The MFD Story: Part 3
Hitting the Campaign Trail
"The early bird gets the worm" or so I've heard and there was little doubt that I was the first to hit the campaign trail. I knew I was rolling the dice going public so soon. Either I'd made a mistake and printed a bull's eye on my back or I'd orchestrated one of the best head starts in history. Either way I caught everyone by surprise, particularly the members who had no idea it was even an election year for their union local executive.
I didn't like jumping out that early and giving the opposition a clear target to focus on, but I took the gamble because I knew that, according to the our constitution, there was no set date for an election. The executive only had to call an election sometime during the last 6 months of their term and I was concerned they'd catch everyone off guard with a surprise election announcement. An unprepared opposition wouldn't be able to respond quickly enough to generate the voter turnout needed to unseat the unpopular Brooke Sundin, Local 1518's President. So at the very least my early start would eliminate that possibility by drawing attention to the upcoming elections and force the local executive into a full blown campaign in which they were already falling behind.
I was in full stride and my campaign literature was province-wide before the Sundin camp ever knew what hit them. Within days of the Surrey Round table meeting I was campaigning up the Caribou Hwy to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John and back down through the Okanogan Valley. When I arrived at each store I'd introduce myself to the store manager and explain why I was in the store. More often than not they'd offer to help inform the staff that I was in the building. In the beginning I found store management to be very amicable and accommodating which dramatically improved the speed and efficiency of all my campaign stops. From store to store long term employees said they'd never seen anything like this. Nobody had ever campaigned on the shop floor before and certainly not in any of the northern towns. Given the revolving door of junior business agents throughout the B.C. interior, most hadn't even met their existing representatives.
The trip was a tremendous success and it gave me the opportunity to polish and hone my political skills. I streamlined my message to provide people with just enough information to tweak their interest without overwhelming them, and I perfected an effective routine to quickly get in and out of each store with maximum impact and exposure. It got so that I could read people immediately and adjust my style and tone to side step potential land mines that might hurt my appeal.
I made sure I left plenty of literature, handed out my business cards to everyone I came across in the store and collected phone numbers from anyone interested in aiding the effort. This early road trip turned out to be one of the most significant moves of my entire campaign. I started off awkward and unsure of myself and certainly a joke in the eyes of the Sundin camp but by the end of that trip I could talk to and connect with more people in a day than Sundin's entire team could reach in two. What made my candidacy even more viable were e-board members photo copying my web site and passing copies off to their co-workers like it was some kind of joke. What wasn't funny of course was the reception I often received when I'd first walk into their stores and introduce myself to people who were excited to meet me. At first I was caught off guard because it was the last thing I ever expected. But not one to look a gift horse in the mouth I welcomed the additional help even though I suspected their motivation was to make me look like a fool. At that time I didn't know which disgruntled e-board members were on the Kay Audette's slate so I never left that possibility out either. Nonetheless, the practice of passing around copies of my web page soon stopped when it became abundantly clear I was winning support among the membership as opposed to losing it.
The Sundin camp were continuing to have those "round table meetings" throughout the province but most people knew they were a farce so I wasn't threatened by them. It was the first time in years Sundin had made any attempt to meet with the members in such an intimate way and most people saw it for what it was [a chance to campaign on the members dime to save his ass]. Besides, with the business agents at every location hand picking people they thought wouldn't give Sundin a hard time they were canvassing the wrong demographic.
Most of the workplace leaders that had influence with their fellow workers were not attending these wine and cheese parties and they were the people I was talking too on the shop floor. In addition to that, a lot of people were annoyed the meetings were being held at expensive hotels on a special invite basis only. While I was in the stores trying to meet people and listen to what they had to say, Sundin and his camp expected the members [and a privileged few at that] to go to them and in doing so they came across as elitist and exclusive. "I guess I'm not good enough for them" was a phrase I heard numerous times on the subject and I calculated that decision was actually hurting his bid for President more than helping it.
So the fact it was a blatant use of union funds for shameless self-promotion didn't bother me in the least. I figured the more he continued to have these meetings, the better my chances for success. What was a concern for me was the full-scale member service representatives program [MSR] that was in full swing now for several weeks by then. One of the most significant factors in any political election is name recognition. You absolutely have to get your name out there and on the minds of the voters if you expect to have any chance of winning an election. Most of the people on the MSR program were people who eventually ran as candidates on Sundin's "action team" slate with one very notable exception, Brian Macaffy. Sundin chose him to be the election chair and would later hire him as a full time business agent. I knew damn well it was just another blatant use of union funds to promote these candidates for Sundin's slate in the upcoming election. One of added benefits of campaigning early was that it gave me the opportunity to enlighten members on that program's true purpose and negate much of its intended benefit.
Sundin and his supporters were touring the province under the guise of "collecting information to update the union's current mailing address" and my early campaigning helped even the most na´ve worker recognize that dog didn't hunt. This was all information our employers had on file and if updating the mailing list was the only motivation why couldn't it have been achieved with a simple phone call and subsequent fax from the employers office to the union office in Burnaby? It was blatantly obvious these people were politicking and they were doing it on our dime. As the members put two and two together it only fuelled their bitterness and helped convince them of the need for change.
They were still hurting my campaign however, particularly in the interior of the province where I couldn't afford to return and replace my literature. Thus, not only was I trying to out-work the entire union staff, but now candidates on Sundin's slate were being paid by the union to tour the province. Despite my best efforts they were tearing down my campaign literature faster than I could put it back up! Several times when I'd run into these people in the stores I'd leave and wait out in my truck until they left, and then head back into the coffee room only to find all my stuff in the garbage. It was dirty, disgraceful and as undemocratic as it gets. To say I wasn't impressed is a gross understatement, but I also realized that the Sundin camp would spare no expense to get themselves re-elected and this was only the tip of the ice-burg.
I can't even begin to count the number of phone surveys that were going around during that time. From early September to late October Local 1518 members were so inundated with phone calls about the election that people were tossing their ballots in the garbage out of sheer frustration. All in all it was a disgustingly inappropriate misuse of union funds. But if that wasn't enough some business agents, no doubt angry and resentful over proposals in my election platform to eliminate more than half of their positions, were taking every opportunity to slam my character and undermine my credibility. One business agent even went so far as to tell a group of shop stewards I was nothing but a lunatic bent on destroying the union, a move that would ultimately prove extremely beneficial for me because it galvanized in the minds of two of those stewards that I was worth supporting. Not long after that both Brian Pinter and Kelvin Monson [two of our strongest and hardest working candidates] agreed to run as candidates on my slate and were instrumental in forming what would ultimately become the MFD.
While the MSR people were hurting my chances in the interior, Sundin's supporters in the lower mainland couldn't keep up and they were mad as hell that I was out campaigning before the election was even called. Nothing better exemplified that sentiment than one of their supporters at a Safeway store in Surrey telling staff I was violating the International constitution and by-laws campaigning before the election was officially called. A Chief shop steward, he told his co-workers he wasn't voting for a guy who wouldn't even follow the rules! When I confronted him about the misinformation he was spreading he implied he got his information from an e-board member who knew the constitution and voted on it at the Chicago convention. I guess he didn't realize I always kept a copy of the International constitution and by-laws with me and failing to show me where and how I'd violated any such by-law he apologized to me in front of some of his co-workers. Unfortunately some damage had already been done and this was only the beginning of the dirty tactics. As the campaign dragged on, the rumour mill swung into high gear and my employer couldn't wait to get in on the action.
I hadn't been back to work a week after my trip to the interior and already the bogus suspensions were starting along with "creative" scheduling that had me virtually exhausted in a matter of weeks. The contract called for a minimum of 10 hours between shifts and I'd work a 5 a.m., then a 3:30 followed by a graveyard and back to 3:30. Supervisors would follow me around the store spying on me while I worked and before I started my shifts they'd be out in the back parking lot "having a smoke". Of course, they were in a position to see if I was even a minute late. If I went in by the front doors instead I'd hear my name being paged the minute my shift was scheduled to start and it would continue to be paged every minute until I answered. My workload kept increasing and my breaks were timed. I had to let my supervisor know when I took a break despite the fact my co-workers were not required to do the same. One morning my store manager severely chastised me for not getting the store faced in 4 hours [a job that used to take 8 hours]. Fortunately I managed to maneuver a friend over to witness him telling me several times "I don't want an English (label) face. I want it done or I'm writing you up". So the next morning I did what he asked to the letter and faced the entire store upside down, French and backwards. The stunt backfired on me a little because it made its way across the province and hurt my credibility.
But all these dirty tricks and petty harassment from my supervisors just motivated me even more. Determined not to let them get the better of me, I stepped up my efforts even further and starting calling on stores during the graveyard shift. I figured if they were going to drive me to insomnia I'd at least make the best use of my time. My target demographic was pre-ratification part time workers to mid level full time workers. In the grocery business these people were primarily working the graveyard shift anyway. Safeway in particular had shifted a lot of senior staff to that horrible shift and going to the stores in the middle of the night gave me a captive audience to pitch my ideas and build not only support but also respect for being willing to meet with them in the middle of the night. Once again I'd been dealt a box of lemons and I'd made lemonade but the strain was getting to be too much, even for me.
I was living and breathing the campaign 24-7, surviving on employer demos and 2-3 hours sleep. I traveled from store to store every spare second that I wasn't working at Save-On or answering e-mails and updating my web site. By the end of September I was burning out fast and, to add to my growing frustrations about all the dirty tactics, Save-On [and days later Safeway] managers started asking me to leave the stores!
They told me the union was upset that "unauthorized" people were talking to their members and from now on if you weren't on the union's list [meaning MSR] they had directions from head office to immediately ask people to leave. In the Richmond Save-on I stood there as the assistant store manager talked with OFG's head of human resources and confirmed I wasn't on "the list" and had to leave. I asked Don Robertson to put me on the list given he knew I was campaigning for President. His cheeky smart-ass response was I wasn't part of MSR so he wasn't putting me on the list. I also had been completely closed off from any entry into the home support sector offices and industrial sector buildings where many Local 1518 members worked. I couldn't even get into the coffee rooms to post my material [something that never changed throughout the entire campaign] and when I tried to put literature on the windshields of cars out in the parking lot, the police were called to escort me off the premises. Unfortunately because of this I was forced to focus strictly on the retail stores where I could walk in like all the other customers. I made it very clear to any manager who approached me "you're more than welcome to try and physically remove me if you want, but don't expect it to be easy or me to go willingly". To hell with these guys. They could shove their threats of trespassing.
I started talking to people on the floor while they worked, I walked into coolers and back rooms and I got to be so efficient that by the time any manager even knew I was there I'd already have talked to everyone and be on my way to the next store. Then the managers started calling other stores to give their fellow managers a heads up and before long managers were waiting at the doors for me. In response I mapped out company districts and split up my campaigning schedule so that if a manager tried to call ahead I'd shift to another district they wouldn't expect me to drive to. On the North Shore, however, this was a great deal more problematic and at one point I came very close to punching out a Save-On manager who made the mistake of touching me. An intense situation was narrowly averted only because a steward who witnessed the altercation became incensed at his manager for sticking his nose into union business. This guy grabbed most of my campaign literature and started handing it out to the staff around the store right in front of the manager and posted everything for me. I was tired, angry, frustrated and burning out fast. I needed some help and it couldn't come soon enough.
Fortunately several people had e-mailed me by this time asking for more info on my ideas and what they could do to help. One person in particular from the Mission Save-On was very eager to help and even offered to enlist her son. But I had heard there was a very good friend of Dawn Green's [a Local 1518 rep] from that store that intended to run on Brooke's slate and I thought this person might be her. I figured with all the crap that had already gone on, sending me a "helper" who would sabotage my campaign was not out of the question so I was very cautious in speaking with her.
She told me of her march on the non-union Save-On's during '96 and it seemed too good to be true. I thought for sure she was Dawn's friend so I asked around for information about this friend. The only thing anyone could tell me was that she was a brunette. Wouldn't you know it, so was this person I was speaking to and just to complicate things even further I also heard that there was another steward from Mission that I should get in touch with. So I couldn't afford to blow her off on the slight chance she was the woman I needed to speak with. I asked her what she thought of Dawn Green and she told me they used to be friends. Well I thought, nice try lady.
I told her that she could pass around anything from my web site if she felt it would help the campaign but what I didn't tell her is that I suspected she was Dawn's friend and until I knew for certain that she wasn't, I wouldn't let her in on anything I was planning. No way was Sharon [siggy] Sigurdur going to fool me boy.
Then I got a strange call from a guy who wouldn't tell me his name and blocked star 69 so I couldn't trace the call. He said he represented "a group" of people who were interested in my campaign. He said that this group wanted to see as many people run against Sundin as possible and asked if I knew of any other potential candidates. I told him that if removing Sundin was the plan you needed fewer candidates and not more. Sundin was the unpopular candidate, the more opposition candidates that ran, the more you split the anti-Brooke vote. We agreed to disagree and like some silly cloak and dagger spy novel he said he'd be in touch and hung up. A few days later I was in a Safeway hitting up the demo table for some chow and this demo lady started asking me a whole bunch of questions a normal demo person just wouldn't know to ask about the upcoming election. She took one of my business cards "for a friend" and I started wondering if the stress of the past 6 weeks hadn't taken more of a toll on me than I thought.
In the beginning everything was upbeat and optimistic, but now I seemed to be approaching every situation and person as a possible threat. I knew that I had to change that and fast if I didn't want to loose my momentum. Finally, one night at a Safeway in Vancouver an assistant store manager woke me up in the coffee room. I'd fallen asleep waiting for a cashier to go on her coffee break and this guy had a cup of coffee for me. He told me he was supposed to ask me to leave but he wanted to make sure I was OK to drive and the coffee was to keep my eyes open. He wondered why I was pushing so hard and if it was worth it and when I mentioned my stuff being pulled off the boards faster than I could put it up he took copies of all my material and promised me I'd never find my literature taken down from his store again [a promise he kept, by the way]. I agreed to go home and get some sleep.
I had a terrible cold by this time and I was losing my voice anyway so after I finished talking to that cashier I called it a night. September had come and gone and Sundin still hadn't called the election. I knew I couldn't keep up this pace much longer. The strain was just too much. Looking back I'm amazed I was even able to hang in there at that point. In hindsight I'm sure glad I did.
Just as I was starting to feel beaten and overwhelmed help came from the most unlikely place. That demo lady that peaked my suspicions earlier wasn't just another demo person after all. Her husband was Robert E. Adams, Executive Vice President of UFCW Local 1518 and the Secretary-Treasurer hopeful on the slate fronted by Kay Audette. I'd made an impression and they wanted to talk to me about leading their slate in the election. A meeting was being arranged and most of their candidates would be in attendance or on the phones via conference call. Roger Heraba and Rick Romano were also being given the same opportunity but given the work I'd done and the lack of any real effort on their part, I welcomed the challenge. I had supporters, I had the platform, the vision and the drive, all I needed was some rest so I could refocus and be sharp for the meeting.
It was a decision that would ultimately end my campaign for President and head us all down a path that would lead eventually to the creation of the MFD.