Union Raiding Is A Blow To Solidarity Among Workers

Unifor's latest campaign is a cynical attempt at empire building, when the labour movement can least afford it.

02/02/2018 13:15 EST | Updated 02/03/2018 21:33 EST
C/O United Steelworkers

When internal disputes arise within one union, other unions do not normally pounce to take selfish advantage.

Raiding — attempting to lure members from another union (rather than helping non-union workers join) — can be like a wildfire. It can spread, unpredictably. Raided unions try, sooner or later, to counter-raid or respond in other divisive ways. Other unions may join the fray. Raiding's inherent divisiveness ends up serving the interests of employers much more than it does employees.

Responsible unions long ago decided to give up raiding. Indeed, ending inter-union discord and raiding was among the many goals in creating national and provincial labour federations.

All unions have governance processes to address internal rifts. If those don't work, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has constitutional processes to help union members get satisfaction. These processes, in Article 4 of the CLC Constitution, were agreed upon by all CLC-affiliated unions, including Unifor.

We need a strong central labour body like the CLC more than ever.

But Unifor's Jerry Dias is not content to let other unions sort out their issues. Twice he has plotted predatory raids on other unions while reaching for the nearest Canadian flag to provide a semblance of principle.

Last year, while still a CLC member, Unifor was found to have concealed its attempt to raid Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 in Toronto. Shamed by the revelation, Unifor had to pull back. The ATU leader who conspired with Unifor quit his position.

Now, Unifor has launched a raid of UNITE HERE Local 75 in Toronto's hotel sector, attempting to lure members away from another union struggling to address internal difficulties. This time, Unifor has disaffiliated from the CLC so it does not have to follow rules intended to prevent raiding.

We need a strong central labour body like the CLC more than ever. But Mr. Dias, along with Lis Pimentel, the ex-president of UNITE HERE Local 75 who has been hired by Unifor, are leading a raiding campaign that is damaging our movement.

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In a letter to CLC President Hassan Yussuff, Ms. Pimentel admits her faction in Local 75 never even attempted to use the CLC constitutional mechanisms to address internal problems.

Let's set the record straight on this raiding campaign:

  • The assertion that UNITE HERE's parent union swooped in to take over Local 75 is false. In fact, Local 75 leaders and activists, elected by rank-and-file members, asked their international union to establish the trusteeship, and a Canadian UNITE HERE official, Ian Robb, was appointed trustee to work with the local to get it functioning properly again.
  • UNITE HERE Local 75 had been divided for many months. Allegations of harassment and racism made their way through the local. Many executive members wanted President Lis Pimentel to depart. Faced with this dysfunction, UNITE HERE agreed with the request of rank-and-file and executive members to appoint a trustee.
  • Jerry Dias's claim of a CLC failure in the UNITE HERE situation is ridiculous, considering that, at no time did either Mr. Dias or Ms. Pimentel ask the CLC to assist in the dispute. Indeed, Article 4 of the CLC Constitution has worked well in the overwhelming majority of cases it has been used, allowing union members to sort out concerns with their unions.
This is about opportunism and empire-building, not solidarity.

This controversy is filled with bitter irony. Ms. Pimentel, a long-time U.S.-based UNITE HERE staffer, had been feuding for some time with her now-former union. Neither her feud, nor Unifor's raid, stems from any battle between national and international unions. This is about opportunism and empire-building, not solidarity.

Our union, the United Steelworkers, is proud to represent working people in Canada and the United States. We are building alliances with unions in other nations because a global labour movement is vital for representing workers confronting multinational corporations — including hotel companies.

Ms. Pimentel knows this, too. In a media interview, speaking about dealing with global hotel chains, she asserted: "If the border doesn't matter to them, it doesn't matter to us." A colleague of Ms. Pimentel stressed that national identity was not an issue for Local 75 members, noting: "Nobody has told me that they wish we had a maple leaf on our flag."

We believe the labour movement has great opportunities for solidarity building today. Working people are looking for a real voice on many fronts — from greater rights in precarious jobs, to fair trade deals, to climate justice solutions that address the needs of workers.

We won't let Unifor's actions undermine these opportunities. We will do everything in our power to build our labour movement and restore its unity and purpose.

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