CLC Attempts to Settle Dispute between SEIU and CAW

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) charged the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) with raiding their membership in March of this year.

Raiding

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) charged the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) with raiding their membership in March of this year. On April 14th, L. Victor Pathe, an impartial umpire appointed by the Canadian Labor Congress to settle the dispute, ruled that the CAW was guilty of raiding under the terms of the CLC constitution. Pathe also stated in the judgment that that the mechanisms for disaffiliation under most union constitutions make the process “difficult if not impossible”.

How it Began

On February 20th, approximately 120 executive representatives of eight Ontario SEIU locals gave notice to the SEIU that they would be voting to disaffiliate from the International Union. The total Canadian SEIU membership is approximately 90,000 with 30,000 members represented by the eight locals in Ontario. The SEIU obtained an injunction on March 1st prohibiting the dissident SEIU locals from voting to leave the SEIU and affiliate with the CAW. Instead, a vote was held on March 2nd to determine whether the membership supported their executives’ efforts to leave the SEIU and join the CAW. Of the 10,900 SEIU members that voted, 98% said yes.

Why are They Leaving the SEIU?

According to Corey Vermey, a former researcher with SEIU National Office, the SEIU leadership is too centralized and offers little opportunity for Canadian participation. Ken Brown, a former International Vice President in Canada, spoke of Canadian members’ need for greater autonomy in his letter of resignation from the SEIU. The possibility of greater autonomy was not evident in the International’s “Decide” document that spoke of implementing “forced union mergers” and “major dues increases” in Canada.

Ontario Labor Board (OLRB)

The OLRB ruled on April 7 that the SEIU units that are voting on certification with the CAW are legitimate. So far the OLRB has supervised the counting of votes by more than 6,000 SEIU members. About 95% of the votes are in favor of affiliation with the CAW.

The Canadian Labor Congress (CLC)

To end the dispute, the CAW has offered a three-year hiatus during which time the CLC will take over the SEIU locals. At the end of that period, the members could affiliate with the union of their choice. The SEIU has not accepted this offer. The newly appointed SEIU Canadian Vice-President, Sharleen Stewart, has asked the CLC to ban all participation by the CAW in the CLC. Considering that the CAW is the largest private sector union in Canada (234,000 members), its absence from Canada’s central labor congress would have a large impact. Canadian Labor Congress President, Ken Georggetti, says that the CAW will not be expelled from the CLC, but that they will lose privileges.

Is This the End of the SEIU in Canada?

Considering the eagerness with which SEIU membership has joined the CAW, what will this mean to SEIU representation in Canada? Quebec is the only other province with a significant SEIU membership (30,000). They too have been largely ignored by the International. It was only in 1998 when a group was established to reform the structure of the SEIU in Canada (the November Group) that the two Canadian International Vice Presidents met. They had not met since the founding Canadian Conference in 1976.