The MFD Story: Part 2
Setting the Stage and Building the Campaign
I knew with clarity like I've felt at no other time in my life I was doing the right thing, that these guys cared more about themselves than the members and while I was just a 28 year old inexperienced idealist, any mistakes I made would be honest ones with the purpose and intention of empowering the membership and protecting the wages and benefits of my co-workers. Not only was I every bit as qualified to lead our union into the next century but I had a great deal more personal integrity and was far more deserving of the trust of our members.
I spent the next several months running my ideas by friends and co-workers trying to get a feel for what, if anything, people wanted to see change in their union.
I also searched out anyone who was thinking about running against Brooke Sundin for President of Local 1518. Only two names were ever mentioned, Roger Heraba and Rick Romano. Roger's brother worked with me at Fleetwood and Roger lived just blocks away from my house. Rick worked at Fleetwood with me and he also lived just down the street so it wasn't very difficult getting to know what these guys would bring to the table. Rick's infamous saying to management at work was "as long as I'm happy you'll be happy, but if I'm not happy... nobody's going to be happy" and as much as I liked the guy personally I just couldn't wrap my mind around that. What would he do if he were ever elected President of 1518? He seemed smarter and far more charismatic than Brooke Sundin and his reputation within our company stretched throughout the lower mainland. My fear was if he were ever elected President he'd use the position for his own benefit and not for the good of the membership and because he was so intelligent we'd never get rid of him.
Roger on the other hand seemed more genuine in his commitment to the membership. He truly wanted to improve things but I was concerned on a number of levels with his ability to lead. For starters Brooke frequently ran roughshod over him at general membership meetings and when confronted he was easily flustered. Secondly he and I didn't share the same vision of how to build the union after the election. I wasn't comfortable with some of his ideas and felt the local would most certainly end up in trustee before the year was out. That would negate any effort to reform the local and consequently leave everyone back at square one.
I had heard of another slate that was supposedly in the works. As of that time I had yet to talk to anyone other than Kay Audette, a current e-board member I'd met at the general membership meetings, who approached me about running on their slate. I mentioned I'd be interested but I was concerned they didn't have a candidate for President [only Secretary-treasurer and vice presidents] and I suspected Rick Romano was somehow connected or involved with them. At that time most people were very guarded about their intentions to run against Brooke because of the perceived threat of loosing their job by crossing the union, and without knowing who was or wasn't on that slate it was difficult for me to commit to joining it. While not oblivious to the possibility of joining their slate I did feel the prudent thing to do was continue networking with people and see if someone else more qualified stepped forward to run against Brooke.
Aside from my lack of faith in the people who popped up as potential candidates I had grave concerns over their inactivity and disorganization, as well as the election platform from which these people were attempting to build their campaign. One of the things I'd recognized in all the potential opposition candidates was that their election aspirations were built on why they were angry and not on what they could do to empower union members. Anytime I engaged them in discussions as to why they were running and what their vision for the future was their answer never strayed far from "he's sleeping with the company" or "Brookes a Crook". While I found the slogan humorous it wasn't the platform I wanted to build a campaign from.
I believed the key to success was building a campaign based on the merits of the challengers and what they envisioned for the future and not strictly on the faults of the incumbents. Everyone who had to live with this wretched agreement already knew why a change was needed, but change to what? I anticipated the "better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't" response from people and believed on election day that would stick in the forefront of people's minds more than their resentment over the current contract. This more than anything drove me to seek alternatives to backing the people I'd talked to thus far and consider the possibility that the best alternative to Brooke Sundin may in fact be myself.
I figured it wasn't so much a matter of me being the best man for the job, because I was certain that there were more talented people out there, but rather that I was currently the most desirable candidate who was willing to step up and take responsibility and that in and of itself was worthy of consideration.
So I starting considering where the majority of the votes would be coming from and one of things I'd found in my travels was that if you had something in common [such as having worked for the same company] people were more willing to open up to you and listen to what you had to say. At that time I had experience at IGA, Safeway and Save-On-Foods and I'd been through the buy-out fiasco in Alberta. Who better to connect with the voting majority than me? And I'd already done a great deal of networking, was highly organized and unlike the other people who were thinking about running I had clearly defined ideas on how to empower the membership and reform the union. I was already out there on the shop floors building support from the ground up, it was just a matter of putting it all together.
To that point I'd spent a great deal of time talking with people but I'd yet to put these ideas down on paper. I began writing and started with my idea to restructure the union and empower our steward core. For me it was simple, strong stewards = a strong union. We would build from there. I wanted to focus more on what my vision of the future was and less on why I was angry with the current union leadership.
But my primary challenge was getting my message out to as many people as I could. I couldn't afford a mail out via the union and quite frankly I didn't trust them to actually mail my campaign literature out in the first place. This presented a very serious obstacle for me because even if I could meet everyone in every store, trying to give people a clear understanding of what I hoped to achieve and how it would benefit them in just a few short minutes while they were at the store just wasn't practical. That's when I got the idea to use the Internet to post my entire campaign platform. Although I was very new to the Internet it seemed to me to be the perfect solution. It was the optimum vehicle for me to reach members all over the province because with minimal effort and at their own leisure they could log on and decide for themselves if I was a better choice for President.
Unfortunately my ingenuity was far more advanced than my ability. I'd only been on line for about 2 months and I didn't understand the Internet or computers in general and didn't have a clue how to set up my home page. However as luck would have it I played hockey with a guy who seemed to know a great deal about computers and when I asked him for advice he offered to help. It turned out he owned his own domain space and he helped me build my very own web site from scratch.
We decided to keep it very straight forward and to the point. I had a picture of me taken at work in my Save-On uniform on the welcome page, we split up the text into several different categories and created a section where I'd written out the most frequently asked questions people had when I was in their stores along with detailed answers to them on the site. I provided my vision of the future, ideas on revamping the education center and the courses provided by the union, what I planned to do to get ready for the 2003 negotiations and how I believed the union could cut costs and improve service. Then I closed with my "I am but one man, but I believe a waterfall starts with a single drop of rain" speech asking for anyone who believed in the possibility of change to help spread our message and get in touch with me.
I went down to a local print shop and had business cards made up that simply said "make the right choice for local 1518, vote for Scott McPherson for President with a big X marked in a box in the top left corner. It contained my email address, the address of my website and my pager number for those who wanted to contact me by phone. Then I had a picture of a turtle done up and a slogan about the need for change and keeping up with the times and placed these in envelopes addressed to every store shop steward in every store along with a note of who I was and what I was trying to do. I went down to my local Canada Safeway and had a friend drop these envelopes in the company mailbag and they were sent out through the employer delivery system the next day. I did the same with every employer in the UFCW that I knew about. I had asked for a list of employers from local 1518 but they refused to provide me with any information about whom we certified and where I could find them. In particular any information about the home support sector. So I searched through the phone books and town directories and made hundreds of calls asking people if they were unionized and by whom. I built this list along with any contacts I made during the process and used it as my compass for building support.
I was also using every opportunity to search out candidates for a slate of my own. I knew I couldn't reach everyone but if I could win over even one vocal supporter in every store I was miles ahead and so I targeted my efforts towards doing just that. I knew the Audette slate was still out there and if I demonstrated my ability to lead and not just my willingness to complain I stood a good chance of getting them to support me as well. I kept a list of contacts along with a large supply of posters [because company and union officials alike kept tearing them down] and off I went.
I didn't have a guide to work from and there wasn't a winning formula I could follow. Nobody had ever attempted what I was about to do in a local the size of 1518 and that meant with each passing day and every action I was breaking new ground.
Honestly, at times it seemed overwhelming. All I had were my instincts and faith in my own ability to succeed. Every move I made was an exercise of trial and error and flying by the seat of my pants I set out on a wing and a prayer, with a shoe string budget, a stack full of papers and business cards and the knowledge that if I was to have any chance at all I'd not only have to out-work the entire union staff, but out-think them as well. When local 1518 announced they were having Province-wide "round table meetings" between shop stewards and senior 1518 executives I decided the Surrey meeting was the best opportunity to officially launch my campaign.
Of course, despite the fact that I was the Chief shop steward for store 918, I was the only shop steward in my store not invited to the meeting. But I wasn't going to let that stop me. I went anyways and I went late so that they would look terrible asking me to leave. I sat right up front with my fellow stewards from 918 with the intention of passing out my campaign literature to people at the end of the meeting announcing I was running against Brooke for President. When I first entered the meeting I could sense the hostility from 1518 executives and Sundin in particular, but as the meeting progressed and he talked about a number of issues affecting the membership I started having second thoughts.
He seemed so superior to Roger and Rick and after all I was just a 28 year old grocery clerk, what the hell did I know about running a union? I started to wonder if I'd just misjudged the guy, maybe he really was just doing his best and hey, I was far from having all the answers myself. Then I started thinking about Ivan sitting up there and began wondering, "What if I'm wrong about these guys"? "What if I just screw things up even worse than they already are"?
The people from my store knew what I was planning to do and throughout the meeting they kept prompting me to say something. They didn't realize that doubt was growing in my mind, so much so I almost got up and left. I felt like a fool sitting there with my business cards asking people to elect me for President. This guy was a pro, he knew the background, he knew the employers, the politicians and he had this grandfatherly way of talking that made me question my right to even challenge his authority. People aren't going to support me over this guy; I'll be the laughing stock of the union! I started thinking I could still back out of this if I let it go now, just slip out, turn the web site off, throw the business cards in the garbage and let the business agents rip the last of my posters off the union boards around the Province. Just go back and do my job and let the "pro's" do their job without any interference from me. That's when it happened.
Just as I was about to call it quits they turned the floor over to an open question period where we could all ask questions. I asked about the Superstore agreement and local 777 and Brooke's answer just didn't add up. I forgot my copy of the International constitution at home but I was certain he wasn't being entirely honest about what he could've done to stop it, and just who gave the go ahead to set the local up in the first place. I started asking more questions and he started getting testy [a very big mistake with me] so much so he decided everyone wasn't getting their turn and he'd talk to each person directly. He asked who wanted to start and despite the fact I was at the end of one side of the horseshoe with my hand up he turned to the other side! I tried several times to interject but he was getting increasingly angry and short with me, and it didn't help that my fellow 918 stewards got impatient with me and started handing out my business cards around the table.
Don Robertson grabbed one of them and showed it to Brooke who looked at me like I'd just tried to steal his wallet. Then a steward from the back asked a question and both Brooke and education director Glen Toombs quickly answered before I could, but incorrectly. These guys didn't even know our collective agreement and worse still they were telling a group of shop stewards they needed "permission" from management to conduct a grievance investigation and that would only come with a good relationship with the store management built up over time. The same crap Brian Nasu keeps spilling to us! When I began to correct them, the lot of them started fumbling through the CBA and then quickly did an about face and gave a "revised" answer.
Then a female steward asked several questions about representation. The things she was asking Brooke were all things I'd described in my ideas to restructure the locals' shop stewards. She was asking for education programs that I was putting into my election platform and so on and so forth and I could barely contain myself. I had already adopted the potential solutions she hoped to see in my campaign platform and the best Sundin could come up with was that we needed to hire even more expensive business agents! Nobody was going to laugh me out of the building because from steward to steward each one of them was asking for things that I already adopted into my platform and mandate for change. Clearly I'd done my homework and I was on the same page as they were!
The meeting ended and I was talking to some people out in the hallway when I felt a hand grab and squeeze my neck. It was Brooke and he was smiling ear-to-ear and asking people to go into the other room down the hall for wine and cheese. People left and I brought up what one of the stewards mentioned about better service and suggested to him we didn't need more business agents we could represent the members far better by restructuring the way we represent the workers and put more power in the hands of our shop stewards.
Seeing my business card in his other hand I then invited him to log on to my site and judge for himself. He told me he wouldn't be doing that and wasn't interested in my ideas. As I turned my attention to my surroundings I notice several business agents forming a wall with their backs to us facing the corner the other stewards had just gone around. I was alone and Brooke asked me if I was planning on going in the other room and I said I'd thought about it, yes. Then he told me I was going home, that I wasn't invited here and "you know better" and I guess at that point he and his supporters were concerned about my ability to make it into the elevator on my own. It really doesn't matter what happened next, suffice it to say I got a very clear understanding of the true nature of people I was dealing with.
To a large degree I'm grateful for the events of the later part of that evening in that it crystallized precisely what I was up against and forever removed any doubt in myself or in the true intentions of the UFCW executives I intended to replace. I knew with clarity like I've felt at no other time in my life I was doing the right thing, that these guys cared more about themselves than the members and while I was just a 28 year old inexperienced idealist, any mistakes I made would be honest ones with the purpose and intention of empowering the membership and protecting the wages and benefits of my co-workers. Not only was I every bit as qualified to lead our union into the next century but I had a great deal more personal integrity and was far more deserving of the trust of our members.
I also came to the realization that this endeavor one way or another would bring about and end to my career at Save-On Foods. I figured the more successful I was in campaigning the dirtier they were going to play and with an employer who already had a huge axe to grind with me to begin with I had to win the election. I simply had no room for error but I've always believe you don't always pick your battles they sometimes choose you and when they do you've got to step up. So despite the high stakes I decided come hell or high water I was in it to the bitter end. I was running for President! And nothing was going to change my mind.