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  • authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Mon, Aug 11, 2003

Your very own Real Canadian Sweetheart Union

The business opportunity of a lifetime is waiting for you north of the border!

Are you a corrupt sonofabitch who wants to make piles of money by cheating and robbing thousands of vulnerable people without ever having to worry about losing your shirt or spending time in Club Fed?

Set yourself up in a lucrative business that serves up bottom-of-the-barrel crap to a captive market that must keep coming back for more. Run your business any which way you like for as long as you like without ever having to explain yourself to nosey law enforcement agencies or consumer protection types.

No upfront investment is required and you can be up and running within days. Just put the word out on the street that you're "open for business" and watch your customers line up. Use your lucrative and flameproof business as a launch pad for other even more lucrative and equally flameproof enterprises. While you're busy stealing from the poor, the rich will sing your praises. You'll be able to provide cushy jobs for your friends and relatives, rub elbows with influential people and become a pillar of your community. If you get bored or feel like packing it in, you can sell your business or pass it along to your children. Government reporting requirements are absolutely minimal and nosey law enforcement types will leave you alone no matter what you do. If your hapless victims blow the whistle on you, nobody will take them seriously.

What kind of outfit is this? Where and how can you set up shop?

It's a sweetheart union and you can set up shop virtually overnight anywhere in Canada at little or no expense to yourself.

We're not kidding! Here in Canada we've got a lot of laws against fleecing the public. There are all kinds of regulations that prohibit misleading advertising, defective merchandise, unsafe products, bogus services, frauds, scams, stealing... you name it. But if you set up a union and call yourself a union leader you can fleece others with impunity. No shit. In fact, the more corrupt you are, the more people in high places will go to bat for you. If you land in trouble, which is unlikely, you won't even have to make up your own excuses. You'll have a line up of high profile muckety-mucks offering up plausible explanations for whatever it is you've done, before you can mumble "It wuzn't me".

A sweetheart union is not quite like a real union but here in the great white north nobody seems to know the difference or care. A sweetheart is a union that looks like a union but is really an outfit helps companies keep their workers in line. It's sort of like an appendage of the human resources department but the poor working stiffs don't know it. The sweetheart helps management control them and keep them from joining a real union by making them feel like they've already got one.

Running your sweetheart union will only take a few hours a week of your time but will give you status beyond your wildest imaginings and, unless you are incredibly stupid, will provide you with cash for life and still leave you with lots of time to take care of your other enterprises or just have a lot of fun.

Yes, running your very own Canadian sweetheart union is the opportunity you've been dreaming of and it couldn't be easier. Here's how you can do it.

Landing your first "account"

You'll need to do some spadework first. What you want to do is connect with a business guy who's freaking out about getting unionized by some legitimate union. Introduce yourself as a "labour relations consultant" and convince the business guy (usually the owner or CEO of the company) that you've got a real sweet solution to his problem: A partner union. A union that any right-thinking businessperson would love to call his own. Your real Canadian sweetheart union!

You won't have much trouble talking your prospect into doing business with you. Most business guys hate and fear unions and are positively irrational when it comes to avoiding them. You won't have to worry about dealing with any troubling ethical issues that your scheme might present. If your prospect needs reassuring, tell him that a number of big Canadian corporations have opted for partner unions when something a lot less management-friendly was looming large. There's nothing wrong with the concept. It's just another strategy for "union avoidance". And there's no reason to fear any unpleasant legal fallout either. When it comes to sweetheart unions in Canada, the long arm of the law has been busy scratching the big fat lazy butt of the law for several decades now. That's not likely to change any time soon either, so you can get on the gravy train with confidence.

Labour lawyers: Your most valuable "tools"

Once you've made "the sale", your employer-partner needs to hook you up with his labour relations lawyer who will work out all the logistics with you. It's really important to involve the company's lawyer because if the whole scheme ever goes south on you, the lawyer has solicitor-client privilege and can't be dragged to the witness stand to talk about what the two of you cooked up. He'll fight tooth and claw to make sure nobody drags you there either. There's another advantage as well: The lawyer is technically working for the company. So if the scheme blows up, it's the company that's in shit. You can always play dumb, "What? I was just out there organizing their workers and they were helping me do it without my knowledge?! The slimy bastards. I can't imagine why they would think I'd be their toy. I'm outraged!" Don't laugh. It's been done and it's worked.

For your start-up financing - the best deal in town

And here's more good news: Your employer-partner will help you finance the launch of your venture. Since you won't actually see any union dues revenue until you've got the company's workers organized and a contract signed, you're going to need some operating funds to help you set up your sweetheart union and to cover organizing and related expenses. Your employer-partner can arrange to have the funds you need channeled to you through his lawyer. He'll give the lawyer some dough for a retainer; the lawyer will pass the dough on to you and record it as a "disbursement" for "labour relations matters". Nobody will ever be the wiser. You'll never have to pay back the start-up grant either. What's the company guy going to do? Sue you?

The name of your game

Once you've got your funding, you can set up your sweetheart union. You'll need to pick a name. You can be as creative about this as you want to be but don't get too cute. You want to pick a name that sounds respectable and has a "big union" sound to it. It's good to put the words "Canadian" and "Union" in the name somewhere. This will make your union sound big and credible and Canadian and that's really important because we all know that if it's Canadian, its shit can't stink, right? (For our purposes we're going to call your union the Real Canadian Sweetheart Union or "RCSU". Don't call your union that however. The "sweetheart" bit is something you want to keep under your hat. Real Canadian Partner Union might be a better alternative.)

If you want to concentrate on a specific industry you can put something in the name that indicates the industry but be careful about this. If you're just starting out you might want to settle for something generic so that you don't limit your prospects. Once you get established you can create spin-off unions for specific industries - following the same proven formula.

Your constitution: Write your own laws of the jungle

Once you've picked a name, your next order of business is to write up a constitution. This is an important document - not because you're going to pay a lot of attention to it but because it's a useful prop that you can haul out whenever you want to convince somebody that you're a democratic union that always puts the interests of its members first. Here are a few do's and don'ts for constitution drafting.

Do make sure that your constitution contains a lofty statement about the purpose of your union, identifies the titles and duties of your Executive Board members, provides for a long and cumbersome internal complaint process that members must follow if they've got a beef with you, provides for penalties for members who step out of line and makes some (not very specific) reference to an election of officers at some regular interval.

Don't include any crap that gives your members any real power or - God forbid - a process through which they can depose you. Make sure that your constitution keeps all the important decisions with you or, at the most, with your Executive Board. This includes decisions about jacking up union dues, imposing special assessments, signing authority for cheques, hiring of consultants, hiring and turfing office staff, calling elections, merging the union, signing agreements with employers and turfing members who don't tow the party line.

Finding suitable digs

If you've got the funds, go out and rent an office. Don't get anything that will be really convenient for your members to visit. Something away from public transit in a deserted area will do nicely. You can change office addresses as frequently as you like. It makes it even more difficult for members to find you and gives the impression that your union is really on the move. If you can't afford an office right away, don't sweat about it. A mailbox and cell phone will do just fine.

If you want to boost your earning power, buy an office building and lease the space to your union.

The Executive Board - Your Enablers

Setting up an executive board for your Real Canadian Sweetheart Union is really important. The Exec Board is a group of people who run the union. The official story is that they run the union the way the members want it run. The real story is they run the union your way. If you get the right group together, you won't have any problems making your way the right way. If the shit ever hits the fan about something, you can lay the blame on the Exec Board since, after all, they make the decisions. Here's how to make sure your Exec Board is working hard for you all the time.

Get a few of your most trusted pals together and bring them in on your scheme. Tell them they'll have cushy jobs for life if they play along and take care of business for you. Have a meeting where you pass a resolution to form your union, adopt the constitution that you've drafted and appoint the Executive Board. You'll want to have a President (that's you), a Secretary Treasurer (pick someone you know you can control for this job) and as many Vice Presidents as you like. You can also have other Executive Board positions. Feel free to make up some titles and staff these as you see fit.

Decide how much your Executive Board members are going to get paid, what kind of perks they're going to get. Don't forget about things like cars, cell phones, meal allowances, annual conferences and other travel opportunities. Your Exec Board members will get used to the finer things in life really quickly and just the thought of having to do without these (should they ever decide not to tow your line) will send them into fits of panic.

The Exec Board members' job will be to approve your decisions. Anything you want to do that may be the least bit controversial or questionable, should be put to the Exec Board for approval. This is just good old fashioned butt-covering on your part.

Make sure that you also give yourself a lot of latitude in staffing office jobs and getting rid of the people you hire if it doesn't work out. If your union has big plans, you're going to need business agents, communications experts, computer specialists, pension and benefits administrators and so on.

Make sure the people on your Exec Board and in the staff jobs you create are people you can control. Family members are among the best picks; close friends are a close second. Associates who owe you or about whom you've got some dirt are also acceptable picks. Remember, you want to surround yourself with loyal butt kissers who aren't going to sell you out or try to take over. They don't need to know a lot about labour relations. What they need to know, you'll teach them.

Finishing touches - looking your best

Get some business cards and stationary printed with your union's name and logo. If you're feeling creative, you might want to come up with a cheesy slogan with the words "strong" or "leader" in it. You might also want to include a reference "the future". Set up a web site advertising your union and the excellent representation it offers to workers everywhere. This will make you look more established and might bring in some "walk in" business.

Check with your provincial LRB to see if there is anything that you need to file with them upfront in order to be considered a real dyed-in-the-wool union. Depending on where you're based, you may not have to file a thing until you apply for certification.

OK that's it. You're in business. That's really all it takes. Now go out there and make a pile. Land your first cert or voluntary rec. as per the plan you worked out with your employer partner. Once you've got your first bargaining unit in the bag, you're a legitimate union as far as the labour relations community is concerned, and more importantly, you've got your first revenue stream. As soon as your first contract is signed, the dues will start flowing and never stop.

Organizing strategies that really pay

You'll want to consider carefully how you're going to organize your employer-partner's working stiffs. Will it be a voluntary recognition deal or will you actually go out and sign them up? Voluntary rec. is more cost effective but it tends to work better with new workplaces. You and your employer-partner can sign a voluntary-rec. agreement, negotiate a contract and be done by the time the bar opens. When the human resources department starts hiring the workers, they'll be told, "This is a union shop; you have to sign this card to work here." They can decertify you in the first 12 months, but it'll take them longer than that to figure out what you're all about and what they can do about it, so nothing to worry about there.

If you'd rather get an actual certificate from the Labour Relations Board, you can do this one of two ways: If you're going into a new workplace and the workers haven't yet been hired, have the company hire a few of your friends before the real hiring takes place. Once your pals are on the payroll, sign them up and apply for a certificate to represent them. Depending on which province you're operating in, you'll either get automatic certification or a representation vote that you're sure to win. Once you're certified, the real hiring can begin and everyone will be hired on as a member of your Real Canadian Sweetheart Union - which you can tell them is a major North American union with the best contract in the industry (even if you only have one contract in the industry and you that it can't possibly be the best).

If you have to organize an existing workforce, that's a little more time consuming and but not a lot more difficult. Your employer-partner will make the working stiffs a captive audience for you. With your standard shtick about the great accomplishments of the Real Canadian Sweetheart Union and its remarkable contracts and a few nudge-nudge wink-winks from the boss, you'll be in like a dirty shirt.

While you're "organizing" you can make whatever promises you want without having to worry about delivering on any of them. Tell the working stiffs that you're going to get them big wage increases, excellent benefits, the Cadillac of pension plans, protection from discipline and firings, guarantees of job security - whatever the hell it takes to get them to sign on - is quite alright even if every last word is a big outrageous lie and you know it. Even if you put all your empty promises in writing, you'll never have to make good on any of them - ever.

Bargaining for fun and profit

Once you're certified, it will be time to negotiate a collective agreement. Figure out with your employer partner how you're going to choreograph bargaining: What will be in the first collective agreement, how you'll play out negotiations, who will be on your bargaining committee, how you'll deal with demanding members and other issues that may come up. You'll want to bring a small committee of workers with you so you can say that they were on side with the lousy deal you're going to cut. They'll be the ones who will persuade their coworkers that it was the best you could do when it comes time for ratification. Some provinces require secret ballot votes for ratification while, in others, a simple show of hands will do. Getting the vote you want is really not much of a problem anyway and, hey, if at first you don't succeed, you can always have another vote.

That's really all it really takes to make out like a bandit in the Canadian union-repping trade. What are you waiting for? It's like shooting fish in a barrel and it's all perfectly legal! Here are some Frequently Asked Questions that will give you a fuller picture.

You Real Canadian Sweetheart Union FAQ

Q: Do I need to be a labour relations expert to run my own RCSU?

A: Oh hell no. It helps if you know some labour relations jargon or have worked in the field for a while but you don't need to have any particular experience or qualifications. When you need to know something in particular, you can call your lawyer or the company's labour relations manager. Most of the time, you just need to walk and talk like a big tough goof or a kind sensitive new age guy (depending on the occasion) and put on a show for the members. Some experience in the performing arts would probably help you more than a labour relations degree.

Q: What kind of labour relations shit do I have to do if I want to run my own RCSU?

A: Just the basics. You'll need to negotiate contracts with your employer-partners that are to their liking and sell them to your members. The odd time you might need to stage a short strike just to give the members a warm feeling about how hard you're trying to get them a good deal. You'll need to file a few grievances on behalf of your members (you've got to make it look like a real union after all). Most of these you'll have settled with your employer-partner by the time you have the formal grievance meetings. You'll need to get your members on side with the deals that you cook up in the backroom. You'll need to keep the members from getting too uppity and demanding. Periodically, you'll need to remind them that the company has to make money and that they're lucky to have jobs (no matter how well the company's doing).

You can be as involved in the labour relations crap as you want to be. You can hire business agents to do most of it and only show your face at high profile events like ratification meetings and the Labour Day parade. To make it look like a real union, you'll need to have a few general membership meetings each year, and maybe send out a news blurb reminding the members of how hard you're working on their behalf. But you never need to worry about the GMM's getting out of hand. You won't permit members to table resolutions or make decisions. Your GMM's will be more like info sessions with some beer drinking at the end for the faithful.

Q: Is this shit legal?

A: Well okay, there are a few laws on the books prohibiting sweetheart unions in Canada, but damned if anybody can remember when they last got enforced. On top of that, the laws prohibit sweetheart unions and not partner unions. Officially, you're just a guy who's "a believer in labour-management partnering". Labour-management partnering is trendy and good. You'll be welcome in the most prestigious places. Instead of going to the slammer, you'll go on the conference circuit spreading the gospel of partnering far and wide and boosting your earning power while you're at it.

Q: What's my piece of the action?

A: The sky's the limit. Once your operating expenses are paid, what's left of the dues revenue is yours to do with as you please. Now don't be stupid about this and just write yourself a cheque. Set up a consulting company (or have your spouse or you mother set one up) and bill the union for whatever ridiculous amount you want for "professional services rendered". If there's too much in the treasury to eat up as consulting fees, set up a training and education fund or something along those lines and divert large sums of money into that. The great thing about this is that you can set up the fund as a separate entity (a separate incorporation) so it's not officially a "union" and members have absolutely no way of ever finding out what you're doing with the dues that are being poured into the fund. You on the other hand can do a whole lot of things with their spare change. You can lease cars with it, buy up real estate with it, piss it away at the casino, whatever turns you on, nobody will ever be the wiser. To top it all off, you'll look like a great humanitarian for setting up a fund that helps working people in your community.

As time passes and your relationship with your employer-partner matures, you can hit him up for "a raise" too. We're not talking about bags of money here. A nice contribution to your "special" fund will look a lot cleaner and you'll both look like great humanitarians.

You can also boost your earning power by getting separate payments from your Real Canadian Sweetheart Union for sitting on committees, charging overtime, submitting bogus expense claims, putting your nearest and dearest on the payroll and getting them to kick back a piece of the action to you. Your earning power is limited only by your imagination.

Q: How can I grow my sweetheart union?

A: There are lots of businesses out there whose leaders are crapping their pants 24/7 about getting unionized. Put the word out in the labour relations community that your Real Canadian Sweetheart Union is open for business and you won't need a big marketing campaign. As soon as you nail down your first deal, the word will travel faster than a UFCW racing car. Freaked out businessmen (or their lawyers) will beat a path to your door.

You can always do some spadework of your own of course. Look for companies that have been the targets of union organizing drives in the past, companies that may be undergoing organizing drives, and companies whose CEO's are scared to death of getting unionized (whether they have a reason to be afraid or not). There are lots of those around and you can always make a few more by intimating that you've heard that an organizing campaign involving their workers is about to get underway any day now. You'll be surprised at how effective this can be.

Another business development strategy is to offer your services to the "legitimate" unions as a subcontractor. All unions want new members because they want new revenue streams but most of them are affiliated with the big labour clubs like the Canadian Labour Congress. They're restricted by the club rules from poaching other unions' members or sticking their beaks into industries that are other unions' turf. You're an independent so you can do their organizing for them.

You can go in and organize wherever you want and nobody can do squat about it because you're not part of their club. The union you're subcontracting for doesn't know you - not officially anyway - but once you're certified and have a contract signed, you offer to merge your new unit with them and they take you up on your generous offer. Everybody's happy! Nobody's broken any club rules and the mainstream house of labour just got bigger. You collect your piece of the action from the "real" union - whatever it is that you've negotiated (money, property, pension income, whatever) - and ride off into the sunset. The members may or may not know what hit 'em (depending on how much you and their new union want them to know).

Q: Aren't those big unions going to give me a hard time?

A: No way. Most of them will be on to your game but will leave you alone because they don't want to criticize another union - even if it's a bogus union. If anyone gives you a hard time, just make some noises to the effect that you're thinking about merging with some big union. They'll all line up to kiss your ass and you'll be able to keep them there, in full pucker, for years. If anybody won't pucker and won't leave you alone, have your lawyer write them a nasty letter threatening a lawsuit if they don't shut up with their ugly accusations.

Q: What about the Labour Relations Board? Aren't they on the lookout for this kind of scamming?

A: No. The LRB is no interested in union corruption. If anyone ever asks what you're up to, just say you're a realistic, pragmatic union leader who works hard representing the members and building cooperative relations with management, all for the greater good of the economy.

Q: What if the shit hits the fan anyway?

A: If the shit ever really does hit the fan, join the CLC or your provincial labour federation. Once you're in the club, you can do no wrong. Even if you get caught doing wrong, a whole pile of labour movement big shots will come to your defense. You'll need to give them a piece of your action but so what? Think of it as insurance.

Q: Don't I have to give the members a financial statement or something like that?

A: You have to provide an audited financial statement each year. Well you don't actually have to give a copy to each and every member; you just have to make it available to anyone who asks. There are ways of discouraging people from asking. For instance, you can offer to let an inquiring member view a copy at the union office, late at night, when there's no one around... you get the picture. But even if you do have to fork over a copy, the information you need to provide is pretty light. What they don't know can't hurt you. Say for instance, you have a line item showing $1 million for "consulting fees". That's all you have to say. You don't need to show what the consulting firm was (even if it's yours) or what the consulting was about. Your members are not entitled to this information. Make sure, if you are providing anything in writing, to provide stuff that isn't signed by anyone. That way you can always say, "Oh shit, that must have been a draft that you were given. Oh, we are so sorry. We'll get the final version off to you... as soon as we make it up, OK?"

See also our advice on setting up special funds (above). These provide excellent ways of sheltering your members' money from their prying eyes.

Q: What if the members start shitdisturbing and clamoring for a say in my RCSU?

A: If your members give you a hard time about how you're representing them, tell them there are limits to what you can do for them. They're just going to have to be reasonable. You're doing the best you can. The law only does so much for unions. The government is anti-union. The arbitrators are anti-union. The LRB is anti-union. The employer needs to make a profit. The competition is at the gates. You need to keep up a good relationship with the company so they don't shut down or move away. Remind the ungrateful bastards that they've still got the best contract in the industry and you're working hard in the backroom to keep it that way. Or course there's a lot you can't tell them about your dealings with management. They don't need to know about it and wouldn't understand it even if you told them. Hell, they should be grateful that they have jobs.

If that doesn't placate them, then work it out with the company to have them fired or encourage them to quit. Pretty much any tactics that encourage obedience (short of physical violence which should be avoided only because it will definitely draw the heat) are fair ball.

Make sure that you set up a network of trusted informants throughout your union. Their job will be to report on any shitdisturbers or malcontents. You can keep them loyal by offering them a pay for their efforts, dangling paid positions in your union in front of their noses or just partying with them once in a while.

Q: I've got a criminal record as long as your arm. Is that going to be a problem?

A: No. There is nothing that prevents you from holding union office in Canada because of a record of offenses. If anyone tries to make a big deal out of it, you have a number of options: Deny it. Threaten a lawsuit. Accuse your accusers of being anti-union. If you've played it smart and set yourself up as a pillar of the community, nobody who is anybody will care about your criminal past.

Q: How about the media? I don't want any reporters nosing around in my business.

A: Canadian mainstream media don't criticize union leaders. That's because there's no corruption here. If there were they'd be reporting about it. They rarely write about organized labour and when they do, it's almost always positive. You can pre-empt negative publicity by having your communications experts issue a steady stream of media releases lauding your achievements and those of your union and always, pointing the blame for anything that's wrong on someone else's doorstep.

Q: What do I do if I've been especially aggressive with my scamming and the cops show up at my door?

A: Offer them some donuts. Remind them that your union is a democratic organization. Show them a copy of your constitution as proof of that. Point them to the internal complaints procedure that members can use if they've got a beef with you or something that you've done. Sanctimoniously deny that you've done anything but help your members and the community. Remind the coppers that they're union members too and ask how they'd like it if someone was making up a lot of horrible crap about their union. Quietly intimate that you're union has been infiltrated by "a bad element" or radicals and crazies who are trying to take it over and use it for their own nefarious purposes.

Q. I already run a union. Can I get in on this sweetheart stuff as well?

A: Oh sure. It's a free market.

Q: How do I set myself up as a pillar of the community?

A: That's easy. Each year set aside some of your dues revenue for donation purposes. Give generously to politicians at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. If you want to cover all the bases, donate to any party that has a chance of winning in an upcoming election. Donate to local charities and make sure there's a reporter around when you do. Attend labour relations community parties and golf tournaments and bring something nice for the prize table. Each year, have a few mediations and an arbitration or two and throw the business to prominent labour arbitrators. Get yourself on the labour relations conference circuit where you can share with other legitimate practitioners your achievements in labour-management partnering.

Q: Some unions have elections for president and executive officers. Do I have to do that too?

A: Only if you want to. There's no law that says you have to have a democratic union or elected officers here in Canada. Of course, you'll want to have the odd election just so you can say, "we're a democratic union, we have elections", but you control the timing, the voting arrangements and the competition. You can always get rid of any opponents who look like they could just give you a run for your money by having them fired or by giving them other good reasons for backing out of the race. Worse coming to worse, stuff the ballot box, steal the ballot box, declare the results invalid, call another election - use your imagination. There's nothing to stop you.

Q: Did I hear you say that I can sell my union at any time? How does that work?

A: Well you don't sell it the way you would sell a car. You organize a merger or amalgamation with another union. The value of your union will be dependent on the number of members you have at the time you go shopping for a buyer. If you've got a couple thousand or more, you can command top buck. The method of payment is whatever works for you and the buyer.

Q. Come on. You guys have gotta be kidding! This is too good to be true. A scam where you can lie, cheat, steal and the cops don't give shit, the labour board looks the other way, the consumer protection idiots aren't interested? There's gotta be a string attached somewhere.

A: We know it's hard to believe but it's true: There really is no risk and no downside. That's all because, as a Real Canadian Sweetheart Union, you're just doing what the Canadian establishment want unions to do anyway: Controlling the toiling masses and squeezing 'em to the last drop. Now get out there. Go forth and prosper.

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