Secret Deals Done Dirt-Cheap!
You are entitled to a decent honest union. That's what Kevin Corporon was telling service industry workers in 1984 when he led a very successful organizing drive in the Swiss Chalet Restaurant chain.
Back in those days Corporon was a pretty committed trade unionist. He worked hard to liberate the thousands of mostly female restaurant workers from the sweetheart union they were fooled into joining a few years earlier. In his campaign literature Corporon slammed the awful sweetheart union for its lack of democracy and its lousy representation. He took its leaders to task for keeping members in the dark about decisions that affected them. "Communication with members is essential to a strong and united union", he said. Workers are entitled to a decent honest union and the UFCW was just that kind of union.
The Making of a Machine Head
Brother Corporon's organizing campaign was halted by Cliff Evans who, at the time, was on an upward trajectory that would eventually lead to him total control of the Canadian UFCW. With the campaign over and the members handed back to the sweetheart union they were trying to escape, Brother Corporon soft-landed with UFCW Local 1000a. The Local had its origins as an employee association (Union of Canadian Retail Employees) that represented workers at Loblaws supermarkets starting in the 1940's. In the late 1970's UCRE's President, Dan Gilbert, merged his union with what would become the UFCW.
Maybe it was the shock of the backroom deal that ended his organizing campaign or the influence of the business union culture that would consume the Canadian UFCW under Evans' leadership, or both, but Brother Corporon fell into the comfortable world of labour-management partnering and never looked back.
I knew Brother Corporon quite well back in the days when he was going to bat for exploited service industry workers. (That's a whole other story however, and although I do intend to tell it one day soon, there are more pressing matters to discuss at the moment.) When our paths crossed again many years later I was stunned at his transition from hero to zero when it came to democratic unionism. The UFCW, Local President Corporon explained in a perfunctory way - as if it were the most normal thing on earth - could not be trusted to its members. The union was much too big for that. It had too many complicated contracts to negotiate, too many important investments to manage and many labour-management relationships to nurture. If democracy was permitted, a member who didn't understand the complexities and the union's direction could really do some damage. He himself had not been elected to the position of President of the huge local he now led. His predecessor, Dan Gilbert, stepped aside and he was appointed. "That's how we do things in our union", he explained.
How things are done in his union has worked well for him. As president of the humungous Local, which represents over 20,000 service industry workers across Ontario, Corporon is living large. His salary and taxable perks weigh in at just over $146,000.00 a year. He represents members some of whom, under his latest achievement in collective bargaining, will be earning as little as $7.00 per hour. Unlike his members Kevin doesn't have to worry about being poor or insecure. His about as secure on his perch as any worker can be. He's never been elected by Local 1000a's members and will never have to worry about being deposed by through a democratic process. There isn't one.
The days of railing against the injustice of backroom unionism are long behind him. Today Corporon cuts deals in backrooms with profitable employers and paternalistically tells the members it's for their own good. For those who ask questions, Corporon pitches management's business strategy and stridently defends the need for greed.
Just this past summer he did a secret backroom deal that would make his old nemesis, Bill Whyte the leader of the sweetheart union that Corporon was slamming back then, blush. (More about Kevin's campaign at Swiss Chalet and a famous story involving Bill Whyte.)
Backroom Biggies Get Caught
Corporon's secret deal, which will allow the hugely profitable Loblaw Companies to hire cheaper labour at a new chain of stores and give Corporon's local thousands of new members, has been challenged by Ben Blasdell, a member of Local 1000a from Collingwood Ontario. He's filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board charging that the union breached its Duty to Fair Representation (DFR) when it cut the secret deal without telling members a word about it or letting them vote on it. Blasdell refuses to partake of the buffet of bullshit that's been fed to the members about why the deal was necessary and why they didn't get to ratify it. So do we here at MFD.
We're going the extra mile to keep Local 1000a members (and the rest of the world) up to date on the progress of Ben Blasdell's DFR. In the discussion thread that accompanies this article you'll find regular updates on the complaint and further information about the UFCW, Loblaw Co's and their secret deal. You can also register in the discussion forum and talk about what's happening, exchange ideas on what can be done to stop it and generally tell the world what's happening to you and your fellow union members. If you're a UFCW Local 1000a member you can add your name to the complaint and join Ben in what is going to be a pivotal case for union members. UFCW Local 1000a members can add their names simply by filling out this form.
It all started sometime late last year when Corporon along with the Presidents of UFCW Locals 175 and 1977 and UFCW Canada Director Cliff-Evans'-nephew-Michael-Fraser hauled off into the backroom with some officials from the hugely profitable Loblaw Companies for some secret discussions.
The three local Pres's and Cliff Evans nephew, UFCW Canada Director Michael Fraser have a close relationship with the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's. Each local represents thousands of workers at various supermarkets in the Loblaw Co's empire (Local 175 at Fortino's Supermarkets, Local 1977 at Zehr's Markets and Local 1000a at Loblaws Supermarkets). Over the years, the union leaders have given a good deal of ground in the cause of Loblaw Co's continued profitability. For in-depth insight into the UFCW's backwards bargaining, see Jan Kainer's 1998 paper called Gender, Corporate Restructuring and Concession Bargaining in Ontario's Food Retail Sector). Over the past decade, two-tier wage scales, lengthy wage progressions and the rampant spread of part time and casual work have become standard features of UFCW bargaining with the hugely profitable company that is the undisputed market leader in the Canadian retail food industry.
The backroom deal that was hatched with the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's earlier this year, however, takes UFCW concession bargaining to a whole new level. The previous deals had, in the least, been put the members for ratification. In this case, the members at Local 1000a were served up a done deal with a large serving of business propaganda to help wash it down.
Here's how the deal went down, according to documents filed by Loblaw Co's and UFCW Local 1000a with the Ontario Labour Relations Board:
Sometime in 2002, senior executives at the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's summoned their UFCW partners - Kevin Corporon from Local 1000a, Wayne Hanley from Local 175, Brian Williamson from Local 1977, and Cliff Evans' nephew, UFCW Canada Director Mike Fraser, to a high-level meeting where they announced that they had competition. Wal-Mart was coming to town with its Sam's Club warehouse stores and its Wal-Mart Supercenter's. The Supercenters sell groceries and, for this reason, must have been a major part of the selling pitch. In response to the impending invasion the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's had come up with a business strategy to make it more competitive.
It planned to launch a chain of new stores, called Real Canadian Super Stores (RCSS's) which were going to sell groceries and some department store merchandise, sort of like Wal-mart's Supercenter stores in the US. The company intended to get the RCSS's happening really soon. No more conventional Loblaws, Zehr's of Fortino's supermarkets would be opened. From here on in, it would be RCSS all the way. Some RCSS's would be newly built stores while others would be existing supermarkets converted to the RCSS format.
So that these new stores had a good shot at keeping the company hugely profitable, the guys from Loblaw Co's told the union leaders that they wanted to put the Loblaws, Fortino's and Zehr's "banners" on them. This was because the grocery-shopping public recognizes these "brand names" and is more likely to shop at the RCSS's if they think they're pretty much like Loblaws, Fortino's or Zehr's.
Doing so, however, would mean that the RCSS's would be stuck with the current contracts with UFCW Locals 1000a, 1977 and 175 and that's not what the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's wanted. Wal-Mart pays its workers low wages and provides minimal benefits. The RCSS's would be that much more competitive if they could pay low wages and provide minimal benefits too. So the representatives from the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's put a deal to their UFCW partners: We'll fork over the thousands of new RCSS workers to your bargaining units if you agree to lower wages and benefits for them. If you don't, we'll screw you and your current members and what are you going to do about it? According to President Corporon, the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's threatened to close unionized stores, throw unionized members out of work and open new non-union supermarkets.
The Boys from Biz Union Central Take the Bait
If the UFCW leaders considered for a minute the grossly unfair labour practice that was being committed here (if that's what the company guys said - they tell a slightly different story), they didn't want to spend a lot of time mulling it over. Instead, they dove into the deal, secretly, without consulting the thousands of members who would be affected, without even letting them know that talks that would significantly amend their collective agreements had started.
Several months of negotiating ensued so that the UFCW could work out some "options" for the current members who would be affected by the store closures and store conversions that would take place once the company began implementing its new business strategy: Severance packages, transfers to stores up to 40 km (25 miles) away from their current work locations, secondary bumping rights, jobs in the new RCSS's (where they would be covered by the scaled back provisions of the RCSS deal). For some there were even non-union jobs at the RCSS's.
Were these really benefits or just some bones tossed out to the current members to give them a warm feeling while their lives were being disrupted? It's all in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, none of the 8,000 "beholders" who were going to be affected by the secret deal were asked for their perspective.
Then sometime in June of 2003, the deal was done. The "scope" clauses of the UFCW Locals' current contracts would be amended to include workers from the RCSS's. A substantial number of new provisions that would apply to the newbie members were added to the existing agreements. The RCSS workers would have different wage rates, different entitlements to benefits, overtime, vacations, hours of work, statutory holiday pay and bereavement leave. In addition, some jobs that were in the bargaining unit at existing stores would be non-union at the new RCSS's, thereby giving management greater flexibility in managing. Amendments were also included in the current collective agreements to spell out the options that would be available to current members.
All of this was done, to hear both the company and the union tell it, because... there's competition in the free market. On the plus side however, the company would pay to each of the three locals $450,000.00 over three years for communication and education initiatives and would promise that it would not ask for concessions when their contracts were next up for renewal.
The UFCW Cult of Secrecy
The UFCW claims that it was acting in the interests of the members. We don't buy it. How could the union know what was in the members' interests if it never consulted them? It went out of its way to keep the negotiations a secret from them. Worse still, it agreed to a demand by the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's to deny them their right to vote on the deal.
According to Local 1000a, Loblaw Co's officials insisted from the outset of the negotiations that members not be allowed to ratify the deal. Without saying they agreed or disagreed, the three union presidents plunged into the talks. By May of this year, with the talks nearly concluded, the thorny issue of the members' right to vote on it reared its ugly head. Williamson and Hanley of Locals 1977 and 175 were insistent that members be allowed to vote and their intransigence on this point almost collapsed the talks.
But President Corporon and Cliff Evans' nephew, UFCW Canada Director Mike Fraser, saved the day with a clever compromise: Rather than having a ratification vote, why not just give the members a chance to give their Local President a "mandate" to sign the done deal? This appears to have saved the day and is exactly what Local 1977 would do. Corporon's Local 1000a, however, would not ask the members to approve anything. Members would be told nothing about the deal until long after it was done. Playing it extra safe, Corporon would ask his Divisional Committee to give the deal their seal of approval.
On June 17, 2003, after two days of presentations about the "Wal-Mart Threat" and the yummy goodness of the secret deal, the Local 1000a Divisional Committee said "yes". One month later, just as the three-month "open period" window (during which they could have decertified Local 1000a or changed unions) closed, the members were finally informed of what their leader had done.
Weapons of Mass Deception
During the week of July 14th, a series of four meetings were held to explain to Local 1000a's 8,000 members from across Ontario what was in the deal. President Corporon took to the stage to deliver the good news. He was armed with a manipulative slide presentation that presented Wal-Mart as the marauding horde of the retail industry and the secret deal he made as the last hope for saving the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's from certain doom. Members were outraged, especially upon hearing that they would not be allowed to ratify the changes to their collective agreement - because the company didn't want them to! But what could they do?
Their leader had already committed them to it. The company didn't want them to have an opportunity to vote - that would get in the way of the deal. If the union insisted on the members' having their rights, the company would take the crappy thing off the table and the union couldn't let that happen.
Then there would be no jobs at the yet unopened RCSS's, no $450,000 for communication and education, no new members for the union, strained relations with the company. It was as if they were saying, "Come on guys! Don't you get it? We're doing this for you." In addition, the company had made a commitment that, come the next round of negotiations in 2006, it would not - definitely not - ask for any more concessions. That is an unprecedented breakthrough in collective bargaining that would allow the workers to make a smooth transition into the new world of retail. We'll ride the tidal wave of change instead of being drowned by it the slide show ended on an enthusiastic note.
The members can be forgiven for not cheering. A lot of them were stunned. They thought that union members have the right to ratify their collective agreements. They believed that employers couldn't threaten store closures and layoffs to wring mid-term concessions from unions. There are laws against that sort of thing aren't there? Their union was telling them that it had not bargained concessions but agreeing to reduced wages and benefits under a collective agreement is concession bargaining isn't it? For all their Local President's assurances that they were not going to be affected - they would be. For all the assurances about how their contract wasn't being changed - it already was. Didn't they have a right to know what they're union was doing? Didn't they have the right to be consulted? What tidal wave were they going to ride?
In the weeks that followed, members poured out their anger to a confused public that seemed to have a hard time understanding that in Canada, some unions are anything but democratic. What did the union have to gain? Isn't there a law? A couple of media outlets (notably the Toronto Star and the Now Magazine) actually captured the members' concerns in their reporting on the secret deal, while other mainstream publications quoted chapter and verse from corporate and UFCW news releases about how the workers were being enlisted in the "War against Wal-mart". The military imagery used by the UFCW is offensive as it is ridiculous: The Wal-Mart Invasion, the Wal-Mart Threat, the two retail "titans" in a "pitched battle" for market share. We half expect to see Saddam Hussein himself crossing Lake Ontario into the Canadian market carrying a banner "Low Prices Always" flying from the end of his upraised rifle.
UFCW leaders defended their secret dealings and their concessionary deal. Cliff Evans' nephew, UFCW Canada Director Mike Fraser, called it a "forward thinking accord" and praised his union for getting representation rights for thousands of new members.
"In stores currently open, food-handling employees and cashiers will continue to receive their current salary and benefits package according to their existing union contracts. No change. No rollbacks. No changes period to their current collective agreements." Mike stated adamantly.
President Corporon said he made the best of a bad situation. The company was profitable, he acknowledged, but he wanted them to be even more profitable - so they could compete.
"That was a choice we wrestled with," Corporon said. "It's been a bitter pill to swallow for us and for the members, but we think, when we worked it through, it's really a win for the union to achieve what we did in light of the position we've been put in, and for the workers."
It's a win for the union alright. They'll be $1.35 million to the good (among the three locals) and have piles of new dues paying members delivered to their door. For the current members, let's see... there's severance pay, bumping, transfers, non-union jobs... yada, yada, yada. But to hear the UFCW leaders play it up, it's all Wal-mart's fault. It's Wal-Mart's entry into the Canadian marketplace that is causing all this to happen.
The dreaded invaders from planet Wal-Mart must be pissing themselves laughing. Wal-mart representatives stated that there are no plans to bring Wal-Mart Supercenters (the stores that sell groceries) into Canada and that the four (count 'em - four) Sam's Club warehouse stores slated for opening in the Toronto area are going to compete with Costco Warehouse stores - not Loblaws Supermarkets. All of this is supported by what industry analysts have been saying for years.
Indeed, certain analysts believe that the move to the RCSS's has nothing to do with Loblaw's competing with Wal-mart's Supercenters (which aren't coming to Canada anyway) but with Loblaws wanting to expand into the department store merchandise market. This is a logical move on their part. Loblaw's dominance of the grocery industry in Canada has left the company with nowhere left to expand in the food business. They can't have more market share than they presently have without running afoul of business competition regulations. A move in department store merchandise is an expansion of their business not an effort to protect market share they currently have from a competitor.
"Loblaw wouldn't be doing anything different if there wasn't a threat from Wal-Mart and superstores," David Brodie, an analyst with Research Capital Corp., said. "They'd still be spending every nickel of cash flow, plowing it into capital expenditures to expand their capacity and going into general merchandise."
It's not that Loblaw's is fighting to maintain its share of the market. It's swallowed the market and is looking for another one to get into. Lower labour costs at the new RCSS's will just allow it to make more profit in that market - where they have the resources to make themselves a major player with or without help from the UFCW. None of this appears to have been considered by the UFCW leaders. If it was, the big kahunas offer no clues as to why they preferred to go along with what Loblaw's officials told them instead.
Nowhere did the UFCW honchos explain how their agreement to Wal-Martize large numbers of union members was going to effect their decade-long "War on Wal-mart" or what possible reason Wal-mart workers could have to join the UFCW when it was bargaining "low wages always". The incongruence of the Canadian Locals' secret deal with the UFCW International's ongoing efforts at organizing Wal-Mart workers most likely didn't cross the minds of the UFCW's leaders. At their International Convention in San Francisco just a week after members were advised of the deal, Corporon was treated with much respect by the UFCW's American brass, who must have been aware of his secret deal.
Nor has any explanation been offered up by Cliff Evans' nephew, UFCW Canada Director Mike Fraser, the leader of the Canadian UFCW for his abrupt change of heart on the issue of the Wal-mart Threat.
Two years ago, Mike heaped scorn on the leaders of the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's for suggesting that workers' should sacrifice to keep the company hugely profitable when Wal-Mart comes to town. For once, Mike actually said something that we could agree with:
UFCW Canada Director Michael Fraser attacked comments made by company chair Galen Weston at Loblaw's AGM in Halifax. Weston told reporters that the company is looking for "more flexibility" in its labour relationships. A statement by company president John Lederer added, "It is important for both union leaders and our employees to recognize this evolving competitive landscape..."
Fraser said that the solid financial health of Loblaw Companies Ltd. should be an indicator of good times ahead for its employees. "This is a time for the Loblaw companies to be enjoying their prosperity and sharing those benefits with the workers who make the profits possible. Instead, there appears to be a coded message in these statements, and that is that Loblaws wants to lower the high benchmark our union has set for workers in this industry," says Fraser.
"They seem to be intent on trying to drive down the high standards that UFCW Canada members currently enjoy, all because they feel threatened by what they call 'non-union mass merchandisers' like Wal-Mart. Well, we're not dealing with Wal-Mart. We're dealing with Loblaw. When Galen Weston is taking home $20-million a year, and (retired president) Richard Currie gets a $10- million going-away present, this is simply unacceptable. Rather than making such unproductive use of its profits, the company should be reinvesting that kind of money into its most valuable resource, the workers who have made Loblaw such a leader in its industry. UFCW Canada will ensure that our members are rewarded for the contribution they make to the continued success of this employer."
(From HRM Guide Canada: UFCW Canada finds Loblaw comments "unacceptable")
Nothing changed in the intervening two years except Fraser's perspective. We wonder what prompted this sudden about-face? Wal-Mart is no more and no less a competitive threat to the hugely profitable Loblaw Co's than it was in 2001.
Local 1000a even launched a new web site (disturbingly titled www.ufcwrealcanadian.ca) from which a smug President Corporon seeks to justify his secret deal by whipping up Wal-mart paranoia, offering up lame excuses as to why he did not use the legal protections available to him against the company's threats and laying on the scary-military jargon. Nowhere, however, does Kevin (UFC-dubya) Corporon explain why he negotiated in secret for several months, or why he kept his discussions from the members or why it's OK under any circumstances for an employer to deprive union members of their legal rights to ratify changes to their contract.
Ours is an open union, responsive to our members. If you have questions or concerns not addressed here, please let us know. We will always respond fully and honestly. Our industry may change but the values of our founders -- respect for the members and unwavering loyalty to their best interests -- will never change.
(From UFCW Local 1000a: Loblaws vs Wal-Mart Where We Stand)
In their filings with the OLRB, Local 1000a dishes out a pile of anti-Wal-mart invective and plays up the many benefits of its secret pact. It goes on and on about the information that that was provided to the Divisional Committee and the information that was presented to the members after the deal was done. Nowhere does it explain why it was all done in secrecy. Presumably the union's leaders and the corporate officials wanted it that way just like the company didn't want a ratification vote which, by the way, President Corporon states, is not necessary for mid-term revisions of collective agreements. Local Presidents can presumably have the members ratify a deal one day and turn around and amend it in secret the next day. Brother Corporon is either stupid or thinks we are.
Riding a Tidal Wave of Money
There's no doubt that the hugely-profitable Loblaw Co's and its hugely-profitable business union are going to come out of this deal riding a big wave of money. Loblaw Co's can open its new chain of supermarkets with substantially lower labour costs. The UFCW gains thousands of new part-time dues payers, which under the UFCW union dues structure means big dollars for the union. UFCW members pay union dues as a flat weekly rate rather than a percentage of earnings.) Two or three part-timers can actually generate more dues revenue for the union than one full time member. UFCW Locals 175, 1000a and 1977 will also get $450,000 each (that's $1.35 million) over three years for their communication and education programs. Done dirt-cheap!
For the members, however, there's a promise that their rights - such as they are - will be protected as they feel the impact of the tidal wave of change and there will be no further concessions in 2006.
The UFCW's forward-thinking accord makes major modifications to their collective agreement. The backroom buddies play down this aspect of their deal. It's not a change, it's an appendix, they say. Well, we're not that dumb. Anything that modifies an agreement is a change. It should have been ratified.
They're going to be more vulnerable to layoffs and bumping as the company forges ahead with it business strategy. For them there are buy-out packages and possible transfers into the new stores. Some may find themselves transferring into non-union jobs. But whether it's a good deal or a bad deal isn't really the issue, it should have been ratified.
The secret deal was necessary, the union has said because: Wal-Mart is moving into the Ontario market with its Sam's Club warehouse stores and Wal-Mart Supercenters. They whine that Loblaws needs a break. If we take this logic to its end, then every business that competes with an industry leader might as well reduce its wages and benefits to the bare minimums because if Loblaws can't compete with Wal-Mart, nobody can compete with anybody. But whether Loblaws needs concessions to compete with Wal-mart isn't really the issue. The concessions should have been ratified.
In Local 1000a's response to Ben Blasdell's DFR complaint, Kevin Corporon makes no bones about where he stands on the ratification issue. The members aren't entitled to ratify the deal. He, as Local President, can do what the hell he wants and they're stuck with it. He's similarly candid about why he didn't tell them what was going on when the negotiations began: He doesn't think he had to and besides; it would have just resulted in fruitless debate. Bullshit! Ratifying their agreement is their right.
New from President's Choice: You won't believe it's a union!
A decent union doesn't operate this way. A decent union would have told the members what was going on right from the beginning and let them decide what's right for them.
But President Corporon didn't want to give the members of Local 1000a that opportunity. Maybe he was afraid they wouldn't quite understand the benefits of the deal the way he'd like them to. Or maybe he figured they'd tell him where to stick it. He went ahead without ratification because he didn't want the "fruitless debate" and because he just knew what was best for the members - all 8,000 of them, without ever asking them. Maybe he went ahead because he just thought he could get away with it. Sure there might be some grumbling in the ranks, but to hell with the members. What could they do once the deal was done? He's going to find out.
The outcome of Ben Blasdell's DFR complaint might be a long way off but it stands to shake the business unionists right out of their SUV's and send as message to backroom dealers everywhere. It's difficult to win these kinds of complaints but Blasdell has a lot of going for him. Apart from what actually happened (which is not in dispute), the letter of the law, the helpful statements made by union and company officials, there's the worldwide exposure that his DFR complaint is going to get right here at MFD.
In order to win, he must convince the OLRB that the UFCW acted in a manner that was arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith. We think he's got some pretty good arguments. Blasdell has told the OLRB that by failing to consult with the members, the union acted arbitrarily. The effect of the deal on women workers who are disproportionately represented in low wage part time classifications throughout the retail food industry makes it discriminatory. The secrecy surrounding the deal, the $450,000 that the union is going to get as part of the bargain, the union's failure to put it to a vote (at the company's insistence) and it's steadfast promotion of the company's agenda are evidence of bad faith. And there's a lot more.
He's asking the OLRB to nullify the deal or, in the very least, to order a proper ratification vote. He's also asked for an interim order requiring the deal to be suspended until the DFR complaint has been dealt with.
Dumb and Dumber
United in arrogance, partnered in greed, the UFCW and Loblaw Co's defend their secret deal. It's bad enough that they did it, it's worse the litany of confused excuses and lame proclamations that the union has fed its members to justify its actions or maybe to stave off the gathering storm of protest that it has been dodging for almost a decade.
In its replies to Blasdell's DFR and interim order request, Local 1000a regurgitates, at great length that "Wal-mart is coming!" It says the company said it needed a break because it had competition and the union - based on its knowledge and experience - agreed. It characterizes the $450,000 it's going to collect from Loblaw Co's as something normal, something that many unions do. It defends its acquiescence to the company's demand that members not be allowed to ratify the deal with this perverse logic:
"There was, in any event, no possibility of conducting a ratification vote in the circumstances of this case. Loblaws' offer was conditional on there being no ratification vote. Had Local 1000a "conducted" a ratification vote, there would have been nothing to ratify".
That statement deserves some kind of award for business-unionist idiocy. It's like someone saying to you: "I'll sell you my apartment building but you must promise me that you will never ever lease any units to people of colour. If you don't promise me this, I will not sell you the building." So you promise the vendor that you will never lease any units in the building to people of colour and he sells you the place. Within weeks you have a Human Rights complaint from an applicant who claims you declined to rent to him because of his race. "I had no choice", you say to the Human Rights Commission. "The former owner of the building said his offer to sell it to me was conditional upon my promising to discriminate. If I hadn't promised to discriminate there would have been no sale. I would not be the owner and therefore could not have engaged in any discriminatory practices." No kidding. It's really that stupid!
Local 1000a states that consulting with members prior to its negotiations with the company would "result in fruitless debate" and besides, ratification of mid-term amendments to collective agreements is not required since these kinds of amendments are like grievance settlements. "If each such settlement was subject to a duly conducted ratification vote," the union states,"... labour relations in this province would grind to a halt". This ludicrous statement almost tops the idiotic assertion in the preceding paragraph. Grievance settlements are not like collective bargaining agreements. Any idiot who knows the fundamentals of labour law knows that. 'Nuff said.
Local 1000a calls Blasdell's contention that the concessions for workers at the new stores will have a discriminatory effect on women workers "nonsense" and that his request that the deal be put to members for ratification by an overwhelming majority is "undemocratic".
"The result of this request would be that an underwhelming minority could thwart the wishes of the "overwhelming majority (less one)."
We have no idea what the hell this means. If you can figure it out, let us know.
The essence of the company's response is that it did nothing wrong. It simply asked the union for a break so that it could be more competitive and the union agreed. Contrary to the UFCW's assertion that the company threatened to open its new stores non-union if it did not get the breaks it was seeking, the company claims that it told the union that the stores might open "on a union or non-union" basis. The company admits that throughout the negotiations it insisted there be no ratification vote as this would "substantially prejudice its ability to pursue... other options".
Whether or not Brother Corporate or his corporate buddies like it, the Labour Relations Act gives workers rights. The have the right to join the union of their choice. They have the right to ratify their collective agreements. They have the right to be consulted when their union is negotiating their collective agreement. They have the right to fair representation. They have an assurance that their employer can't meddle in the administration of their union or provide their union with financial support. In other words - workers are entitled to honest decent unions.
The Most Modest of Employee Expectations
We hope the Ontario Labour Relations Board respects these workers' rights and that the officials who will be presiding over Ben's complaint will rule in keeping with earlier precedents, which say that - at minimum - union members must be consulted about changes to their collective agreement. The UFCW should know this. It's had its ass kicked by the OLRB on this score before:
"... a breach of the duty [to fair representation] most often comprehends conduct that is so wanton that the most modest of employee expectations to the benefits of collective bargaining have been betrayed by his trade union." That employees will be consulted by their bargaining agent before it concludes a collective agreement by which they will be bound is surely a most modest and reasonable employee expectation."
(From Cuddy Food Products Ltd. v. United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 175 OLRB December 9, 1988)
Brother Corporate calls himself a union leader. He says his local is open and responsive. He says he made the best of a bad situation and got a deal that was good for everyone. What a load of crap. This guy went into the backroom with the corporate bosses, engaged in secret negotiations with them and cut a deal that's going to upset a lot of people's lives. He deprived those people of the right to vote on his secret deal and tried to feed it to them like chocolate covered shit. He knew for months that members were worried about the company's plans, but he said nothing. He waited until the deal was done and the only thing that stood between him and a few more years at the trough - the open period for decertification - was past. Then he grinned smugly from the main page of his new web site - in an awful picture with a reddish tint that makes him look like a devil straight from business unionist hell - that it's just evolution.
From the pages of www.ufcwrealcanadian.ca he continues is efforts at scaring the hell out of the members with talk about invasions and battles of the retail giants and says that the union is "taking a stand". The union is taking a stand alright - it's taking a stand for profit.
His old nemesis, Bill Whyte, head of the sweetheart union that Corporon so harshly criticized twenty years ago, would have a laugh. At least he had been elected.
Taking a Stand for Profit
This is nothing new. The UFCW has been taking a stand for profit for a whole lot of years now. The union's history of backroom dealing is well documented. In Canada it got off to roaring start in BC in the 1980's when a Loblaws' subsidiary demanded that a special local be set up to provide lower wages and benefits for Westfair so that it could compete with other retailers. In exchange it offered up voluntary recognition to the union for its workforce. The rest is history.
One by one competitors demanded concessions - and got them, often after lengthy strikes or lockouts. The pattern is well established across the country. First come the threats of closures and layoffs, then comes the deal--buyout packages for high-seniority full timers; lower wages for new hires; hurried ratification votes; and lame excuses from the leaders about how they did the best they could mixed with grand proclamations of victory. The only significant difference between what happened in Ontario this summer and what's been going on in other parts of Canada for the last ten years is that Local 1000a decided to dispense with the hurried ratification vote.
This pattern of employer appeasement is well established between the UFCW and its corporate partners. The union has been so understanding of corporate needs that it's time to ask whether it's really a union at all or just a business services organization - an appendage of the corporation that "manages" its workers' expectations and keeps them from exercising rights that the corporation wishes they didn't have. In the very least it's time to challenge these manipulations and machinations.
Once you cut through all the doublespeak and the scary lingo there's a line in a slide presentation that was used to break the good news to UFCW members that spells out what this secret deal and the manner in which it was done is really all about.
The Wal-Mart Threat
UFCW does NOT believe lower labour costs are Wal-Mart's most important competitive advantage.
But Loblaws management does think this and has structured its response accordingly.
So while we your union don't believe that your employer needs concessions, your employer wants concessions any way and we're going to go along with them. Now we're going to shove them down your throats. That's what's really going on here. And all this begs the question: Why do workers need a union to sell them on management's agenda? Is that what they pay union dues for?
What the hell kind of union is this? Not an honest decent one. Maybe it's not a union at all.
The UFCW and Loblaws have partnered up for profit before. They've sold working people a bill of goods before and gotten away with it. This time the partners went too far. The OLRB will have to grapple with issues that it has been able to avoid for a whole lot of years. When is a union no longer a union?
Take a Stand for Working People!
Join Ben in his fight against corporate greed and union partnering. All it takes is one person to file a complaint but there is strength in numbers. Take a stand for working people. To add your name to the complaint fill out the form at the end of this article. You can't be penalized for exercising your rights.
We're going to keep you posted about the status of the DFR complaint. At some point in the future, a mediation session will be held with an Officer whose only role is to see if there is a mediated solution. The Officer can't make decisions about the complaint or tell the OLRB what should be done with it. If there is no mediated settlement, the OLRB will decide whether to schedule an informal hearing (a consultation) or a full hearing.
We're going to let you know when and where these events are happening and encourage you to go to the OLRB for the hearings. If your name is on the complaint you're entitled to attend. If your name is not on the complaint but you want to show up anyway, please do. If you're not allowed in the hearing room, set up an information picket outside on the sidewalk. Bearing signs and distributing leaflets is an excellent way to get your point across to the public. How about: "We are entitled to an honest decent union." Or how about this:
Our CEO: $20 million a year
Our union president: $146, 000 a year
Our new union members: $7.00 per hour
Please check back with us over the coming weeks for additional information about the DFR complaint, for information about what you can do to get an honest decent union, advice on direct action and other forms of pressure you can apply to arrogant organizations and to talk about what's going on and what's on your mind.
The Complaint and Further Reading.
- DFR complaint
- Local 1000a response to DFR
- Loblaw Co's response to DFR
- Local 1000a response to request for interim order
- Loblaw Co's response to request for interim order
Reading material about Loblaws, the UFCW and concessions:
- Knowledge is Power: MFD brochure banned in Loblaws stores!
- A Sweetheart Deal
- Loblaws' sweetheart union deals could be turning sour
- Losing the Illusion: Understanding biz-union bullshit
- Soaking, Sucking and Silence: The Canadian labour movement ignores yet another sellout
- Loblaws vs. Wal-mart, The UFCW's slide show
- Concession Bargaining: How not to
- So Your Company Wants Concessions? Words to the wise about backwards bargaining
- Loblaws Vice President tells all about an earlier sweetheart deal
- Inside the Machine: Ex-UFCW official tells all about life inside the UFCW