such a body as to why it reached the conclusion it did. I do not consider that minimal standard to be unduly onerous yet it was not met in this case."
The Board's decision overturned the International's proclamation forcing mergers which was contrary to the Locals membership wishes was also a violation of Section 37. The Board noted that if it was wrong about the breach of Section 10 the International's forced merger edict would still fail because of Section 37 law on the transferring of bargaining rights.
The law in respect to section 37 of the British Columbia Labour Relations Code reads as follows:
Merger or amalgamation
37 (1) If a trade union claims that because of a merger, amalgamation or a transfer of jurisdiction it is the successor of a trade union that at the time of the merger, amalgamation or transfer of jurisdiction was certified as the bargaining agent for a unit, the board may, in a proceeding before the board or on application by the trade union concerned,
(a) declare that the successor has, or has privileges and duties under this Code,or
(b) dismiss the application.
(2) Before issuing a declaration under subsection (1), the board may make the inquiries,require the production of the evidence and hold the votes it considers necessary or advisable.
(3) If the board makes an affirmative declaration under subsection (1), for the purposes of this Code the successor acquires the rights, privileges and duties of its predecessor, whether under a collective agreement or otherwise.
The law in British Columbia requires that before unions can merge it requires a Section 37 application to the Labour Relations Board. Unions can use their Constitutions to merge but it is without effect until a Board application is made and a declaration issued. Furthermore apart from any union constitutional provision, the law requires that the merging unions that are the predecessor and successor unions, together with the affected members must give clear approval to the merger. Approval "is accomplished by having a majority of employees in a meeting convened for that purpose on adequate notice support resolutions in favour of succession."
The Board also ruled that it does "not accept the submission of the International that no vote is required where two locals of the same parent merge."
The Board found that a vote of the membership is required to effect a merger whether it is between two different unions or among locals in the same union. The logic of the Board was spelled in the following way:
I can also discern no labour relations policy reason for a difference in the requirement to conduct a vote where the locals merging are locals of the same international parent or subordinate branches of the same national parent. It is difficult to conceive of any distinction in principle that would require a vote where there is a merger between separate organizations, but no vote in a merger between other entities where there is an overarching relationship between the locals through the parent-local connection. If the underlying policy is driven by a concern to ensure that the democratic will of the employees is respected, the same requirement for proof of employee support should be required in both instances.
There are further applications before the Labour Relations board. These applications further confront McCarron's restructuring to carve out of the provincial council another regional council. In a recent proclamation from McCarron he merged locals without membership votes in preparation to create the new carved out regional council. The Board noted this in its decision.
Rather than pursuing further litigation in this case and the related applications, it may make more sense to explore other alternatives. From this decision, it should be clear to the International that before bargaining rights can be transferred, there should be proof of employee support. It should equally be clear to the Locals that substantial adherence to constitutional provisions relating to mergers is required before the Board will grant a Section 37 application to transfer bargaining rights.
The International has come to British Columbia many times over the last twenty years to interfere in the vested rights of the members. Every time there has been prolonged litigation. Every time the International has taken a shellacking. British Columbia Carpenters have warned the International on every occasion that the constitution does not fit the legislative statutory rights afforded British Columbia workers. The law supercedes the constitution. The International has continued to ignore this fact and continued to tilt at the windmills. We expect them to continue the tilting. Their continued arrogance is expected. The membership continues to suffer because of the International's nonsense. The expenditure of funds and energy to preserve the vested democratic voting rights of the membership is the great shame of the International. Recently another International Union tried to impose trusteeship on a Local Canadian union. The British Columbia Labour Relations Board expressed anger over an American union trying to impose its will on Canadians and sent that International packing as well.
Despite all this the struggle continues. The International is completely arrogant to assume it has any power in British Columbia. The International has antagonized the membership in British Columbia and there is a growing opposition to McCarron in the United States. It reminds me of an observation of a mid twentieth century American President that those people maintaining power riding on the back of a tiger ended up inside.
Interim Relief Order Stops International from forcing Mergers
The Labour Relations Board of BC ruled on October 21, 1999 that immediate interim relief from a forced merger is granted to Local 1237 Dawson Creek. The International was attempting to forcibly conduct a merger of three locals, without membership participation or ratification.
This decision, binding on the international, stems from a Section 133 (5) application by Local 1237 to prohibit the International from dissolving it as a local.
The International was attempting to stop an already-in-place merger agreement between Local 1237 and Local 1998. In 1997, discussions were held between Locals 1237 and 1998 about a proposed merger between the two locals. Separate votes of the membership of the two locals on the issue of the proposed merger were held in the spring of 1998. After the membership of both locals voted in favour of a merger, a merger agreement was signed on April 22,1999 setting out the terms under which all the members of Local 1237 would be transferred into Local 1998.
(See On the Level, June, 1999)
After the merger agreement was signed, a report of Ray Drisdelle, International District representative, dated August 9 was prepared that did not support the agreement. Drisdelles report was apparently provided to James Smith, a General Executive Board member of the International who in turn made a recommendation to Douglas McCarron,the Internationals General President.
On August 23, 1999, McCarron set out in a letter his determination that it would be in the best interest of the Union to dissolve Local 1237 and to merge the carpenter members of Local 1237 into Local 1998 and the School Board members of Local 1237 in Local 2397. He further directed that the merger of Local 1237 into Local 1998 and 2397 would be effective October 1, 1999.
Locals 1237 and 1998 filed an appeal to the General Executive Board of the General Presidents decision on September 20, 1999. The International agreed to suspend the implementation of the General Presidents decision until the outcome of that appeal.
On October 1, 1999 the General Executive Board issued its decision to deny the appeal. The Executive Board ruled that the decision of the General President to proceed with the merger of Local 1237 in to Local 1998 and 2397 is sustained and was to be effective five days after notice was provided.
October 21, 1999, LRB interim relief orders effectively stop the forced merger (including distribution of assets, termination of staff) until Local 1237's other complaints to the LRB be heard. The Local has filed arguments to the LRB that the International has denied its members fair representation and that forced mergers are contrary to the majoritarian principles of the BC Labour Code.
The BC Provincial Council considers this a significant victory for union democracy. It is a clear indication that the International cannot arbitrarily switch a members Local union representation, deny a vote on those changes, and escape the checks and balances of BC law.
The complete BCLRB Letter decision No. B427/99 can be obtained by contacting the BC Provincial Council at 604-437-0471 or click here
BRITISH COLUMBIA PROVINCIAL COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS
August 18, 1999
Sent by fax: 1-416-225-5390
James E. Smith
General Executive Board Member for the Ninth and Tenth Districts
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
5799 Yonge Street - #807
Willowdale, Ontario M2M 3V3
RE: UNION RESTRUCTURING
I am in receipt of your letter dated August 18, 1999, regarding the province-wide referendum to be conducted by the British Columbia Provincial Council of Carpenters. At the outset, it appears that the International is attempting to interfere with the internal affairs of the Council. Such interference is neither warranted nor justifiable under the union's Constitution.
On a more fundamental level, I note your advice that "there is no constitutional requirement for a referendum" with respect to union mergers. Time and time again, the International has stated that all proposed changes in British Columbia will be a product of consultation and "will conform with the laws of British Columbia." In spite of this assurance, the General President confirmed at the Port Alberni meeting that union members would not have a right to vote on the proposed merger of their Local Unions. Further, members will not have a right to elect the founding delegates and officers of any Regional Council.
From this, I take the International's promise to conform with the laws of British Columbia to be an empty one. As you and the General President are well aware, mergers or amalgamations under the British Columbia Labour Relations Code require a majority vote of the affected employees. This has been the law since Paul Weiler's 1978 decision in British Columbia Ferry and Marine Workers Union. If the International is not prepared to give members a vote, the Provincial Council must step into the breach and ensure that such majoritarian principles are respected and upheld. It is for this reason that the referendum is being conducted.
Your final suggestion that I "govern myself accordingly" appears to be a suggestion that the democratic rights of the members be sacrificed and that the union not permit its members to vote on mergers and amalgamations. This is not advice that I am prepared to accept.
cc. All British Columbia Local Unions
TO ALL MEMBERS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
You have received correspondence from General President Douglas McCarron on his scheduled consultations. The "consultation" meetings have begun. The first meeting was held at Local Union 513 Port Alberni on Wednesday, July 7. At the very beginning of the meeting, I asked General President McCarron to answer the following two questions:
? Do the members have a right to vote on the proposed merger of their Local Union and the creation of the Regional Council?
? Do the members have a right to elect the founding delegates and officers of the Regional Council?
McCarron responded: "No and no to both."
The 140 members attending the meeting spontaneously responded with a chant of "VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!" and left the meeting. The union members at the meeting said they would not participate in a shameful sham. They were not prepared to lend credibility to McCarron's "consultation process" with their attendance and thereby lose their democratic rights.
The next night, on Thursday, July 8, McCarron had his "consultative meeting" for Local Union 527 Nanaimo. About 40 members protested outside, stating that the meeting had nothing to do with consultation. Only 10 union members came to McCarron's meeting, and less than half a dozen attended the meeting. Few seemed interested in attending a meeting that would remove their democratic rights.
The General President's strategy is clear: have "consultative meetings" to justify trusteeships that remove democratically elected officers, force Local Union mergers, and impose a regional council structure that takes away democratic rights, including the right to vote.
The Provincial Council's position is that these consultative meetings are a farce, because the outcome is predetermined. The Provincial Council supports those members who decide not to participate in a process that is designed to remove their democratic rights.
BRITISH COLUMBIA PROVINCIAL COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS
Chartered by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America
Room 305, 2806 Kingsway
Vancouver, B.C. V5R 5T5
Telephone: (604) 437-0471
Facsimile: (604) 437-1110
June 22, 1999
TO ALL MEMBERS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
Over the next few days and weeks, you will be receiving a lot of correspondence over the signature of the General President, Douglas McCarron.
The issue is the membership's right to elect their representatives at the various levels in our union, be it business representatives, members of the Local Union executive, delegates to the Provincial Council and District Council, or pension and benefit plan trustees.
The question remains why members in B.C. would give up their right to elect their representatives in their union, and further compound the situation by turning over to an official in a foreign country - namely the General President - the right to appoint these representatives. Do you trust his judgment more than your own?
Who do you trust to administer your pension plan - a plan that you helped build over the last 30 years without any help from the International? Do you trust the General President or his appointees, or do you trust your own judgment in electing your representative(s) on the plan?
It always comes back to the same issue - your right to vote on important issues like who you want to represent your interests. If a question can't stand the test of a membership vote, it is fundamentally flawed.
The Provincial Council stands squarely behind your right to vote in an election of your officers, your union representatives, the trustees of your pension and benefit plans. This is something that we take for granted in our union and in our country. It now appears that we will have to fight to retain this right - something the Council is convinced that our membership is prepared to do.
CARPENTERS UNION IN FIGHT WITH U.S. PARENT
Vancouver Sun, Monday, June 14,1999.
Leaders of the union's B.C. branch are worried that a drive to boost membership levels will incite the international labour group to force restructuring and a trusteeship on the provincial leaders.
The BC wing of the Carpenters union is locked in a bitter dispute with its American parent union over local autonomy.
The U.S.-based leadership, frustrated by its dwindling membership, has been consolidating locals throughout North America and appointing officers.
International president Douglas McCarron is trying to do the same thing in B.C. But he has run into stiff resistance from the Provincial Council of Carpenters.
Dave Flynn, secretary-treasurer of the BC Carpenters Union, said the dispute is about union democracy.
"The union has tried to impose a uniform structure across North America, and the membership has been cut off from the process," said Flynn.
"It's a top-down structure where everyone is accountable to him (McCarron) and the members have little influence over their leaders."
Lengthy negotiations over the union's structures in B.C. collapsed in May. The provincial council fears the international will now seek control by imposing a trusteeship.
Provincial council president Len Embree met this week with Labour Minister Dale Lovick to discuss the issue. The Carpenters are seeking amendments to the Labour Code that would make it difficult for international unions to impose trusteeship in BC without just cause.
Carpenter Union officials are not expecting a quick response. It's expected that Lovick will want to canvass the rest of the labour movement. Other international unions in the B.C. Federation of Labour might be resistant to any legislation that undermines the authority of their U.S.-based leaders.
Flynn said that the international wants to impose three regional full-service councils in B.C., making union locals powerless. The provincial council, which currently is elected and handles province-wide bargaining, would lose most of its power.
The international has argued that larger structures are able to reverse the decline in union membership.
The B.C. leadership, which has seen its membership fall from 17,000 at its height to the current 10,000, has allowed locals to merge.
Flynn said B.C. officials are not adverse to restructuring if it is approved by local members. But international president McCarron wants to impose the changes from his office in Washington, D.C., he added.
Flynn said that the restructuring is leading to labour instability in the U.S. He cited a recent wildcat strike that shut down a $2.4-billion construction project at San Francisco International Airport.
The workers, members of the Carpenters, walked off the job because of dissatisfaction with the contract approved by international officers but not by the local members.
Dan McCarthy, an Ottawa-based union official who has been representing McCarron in negotiations with the B.C. council, could not be reached for comment.