205 Placer Court North York
Dear Brother Hargrove:
I am writing to let you know how deeply disturbed I am and how outraged our unions leadership, activists and staff are by recent statements that you have made about me personally and about CUPE in general, both to the media and to your membership at open meetings across the country. Your statements not only misrepresent CUPEs position with respect to the CAW/SEIU/CLC dispute, they also constitute an unprincipled and personal attack on the leadership of another union and on the Canadian Union of Public Employees itself, a union whose record of standing up for its members and of progressive, activist, democratic unionism is second to none in this country.
I have held off responding to your attacks until now because I believed that it would only serve to escalate the conflict, and because I felt that all of our efforts were best directed towards trying to find a negotiated solution to this crisis. As you know, Buzz, I personally spent many hours over the summer trying to be helpful in the process of CAW and SEIU attempting to reach a resolve. But your escalating verbal attacks on our union and its leadership can not be ignored any longer.
In various statements made to the media or in open meetings, you have stated that CUPEs position is “hypocritical” because CUPE approached SEIU about a merger first, implying that CUPE was guilty of (attempted) raiding. You have suggested that CUPE supported the imposition of sanctions against the CAW because I was upset that Ken Brown pursued a merger with the CAW and not CUPE. You have stated that CUPE would not support the dissident SEIU members unless they either decertified first or made the changes in their International Union first, declaring “SEIU doesnt need friends after the fight, but for the fight”.
You have also said publicly that CUPE doesnt want “worker democracy” to be allowed because we are afraid that our members would “leave in droves”. You have accused me and CUPE of “defending the status quo” and “totally ignoring the workers.”
In Torontos NOW Magazine last week, you even suggested that my position with respect to the current dispute is being driven by “self-interest” because you “supported Brother Ken Georgetti for CLC President and not me.” In that same article, you are also quoted as saying, “Judy is a fair-weather friend. When its been to her benefit to have our support on things like the social contractthen that was fine. But once theres another dispute on principle, she very quickly walks away.”
And finally, at the open meeting you held in Toronto earlier this week, in addition to repeating some of your earlier attacks on CUPE and its leadership, you also claimed that while the CAW had supported CUPE candidates (and certain other unions candidates) at past labour conventions, CUPE (and others) had not reciprocated by supporting CAW candidates. You also accused CUPE of leafleting CAW workplaces (together with other unions) and delivered a warning that the CAW would “retaliate”.
Let me deal first with your accusation of hypocrisy regarding raiding and CUPEs relationship with the SEIU.
Over two years ago, rumours were already circulating about so-called “secret merger talks” between Ken Brown of SEIU and the CAW. On May 25, 1998, Ken Brown was coming to our National Office in Ottawa to take part in a previously-scheduled meeting (the leaders of major public sector unions were meeting to discuss co-operation and sharing of resources to fight privatization). I suggested to Brother Brown that he and I meet the same day and he agreed.
We discussed the co-operation that was developing between our organizations regarding negotiations and other issues affecting health care workers in Ontario. We talked about the potential for mutual support in organizing. And I asked Ken directly whether there was any truth to the rumours that he was having merger talks with the CAW, and whether he had a mandate to seek a merger with another organization.
Ken vehemently denied that he was having merger talks with the CAW and categorically stated that he had no mandate from SEIU locals to pursue a merger with anyone. He said that he was simply meeting with various unions (including the CAW, and for that matter, CUPE) in order to learn from other organizations and build a “stronger SEIU”. I suggested to Ken that if he were ever to have a mandate to pursue a merger, that he should meet with CUPE since it makes a whole lot of sense for health care workers to be organized together with other health care workers in order to increase membership strength in bargaining and to take on the boss. Ken stated very clearly that if he ever did have a mandate for a merger which he did not that he would definitely also be talking to CUPE.
Ken and I also discussed the relative merits of the structures of our respective organizations, and Ken questioned whether it was possible to drive a strong bargaining agenda with a structure like CUPEs which is founded on principles of local union autonomy and decision-making by members workplace by workplace. I told Ken that while local union autonomy can be a barrier to co-ordinated action, our experience in CUPE has repeatedly proven that when members in local unions themselves decide to move in a certain direction together, that there is no power greater. I also explained that CUPE has been pursuing a policy of coordinated bargaining for many years with tremendous success, forcing many governments and employers into compulsory centralized bargaining.
I used a case in point to illustrate this, namely hospital bargaining in Ontario, where CUPE and our Ontario Council of Hospital Unions were once again driving a strong central bargaining agenda against attempted concessions and privatization by the Harris Government and the Ontario Hospital Association, this time in partnership with the SEIU. We also discussed the considerable difficulty SEIU was having in maintaining unity amongst several of its large, centralized, and warring locals, and in persuading some locals (including Kens own local in Windsor) to take part in province-wide central bargaining at all.
There was no element of either rejection or raiding in my meeting with Ken Brown. To suggest otherwise is a complete distortion of history. This meeting was part of an ongoing process of strengthening the relationship and co-operation between CUPE and SEIU, and I reported on it as such to our National Executive Committee and National Executive Board at the time.
You have also made statements concerning CUPE raiding SEIU in Quebec that are both false and misleading. As you are well aware, Buzz, the CLC and the QFL reached a formal agreement several years ago that disputes amongst affiliates in Quebec would not be governed by the CLC Constitution but by the “QFL Protocol”, which sets out very different rules and procedures. For several months in 1999, CUPE-Quebec and SEIU Local 298 were engaged in open and above-board merger discussions based on a mandate from the Local 298 convention, and with the full knowledge and approval of the QFL President. We fully respected the terms of the QFL Protocol in those merger discussions. Our position is completely consistent.
We have also been consistent, as you know, Buzz, in arguing in the CLC for a strengthening of what I will call “industrial unionism”. Our 1999 National Convention policy paper, “On the Front Line”, re-affirmed CUPEs strongly-held belief that workers in a specific sector (be it health care, the municipal sector, school boards or airlines) are stronger and more powerful when they are organized in the same union, when they bargain together with other workers in the same sector and when they can take on bosses and governments together. We also re-affirmed our belief that creating one large public sector union in Canada in the future would immeasurably strengthen the position of public sector workers and the defence of public services and social programs.
CUPE also strongly believes that the only way to significantly increase the number of organized workers in Canada is for the labour movement to make a concrete and collective effort to do so, and that building greater co-operation in organizing and lessening destructive competition amongst unions is key to increasing union density in this country. You have heard me argue for this and disagreed with me about it in numerous discussions over the years at the CLC.
All of the above policies of CUPE are based in firmly-held beliefs and principles of our organization. To dismiss them as being based on personal “self-interest” or organizational “insecurity” or weakness on CUPEs part does a great disservice to the membership, leadership, activists and staff of our union as well as to the historic relationship between CUPE and the CAW.
We in CUPE are very proud of the excellent collective agreements that we have fought for and negotiated for our members and of our record in resisting concessions.
We are proud of our record in organizing we have grown by an average of 10,000 to 15,000 new members a year and of being Canadas largest and fastest-growing union.
We are very proud of the bold initiatives we have taken in recent years to build a strong and vibrant culture of membership involvement and activism and even greater democratic decision-making and control.
We are very proud that CUPE has been in the forefront of building social unionism in this country, together with other unions including the CAW.
Are there dissatisfied members in CUPE, as there are in all other unions? Of course there are. Especially since, despite our concerted fightback campaigns and best efforts as a union, public sector workers have experienced several years of wage freezes, cutbacks, and other attacks by governments and employers at all levels.
As a union, we are engaged in a continuing process of reform and renewal in order to strengthen our own membership and build an even more powerful and dynamic union. We have also been a very strong force working to build a more activist, democratic and dynamic labour movement.
Our National Executive Board spent many hours discussing and debating the CAW/SEIU/CLC situation before developing a position at our June NEB meeting. This position was adopted unanimously by our National Executive Board. While I am not surprised that you disagree with CUPEs position on raiding, Buzz, I do not understand why you have chosen to ignore the fact that our NEB statement also emphasizes the value we place on CUPEs historic relationship with the CAW as well as re-affirming CUPEs commitment to work to de-escalate and resolve the conflict, and our commitment to continue to work with all unions and progressive organizations in Canada to build a social movement and fight for progressive change.
CUPE and the CAW have a strong history of collaboration and solidarity in defence of workers and their rights. Weve demonstrated the courage and the conviction to take unpopular but principled action in the interests of
working women and men. And we have supported each other in building a stronger social movement. We have been there for the CAW and the CAW has been there for CUPE.
Our National Executive Board has made it clear that we do not consider the CAW the enemy. But your recent statements, Buzz, suggest that you may need to be reminded that CUPE is not the enemy either.
I ask that you stop the unwarranted attacks on CUPE and on me personally. They do no justice to our history or our shared commitment to Canadian workers.
I also ask that you respect CUPE and its membership. Because of my high regard for your union, I would not consider meeting with disaffected members of the CAW. I expect that you would extend the same solidarity.
The events of the past seven months have been very difficult for the Canadian labour movement. My goal and CUPEs goal is that they not prove disastrous.
As we move forward, I will continue to work for a resolution to this dispute because CUPE has always believed that labour unity and solidarity in action are key to taking on our real enemies multinational corporations and the political right.
cc. CUPE National Executive Board
CAW National Executive Board