• authored by Scott Mcpherson
  • published Wed, Sep 11, 2002

The 'Ole Hail mary!

I've enrolled at BCIT this year and I've been studying tonight for my accounting class. Ironically I'm on the chaprter about business ethics and a thought accoured to me that I'm sure is stretching the limits of the law to say the least but given I'm not a lawyer I was hoping for some professional advice.

According to the 1997 adoption of the "International Code of Ethics for Canadian Business" company's adpting this code commit to doing business around the world in the same fashion they do business in Canada.


" Concerning business conduct, we will:

- Not make illegal and improper payments and bribes and will refrain from participating in any corrupt business practices
-Comply with all applicable laws and conduct business activities in a transparent fashion.
- Ensure contractors', suppliers' and agents' activities are consistant with these principles"

Now bare with me here but isn't the above somewhat consistant with the "Canada Business Corporations Act and the Provincial Securities Commissions"?

If so, then the UFCW / Loblaws "partnering agreement, the establishment of local 777, the Maple Leaf agreement, the Swiss Chalet "deal" etc wouldn't be consistant with the above would it? because while the business's themselves were not guilty of wrong doing, the actions of the union [agents] were highly questionable are they not?

If the FBI can get All Capone on tax evation why can't rank and file members get at their leaders via the Canadian code of ethics laws for business practice's?

P.S. before you all laugh me off the internet please keep in mind I've been buried up to my eyeballs in accounting for several hrs now

  • posted by sleK
  • Thu, Sep 12, 2002 2:52am


because while the business's themselves were not guilty of wrong doing, the actions of the union [agents] were highly questionable are they not?

Define "agent".

The rules of conduct you quoted are very vague and very much open to interpretation IMO.

In any case, these apply to businesses. In order to exert any pressure on the union you'd have to do it by pressuring, or being in cahoots with, the employer.

  • posted by remote viewer
  • Thu, Sep 12, 2002 1:40pm

You've raised a couple of very important issues Scott. (1) The extent to which existing laws that are supposed to protect us are enforced (when the wealthy get sold a bill of goods it's a big deal, when the same happens to working people, it seems to be our tough luck) and; (2) the ethical considerations around organizations and their behaviour.

As slek points out, even though the law is pretty clear on its face, enforcement agencies can look the other way based on a whole raft of excuses.

As an example, rape has been a criminal offence for decades. Up until recently, few rapists were prosecuted. Why was that? The excuses that law enforcement agencies would dredge up for failing to pursue rapists are not all that different to the ones they trot out when union members allege corruption, misuse of funds, threats, and other behaviour that is, in the least, borderline criminal (Why don't you elect a new executive? Why don't you complain to your International? There isn't enough evidence. It's an in-house thing. It's somebody else's jurisdiction. You guys must be OK with it if you've put up with it for this long. Your execs know what they're doing. We don't go after unions....hell, there's a long list.)

Are unions that make secret deals with employers, breaking the law? If I pay you money to represent me and act in my best interests and you turn around and do things that are injurious to my interests, has the law been broken? Is there a case for civil action? If you take my money that you are supposed to be using to further my interests and piss it away on fancy cars, luxury resorts, a hotel or two, parties with your pals and so on, have I been defrauded? It's worth talking about I think. It's also a question worth raising with the law enforcement community.

Ethical considerations are a barely-explored country when it comes to business organizations and a completely undiscovered country when it comes to unions. Union leaders like to position their organizations as holier-than-thou so there is no need to talk about ethical behaviour ("We're pure as the driven snow, so there's nothing to talk about.") Or it's just something that we'll get to when we win our battle with global capitalism (which, at the rate we're going, is not likely to be any time soon).

The discussion about ethics in unions is long overdue however and I'd be happy to do what I can to put it on the screen.

I agree with Scott. Businesses that break the law or deliberately seek to deprive working people of their civil rights or just generally mislead them, are not acting in an ethical manner. Unions that partner up with businesses in these activities are no better.

Let's talk about this some more.

  • posted by Scott Mcpherson
  • Thu, Sep 12, 2002 5:16pm

I guess I didn't clarify my point.

1: I realize it's stretching the very art of "stretching it".

2: I'm not suggesting anything about unions except to say they are the agents who represent the workers and they are acting unethically.

What I'm talking about is the employers themselves. If they act unethically, [and I believe knowingly entering a partnering agreement with a trade union that's willfully subverting the interests of it's members by agreeing not to pursue legal avenues it's members are entitle to] that we can reasonably argue the employers themselves have acted unethically.

Think outside the box for min here ok. We are all vainly trying to change the union. Well it can't be done so get over it already. I'm suggesting perhaps we can force employers out of the backroom by holding them accountable according to their own code of business ethics! Who cares if the unions a rat bag sell out fraud, they can't cut the deal with that union without the risk of violating the Canadian business code of ethics because they know the union is acting unethically as an agent for the workers they employ. IF they've signed the International code of ethics I mentioned above they'll have to take their compnay name off that list. That will hurt their business.

Sure we don't have the money to litigate, but we do have the right to distribute information about the employer that informs the public it's acted in violation of the business code of ethics. Think "invisable hand here". Foget the union angle altogether. Canadian law makers, police, politicians and th media couldn't care less if union leaders are scum of the earth, but investors that see a business as acting unethical may think twice about investing their money given they might be defrauded or swindled themselves.

Christ it's just a though that beats the hell out of slaming my head against the door of union reform.

  • posted by sleK
  • Thu, Sep 12, 2002 8:48pm

Who enforces the code?

  • posted by Scott Mcpherson
  • Thu, Sep 12, 2002 11:54pm

Actually I havn't got that far into the the course yet....but my hunch is it's not like a criminal code. Sure defrauding the tax man or the shareholders is against the law but I'm suggesting that by violating the business code of ethics they are hurting their credibility and reputation amoung the business community itself, potential investors and or course amoung the consumers.

Of course I also recognize that the unique dynamic here is the union. Getting a union to undermine it's own members best interests may be looked upon as favourable within the business community, however it is technically a violation of the ethics code because these same businessman know an unethical practice has taken place in order for them to achieve a lower bottom line. Besides, with the high cost of training are these multi-tiered low wage contracts truely beneficial to an employers overall longevity and viability. Say Wal-mart moves in, it's directly competing with Loblaws. Loblaws participates in unethical behaviour that effects moral, productivity and quality. Where would you invest your money?

Why couldn't members leaflet Loblaws informing consumers that it's an employer that engages and participates in unethical behaviour that runs contray to the Canadian business code of ethics, and further that it's owned by a publically traded corporation information could be sent out to potential investors that might impact it's trade and stock value in the market place.

it's just a though, I'm tired of talking about union reform, I'd like to think there are other alternatives to help working people besides existing leadership structures and corrupt, unchangable unions who's leaders prefer the authoritarian backroom wheeling and dealing to the bottom up transparent colaborative apporach to unionism.


We are continually faced with great oppotunities brilliantly disguised as insolvable problems

  • posted by remote viewer
  • Sat, Sep 14, 2002 12:57pm

I think that the kind of labour-managment shmoozing that we've been talking about on this site is harmful to both labour and management. It creates a false sense of security for both. Both become lazy and complacent. The company comes to think of its workforce as a commodity that it can squeeze anytime it needs a competitive advantage. The union sees its members as something to be managed. In the end both lose.

Companies that engage in backroom hijinx are selling themselves a bill of goods. They can only squeeze so much before they hit the bottom (minimum labour standards). At that point, they've just rolled out the welcome mat for big competitors to move in. A market where the industry is paying minimum is an attractive market for new competitors.

For the union, the effects are equally as harmful. Look at all the happy UFCW members out there (I'm kidding). And what about all the workers lining up to join the union that bargains backwards and parties hardy.

We need to raise awareness about this, for sure. If the union honchos aren't bright enough to get it, there are a lot of supposedly sophisticated business people whose companies spend millions each year on human resources stuff. If people are a competitive advantage (as all the biz literature keeps telling us), why are senior labour relations staff trading them away like so many cans of cat food?

As far as the ethical considerations about backroom dealing are concerned, I think it's wrong, wrong, wrong. Firstly, backroom deals are designed to deprive individuals (and working people are individuals) of their legal rights and that's unethical. Secondly, backroom deals deprive individuals of their rights to make choices and that's unethical. Thirdly, backroom deals are by their nature intended to deceive and that's unethical.

  • posted by weiser
  • Sat, Sep 14, 2002 1:46pm

One must realize, there is no code of ethics for union leaders. Unions are, by and large, unregulated. They are free to set their own ethics. However, they are so busy politicking and partying that they just haven't had the time to think about ethics, never mind write a policy.

Here's a test, phone your UFCW office and ask for a copy of the local's ethics statement or policy. Bring along some wool and knitting needles 'cause during the silence on the other end, you'll have time to knit a pair of socks or perhaps a sweater. You don't know how to knit? No problem, you'll have plenty of time to learn while you're waiting.

I used the knitting analogy 'cause so many unethical union leaders view the Power Source as stupid sheep good only as a source of wool.

I think the men with the dull shears will be in for a bit of a surprise as they come up for election.

  • posted by Scott Mcpherson
  • Sat, Sep 14, 2002 6:45pm


posted by weiser:
Here's a test, phone your UFCW office and ask for a copy of the local's ethics statement or policy. Bring along some wool and knitting needles 'cause during the silence on the other end, you'll have time to knit a pair of socks or perhaps a sweater.

man you have to be one of the funniest guys I've ever met. you and Ken Jack should talk.

[ ken Jack's funniest quote was when Brooke Sundin was in Vernon telling members 'I may be sleeping with the employer but I'm keeping one eye open' and he piped up....oh I think you've noded off a time or two since your head first hit the sheets]

Anyway....wieser is so right about union ethics codes [or rather the lack of them] Unions should have the stictest codes of ethics know to man yet they haven't any? explains a lot. I was just suggesting that workers could try to avoid these sweetheart deals by embarrassing employers who can't resist the carrot dangled by greedy unscrupulous union leaders. You can't do anything about the union leaders actions but you can do something about an employers. That's the basis of my original post.

  • posted by sleK
  • Sat, Sep 14, 2002 9:29pm


Ken Jack

There's a name I haven't heard for a while.

Are you lurking Ken?

  • posted by licatsplit
  • Sun, Sep 15, 2002 1:34am


used the knitting analogy 'cause so many unethical union leaders view the Power Source as stupid sheep good only as a source of wool.

Baa, baa, black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir
Three bags full:
Two for Sundin,
And one for the store,
And none for the power source
Who remain among the poor!

  • posted by siggy
  • Sun, Sep 15, 2002 8:47am

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