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  • authored by news
  • published Tue, Apr 30, 2002

Sellout at Save-On, Five Years Later - The MFD Story

Sellout at Save-On, Five Years Later
Part of our continuing look at the past, present and future of Local 1518 members and the people who brought us MFD

Paths that crossed over free speech, cross again

In the summer of 2000 Sharyn Sigurdur got involved with a union reform group called UFCW Local 1518 Members for Democracy. Local 1518 MFD ran a highly successful reform slate in Local 1518's executive elections the year before. After the vote, the UFCW took the ballot box away and refused to release the results. The reformers took them to court. One of the Local 1518 exec board members named as a Defendant in the lawsuit, Donna Tremblay, worked at the Save-On Foods store where Sharyn worked.

When Sharyn began talking about the lawsuit at work, Tremblay complained to management. Sharyn was hauled into a meeting by the Assistant Manager of her store and told that she "...was to stop speaking to fellow workers about 'internal union turmoil' and about the lawsuit filed by the MFD against Local 1518". She was instructed "that she was no longer permitted to post any materials regarding the MFD in the workplace and she was prohibited from talking about these issues even on her own time during breaks". She was advised that if she contravened any of these directions "she would be subject to discipline"

Sharyn Sigurdur asked her union, UFCW Local 1518, to file a grievance to defend her right to free expression. Local 1518 didn't want to grieve. When Sharyn presses the issue, the company relented saying that she could talk about union democracy on her own time but that she was to refrain from "naming names" - she was not to name the members of the Local 1518 executive board in any of her discussions. Certain that these conditions were a violation of her rights, Sharyn refused to accept them and insisted that Local 1518 file a complaint under the BC Labour Code.

Local 1518 was not keen on fighting this battle. Her business agent, Frank Pozzobon, requested a legal opinon. Nine pages and most likely, several thousand dollars later, the union's law firm had this advice:

"In summary, it is our opinion that, in this case, the Employer is exercsing its lawful responsiblity to minimize friction beween co-workers in order to maintain a productive and co-operative workforce. The Employer's modified rules, in our opinion, strike a proper balance between the rights of Ms. Sigurdur to communicate with her co-workers about matters of potentially common interest, and the rights of co-workers not be harassed about non-work related issues at the workplace. We trust you find this opinon of sasistance to you."

The lawyer who provided that opinion was Shona Moore Q.C., of Shortt, Moore and Arsenault.

Last month, Sharyn Sigurdur appealed to the BCCLA for help in defending herself against a lawsuit filed by her union, the UFCW, the BCCLA told her to take a hike. Moore happens to be a "member at large" of the BCCLA.

Now, we're not suggesting anything at all by this. It's just one of those coincidences that reminds us reformers that the established order isn't here to help us.

  • posted by BillPearson
  • Tue, Apr 30, 2002 5:04pm

--------------------------------------------------
after the vote, someone took the ballot box away and would'nt release the results.
--------------------------------------------------

What the hell does that mean?

  • posted by sleK
  • Tue, Apr 30, 2002 5:32pm

We'll need Scott or siGGy here to clarify but, Local 1518 moved the ballots out of province when the validity of the election was questioned.

  • posted by siggy
  • Tue, Apr 30, 2002 10:44pm

quote:


What the hell does that mean?


It means that even tho article 36 (14) of the constitution says the ballots are to remain in the possession of the Local President for not less than one year, the contested ballots were removed from the province and never seen again.

  • posted by lefkenny
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 12:03am

Isn't it funny that the thread that really is what we are all fighting for - honesty and intergrity, everyone shies away from.

It is always easier to believe that it is someone elses problem, but in reality it is all of our problems. It may not be happening to us personally, but it could very well be you next time if you are the type of person who has the courage to speak up and to act on it.

It is important that we all stand behind these members in their fight against union corruption's
ideology of supressing freedom of speech.

How many of you people read the grievance opinion by Shona Moore. Anyone pick up on the fact that she used twenty year old cases as precedent. Speaking of coming out of the dark ages. Lets also keep in mind that she is giving an opinion for the union and not the member specifically. Would the decision be any different if a member had privately retained a lawyer for an opinion? I suspect so? And there in my oponion lies one of the flaws with legal grievance opinions in that the opinion is for the union and not the grievor. How can a member know if what the lawyer stating is actually correct? Spare me all the crap about lawyers and integrity bull. The union is paying the bill and so grievances will be biased toward the union. The union merely went throuth the motions,crossed and dotted their t's all the while enjoying a cool one.

aboutunions

  • posted by harvardman
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 12:08am

Funny that these unions are so scared of reformers. IN one of the cupe locals I used to belong to a group of us tried to reform a very pro management executive. One of our group was charged under the cupe consitution for a bogus bunch of so called infractions, while a group of us was called in by management to explain an altercation that had taken place between our group and the pro management exec. at a union meeting out side of work. None of the pro management exec. were ever called in by management only the reformers. As for legal opinions they are only as good as the person giving it. I've seen alot of b.s. legal opinions in my time. The fact the unions work so hard to stop reform tells me they have alot to hide and a lot to lose.Very sad situation indeed, when the corrupt intrests of a few executives effect the members intrests.

  • posted by harvardman
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 12:20am

Union laywers are only intrested in satisfying the person paying the bill ( the union) and the union is only intrested in continuing the staus quo. When the status quo intrests of the union come into conflict with the intrests of the member the member will get the shaft. The union will use all kinds of excusses such as " we have to look after the whole membership" ," our lawyers say we can't win" ect. ect. When the member's intrest's are saccrificed we all as unionists and workers lose. And don't anyone forget that. We all could end up in that situation. The unions have become like large corporations that crush people who try to bring reform to them. Union have lots of money and lawyers to fight reformers. Like one guy told me "He's not worried about the union, the union has lots of money and will take care of itself, I'm worried about the intrests of the member."

  • posted by BillPearson
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 5:16am

Siggy: Not that it matters in the discussion, but its article 35 section 15. Also in the constitution covering local union elections is the right to appeal to the international. Its not uncommon for the losing parties to challenge the conduct of the elections. It is difficult to overturn them, but the constitution has some fairly strict obligations. One of them is the preservation of both ballots and sign in sheets. Did you challenge the election to the international? or did you just go to the courts?

In the US, the dept of labor will investigate local union elections where there is a dispute over the conduct. I think you have to satisfy the internal appeals process of the constitution first, but after that you can go to them. Is there not a similar vehicle in Canada?

With all due respect to the rest of the thread, the most significant issue is the ability for members to be able to run for office. it does'nt matter if you are a reformer or a rank and file member pissed at the officers, you should be guarenteed a fair election. Even when they follow the constitution, they are able to set the conditions of the election that give them advantages. The least expectation should be the international upholds the terms of the constitution. If you did'nt appeal it, that's another story.

  • posted by siggy
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 6:11am

quote:


Siggy: Not that it matters in the discussion, but its article 35 section 15


I like to argue, so for the sake of argument I'll give you the 35 and stick with (14)

Bill the ballot removal happened when the internal process was initiated.

edit = p.s. You tell me what the hell that means.

  • posted by lefkenny
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 9:38am

Bill you make it sound as if you have never heard of such actions on the part of unions. You make yourself sound so innocent and nieve, but I doubt if you are, and I say that with all due respect. I hate to bust your bubble, but it happens in your union and in lots of others. Members love the smell of power and or identify with a name rather than a principle. In my opinion this is misplaced loyalty. Our loyalty should be to the betterment of all union members, not to securing territory for a union name.That is why I state that I am a unionist first and formost. As has been stated in other forums the union is just a mean to go somewhere and most of them do a very poor job in my political opinion. Just imagine what unions could do if they worked togther for the benifit of all members rather than the unions existence. The potential to achieve this is just around the corner, if we can curtail this misplaced loyalty to a union name and positions of power.

I believe that you can play an integral part in the future of the strengh of all members at large in lobbing for change even within your union. You have the willingness to at least look at situations publicly, that other union leaders simply will not and I am sure fear even the thought. So even though members like me may be a little rough on you at times, we mean you well, but we hope to be able to let you see other viewpoints that may benefit members at large rather that the old corporate biz union.

Actions like those against Sharyn and others are allowed to propagate only because union leaders thrive on its extermination qualities. It is like watching the old movies where the Romans throw human beings who spoke out against the ruling power and were thrown into the ring to be killed and eaten by the lions all the while the power leaders sit above applauding the demise of anyone who had any self respect to speak up for something they believed in.

  • posted by Scott Mcpherson
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 10:28am

Bill, I can assure you we dotted the I's and crossed the T's. The UFCW's internal appeals process is a joke, a shame and to say otherwise is a lie. We asked David Watts to secure the ballots and leave them unopen and untouched unless we were present. He took them to Toronto and opened them and examined them with who knows who. [perhaps even the same people who rigged the election, I'll never know will I?]

We asked that the local check registry be examined in our presence because we knew Jack Allard was campaigning even though he was on sick leave and Danny Willians was always with him. I know this because I caught Danny tearing down our election stuff in the Safeway Coffee room on King George Ave. I wanted to kick the shit out them outside but David wouldn't let me. That low life said he was on MSR but I seen the bills and I have hundreds of witnesses that say he was walking around with blue action team sheets and campainging with Allard. That's using union funds to canpaign.

That whole election stunk to high heaven and I'm sick of people making excuses over it. The vote as rigged and for all the local 1518 members who didn't believe Sundins group won but still refused to contribute to the law suit, don't came crying to me next April. We warned you, we warned you we warned you!

I doubt reform will ever succeed in the UFCW but I know the day will come when employers go after and get decertification votes accross the board. Everyday the G-8 is moving to more and more towards corporate domination and everyday employers chip away at the strength of unions and their credability and viability. The reformers the union elite crush only weaken the union even further and when the real big bad wolf knocks on the unions door they'll be all alone with nowhere to hide. Whats horriable about the whole thing is that when that day arrives these greedy bastards are going to take the whole labour movement down with them. But I guess when your getting 100K a year for sitting on your ass and your pensioned to the max that's not really a big concern is it?

Oh yeah, one more thing...when Watts told us he wasn't going to need to see the check registry We asked him how then could he find out if union staff were using union funds to campaign? Watts's answer..."I'll just ask each of them point blank." Oh yeah, the internal appeals process works...sure it does.

  • posted by harvardman
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 10:33am

Bill, Bill , BIll, you quote the consitution saying there is the right to appeal, this is no dought true, however that only works if the union national follows its own consitution which it dosen't. Its like jay walking no one respects the law (including the law makers) so it isn't inforced by the police. And please don't tell me that you believe national is unbias and didn't know or condone what happened to the ballot boxes.Welcome to reality Bill, you union dosen't care about your rights!!!!

  • posted by remote viewer
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 10:47am

I think the short answer to Bill's question is:
The members tried the internal route. It got them nowhere. To this day, as I understand it, the results of the vote have never been disclosed.

In Canada, there is no government intervention in issues related to union elections. There is no where for members in this situation to turn except the courts.

  • posted by BillPearson
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 11:00am

Siggy: I hate to be wrong, but you are right, it is 14. Obviosly, everything that happened is water over the damn, but the facts are important. I understand fully the problems with running against a seated president( i did ) and did'nt find the international to be particularly helpful. Having said that, the value of having an international is to insure the constitution is upheld. Ballots should only be counted in the presence of each parties witnesses. Beyond that, the ballots and sign in sheets are supposed to be kept so they can be reviewed. Anything less than that is an abuse of power that is unacceptable.

The ability for members to run for union office without fear of recrimination and to have a fair election process is essential to a free trade labor movement. Yes, i am naieve, but that does'nt mean anyone should accept less than their rights guarenteed under the constitition. If i run the risk of pissing off some people by saying that, tough shit.

  • posted by siggy
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 5:24pm

It could have all been water over the damn, as you put it, if they had shown us the ballots right there and then, they could have put us in our place.

Instead, the internal process cost us and the members big money and when that wasn't enough, the court process was legally dragged 'til our money ran out and we were forced to drop the lawsuit.

The machine wins? I think that's debatable.

  • posted by BillPearson
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 6:54pm

Siggy and others; I can't say this any more clearly; THE INTERNATIONAL SHOULD HAVE OPENED THE BALLOTS IN FRONT OF EVEYONE. Yes, i'm shouting. The process is meaningless if the leadership does'nt follow it's own rules. It's just this simple, resolve the dispute on site, per the constitution. Keep the ballots where there is no question or ability to doctor them, address the challenged ballots with the sign in sheets by checking if workers voted. Once that's done, there is no question as to the integrity of the election. I would hope that by being this emphatic, the leadership of our international will never allow this kind of stupidity again. I believe the purpose of this site is to insure people in power know they are being judged and will be held accountable for their actions. I know this site is monitored on a regular basis, and i would love to see someone come forward and explain why this happened or if the facts are in dispute.

Someone raised the question of unions preserving the status quo. Here's the reason that can no longer be the case. There is no such thing anymore. We are getting our teeth kicked in and we can't afford to pretend otherwise. If we ever want to get serious about organizing workers, we need to make believers out of the membership. They are the power and the future of the labor movement, not some elected union offical (and i am one).

  • posted by siggy
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 8:42pm

Back on topic:

quote:


Local 1518 was not keen on fighting this battle. Her business agent, Frank Pozzobon, requested a legal opinon. Nine pages and most likely, several thousand dollars later, the union's law firm had this advice:


There is some effects that don't show up here.

At first the legal opinion from Moore did put a damper on my resolve. But when I came to my senses I knew the members (especially the ones who supported the slate) had a right to answers regarding the issues surrounding the lawsuit and doublely convinced the company had no right to shut it down. The fact that the machine seemed to take it so lightly added to my determination.

David got on board and he and I were in the process of setting up a meeting with Moore. David said he wanted to hear her opinion in person. Trying to set up an appointment with a lawyer, two people who did shift work and an MR is not an easy task, it just wasn't happening. We spent a long while playing musical reps, as they kept passing me back and forth.

This was all in the works when David's life took a turn. Because of that and all the other things concerning the MFD, it was just too big for me and I let the issue drop. I kick my ass regularily for not seeing it through.

What alarms me now is, how many members would trust their gut and move forward with their issue after a machine lawyer says you lose, you're wrong?
How much Power Source money is used to put a legal damper on an issue the machine doesn't want to deal with or a member who is not conforming?

  • posted by HJFinnamore
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 9:01pm

Hey, you should have seen what happened to me. The International Reps had an "in-house" union that was affiliated with CEP. Who the heck did they pick for a legal opinion? Why none other than the UFCW's law firm--the same one that Cliff's son John Evans was employed with. Here's my letter to my union reps and fellow IRs:

quote:


September 12, 1995

Messrs. John Forster &
David McMillan
C.E.P./CURE Local 2
#300 - 61 International Boulevard
Rexdale, Ontario
M9W 6K4

Dear Sirs and Brothers,

Thank your for taking the time last week to talk to me. Likewise, thank you for sending me a copy of our collective agreement. However, I am still in need of the other documents that I requested. If you wish, you may use regular postal services to send them to me because the September submissions have been delayed.

I have had the chance to review Mr. Alan Minsky's legal opinion. I am somewhat disappointed that his firm has close ties with the employer. Likewise, I am surprised that he would put himself in a position of, if not conflict, stretching the Ontario Bar's Code of Ethics to the limit by giving you his opinion.

His opinion is flawed because he did not base it on all known facts. In fact he was instructed to disregard all of the employer's ancillary reasons for termination--many of which are not even close to the truth. An employer's reliance on false accusations to justify termination is unconscionable. It would go toward proving underlying malice toward the employee. This goes directly to the heart of clause 5.07 which states, "No employee shall be disciplined except for just cause."

Likewise, Mr. Minsky seems completely unaware of the employer's historical response to similar infractions, and indeed, the employers specific instructions to falsify International Union reporting documents. Furthermore, though Mr. Minsky seems to be aware that I was sent to Alberta as punishment rather than for bona fide business reasons, he seems oblivious to the fact that Local 777 was not my "former" local union, but rather I am an active member of that local union. He also fails to regard sections of the CEP collective agreement and the International Constitution that bestow specific rights on me to be involved in my local union's affairs--including the right to hold office.

In an effort to help you to focus on the argument which should be made in my defence, I have enlisted, at my own expense, the Vancouver law firm of Munro, Parfitt to give a legal opinion supported by all the facts.

As I have previously stated to you, I am involved in considerable litigation with UFCW Local 777, and events that have unfolded subsequent to my termination may indeed bolster my case. Clea Parfitt is a labour specialist who is also aware of revelations subsequent to my termination.

I will forward Ms. Parfitt's legal opinion, with supporting documentation, to you in the next couple of weeks. However, for the meantime, I have prepared a detailed outline of events pertinent to my termination. Please read them, and give me your thoughts on the jurisprudence which is applicable to my arguments.

You have said that you will apply for expedited arbitration in accordance with Ontario's Labour Relations Act. If there are preliminary meetings which will deal with either mediation or the evidentiary facts of the case, please let me know the times and places.

Fraternally yours,

Hugh Finnamore


  • posted by siggy
  • Wed, May 1, 2002 9:23pm

The scum bags can look you in the eye and kick you in the face if the money's right.

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