UPDATE: This article was published at 2:30am on February 10. Hours after publication Hassan Yussuff of the CLC sent a letter to Paul Thorp, President of ATU Canada, informing him that article 4 was being reinstated for Local 113 and the justification process would proceed. We also received a complaint and request from Unifor for a retraction over two parts of our story. The first involves our statement claiming that if Kinnear took the actions he did at a Unifor local he would “most likely” be trusteed. We referenced and linked to Unifor’s Guide for Local Union By-Laws and its constitution. Unifor disagrees. We think our interpretation is a fair one and we will leave it up to you the reader to decide. The second call for retraction is over this statement: “Unifor is now openly raiding ATU Local 113. Organizers from Unifor will be visiting job sites and hoping to sign up ATU members to Unifor cards.” Unifor denies signing any cards. We never claimed they did. We wrote that they will be visiting job sites and hoping to sign cards. We believe this was a reasonable interpretation of the facts as they were. Our statement was based on multiple independent sources and the public statements made by Jerry Dias. After the reinstatement of the article 4 protections, which Unifor says they support, we believe the situation has changed and we will continue to follow the story.
Late on February 2, the Amalgamated Transit Union International trusteed the Toronto-based ATU Local 113. The 10,000 members of Toronto’s TTC transit workers union awoke to the news that their elected leadership, headed by President Bob Kinnear, had been ousted. The initial news reports painted this as an attack on local Canadian autonomy by a big American labour union. The Sun even went so far as to decry the trusteeship as an American “invasion.”
Is this depiction accurate? What has slowly emerged over the last week is not simply a story of an imposed trusteeship by a U.S. based international union, but a story of CLC-sanctioned raiding and inter-union power politics. All of which has gone on behind the backs of ATU Local 113 members and threatens to tear apart the Canadian labour movement.
What we know so far
On February 1, Kinnear sent a letter to Hassan Yussuff, President of the CLC. In this letter Kinnear, appearing to speak for the Local, requests access to section for 4.9 of the CLC constitution to which outlines the process for justifying changing unions.
Section 4.9 of the CLC constitution is initiated when the CLC “receives a request from a group of workers wanting to leave their own union.” The CLC’s first response upon receiving such a request, according to section 4.9a, is to “encourage those members to work within the constitutional provisions and policy procedures of their own union,” and to “also contact the ranking officer of the members’ union to convene a meeting within one week with the workers and their union in an attempt to mediate and resolve the situation.”
The letter of February 1 from Kinnear to the CLC, although written as speaking on behalf of his Local, is signed by Kinnear only. At no point did Kinnear get a mandate from the membership to initiate section 4.9, nor did he even get the executive board approval of his own Local.
In the February 1 letter Kinnear makes reference to being insulted by the International leadership, the lack support for the Local’s campaigns, the absence of support in opposing essential services legislation Bill 150, the denial of Canadians to choose representatives to the ATU International Executive Board (despite two Canadians being elected to the ATU International Executive Board) and a groundswell of membership wondering why they are sending money to Washington D.C.
A day later CLC president Hassan Yussuff sent a letter to Paul Thorp, President of ATU Canada, informing him that the CLC received an application for 4.9 at ATU Local 113.
Later that day Bob Kinnear’s public relations officer, paid for by 113, received a forwarded email from union consultant Bill Reno and was told to give it to Kinnear. The email, from a lawyer at Dewart Gleason, was cc’d to Anthony Dale, Unifor staff lawyer and director of their legal department, Scott Doherty, assistant to the President of Unifor, and lawyers from two law firms. The email outlined what to do if police arrive in the event of a trusteeship, it also had a draft notice of motion, for unknown purposes attached to it. It was clearly part of an on-going discussion between Kinnear and Unifor.
Later on February 2, the ATU International sent a letter to Kinnear, Kevin Morton, the Local’s financial secretary, and Bill Chrisp, the executive vice-president, informing them of the trusteeship. The International immediately appointed International Vice President Emanuele “Manny” Sforza as trustee. Sforza had been an executive-vice president of Local 113.
The following day, February 3, Yussuff sent a letter to Paul Thorp, President of ATU Canada, cancelling a planned meeting between Kinnear, Yussuff and Thorp to address proceeding with article 4.9. Yussuff stated in the letter that the trusteeship violated section 4.9, claiming workers have the right to engage in the justification process without reprisal. Yussuff then informed the International that Local 113 had been suspended from the anti-raiding protections of Article 4 of the CLC’s constitution. Yussuff’s letter effectively opened the door to CLC-sanctioned raiding of Local 113.
Also on February 3, ATU International President Larry Hanley sent out a letter to Local 113 members notifying them of the trusteeship, and a subsequent hearing to be held within 30 days. In the letter Hanley says Kinnear violated the local’s bylaws by not going through the proper channels, which would mean either a membership vote or executive board vote. Hanley also stated Kinnear violated the ATU Constitution and General Laws, specifically section 22.2 which outlines the charges of dual unionism as “such persons are affirmatively engaged in promotion, implementation, furtherance, or support of any other union or collective bargaining group with the purpose or intent of supplanting the ATU.”
Hanley also sent a letter to Yussuff the same day outlining the above reasons for the trusteeship. By the end of the weekend the majority of the Local’s executive board has been reinstated and sided with the ATU International against Kinnear, even signing letters denouncing Kinnear’s unilateral actions. To date 13 of the 17 board members have been reinstated. The Local leadership is now claiming support from 90% of stewards. Kinnear claims board members have been coerced, no evidence nor statements have been produced to back his claim up.
As soon as the trusteeship came down Kinnear went on an aggressive media blitz. Much of what he had to say focused on the fact that ATU is a US-based union. On Monday he told the Toronto Star, “I’m hopeful that other organizations, the labour movement, are going to stand behind us and say that we are not alone, that the Canadian labour movement will take on this hard-ass American union that thinks they can come into Canada and squash our democratic rights.”
The ATU represents 200,000 members in North America, with 30,000 members in Canada. From multiple Local 113 members we talked to Kinnear has long been at odds with the International.
Kinnear, who was first elected Local 113 president in 2003, won a scandal-ridden fifth consecutive election in 2015 by a 51 percent. Kinnear had originally declared he was not going to run for a fifth term, but then announced his re-election bid using the union email system and phone directory to set-up robocalls. These actions directly violated the Local’s by-laws, as no other candidate was given access to these resources. A complaint was made and the International ordered a rerun of the election after Kinnear’s appeal failed. A new election was ordered for September 2016 and Kinnear won by 61 percent. He didn’t have to face his previous challenger Rocco Signorile, who had by that time retired.
In the fall of 2015, the ATU reorganized its Canadian section, by forming ATU Canada in order to give Canadian locals more autonomy, control and coordination. It also gave smaller locals in Canada more of a voice compared to 113. Bob Kinnear was elected President of this newly formed body, but then quit just months later after his local election was contested and ultimately overturned.
At the last ATU International convention, held in Toronto in October of 2016, Kinnear ran for the 18th International Vice-President position, which was open after his father, Larry Kinnear, who held the seat, retired. In a contested election Kinnear ran against and lost to another Local 113 member, Manny Sforza. Sforza is now the acting trustee at Local 113.
While it is hard to say with complete accuracy, it looks like some of the issues at Local 113 and the ATU can be chalked up to internal union power politics. Kinnear was popular enough to have won several elections (some acclaimed), but it is also clear he overstepped the line in the 2015 election.
In 2010 Larry Hanley, the former president of the Staten Island ATU Local 726, defeated the incumbent Ronald Heintzman to become the President International of the ATU. Hanley, represented a leftward and more activist shift for the union and was unanimously supported by the 113 executive board. Hanley is a regular at Labor Notes conferences and the union was one of a handful to endorse the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Kinnear’s complaints about the International revolve around the charge that they have hindered the actions of 113. For instance, Kinnear complained that “when our right to full collective bargaining was wiped out by Ontario Bill 150 by the Liberal government, ATU International was nowhere to be seen.” The bill, passed in 2011, less than a year after Hanley came to power, was indeed sweeping and terrible. However, what was it that the international was supposed to do, but didn’t?
When essential services legislation was being requested by Toronto City Council in the lead up to the Liberals passing Bill 150, Kinnear was promising not to strike before a new contract was even signed in exchange for essential services legislation being taken off the table. Outside of launching a court challenge against 150, Kinnear did not prepare his members for a fight beyond the rhetoric. He even went so far as to publicly state that he hoped any essential service legislation would mean steady pay increases and good benefits as happened with firefighters. Kinnear wouldn’t be the first union leader to wrongly imagine that higher pay and better benefits would be the trade-off for losing the right-to-strike.
The same threats without action were made when the TTC contracted out 160 cleaning jobs. Kinnear said he would void the overtime agreement with the province in protest. But this never happened. The jobs were contracted out, and Kinnear then spent hundreds of thousands on a smoke-and-mirrors “Protecting What Matters” ad campaign.
Bill 150 should be a dead letter because of the January 2015 Supreme Court ruling saying the right-to-strike was protected under the Charter of Rights. Rather than gear up the membership to break Bill 150 and build a legal strategy around collective action, Kinnear has filed a Charter challenge instead, leaving the membership to wait around while lawyers rake it in.
There is no doubt that the International, even under progressive leadership, is not beyond criticism from members and local officials. However, it is also all too easy for local leadership to excuse their inaction and ineffectiveness by simply blaming the International.
Kinnear is playing the old game of bashing the US-based International leadership, saying that Canadian union members are losing out. Kinnear called the trusteeship, “an attack on Canada and our autonomy.” Every media appearance and interview Kinnear has given since last week has gone out of its way to frame the battle along national lines.
“I have been consistent in standing up for Canadian values and standing up for the members I was elected to represent. I will continue to do that despite all the assertions,” Kinnear said at a Tuesday press conference. “I am trying to provide a democratic opportunity for our members so they can control their future and not my future.”
But has Kinnear respected democracy? In a recent Globe and Mail article he said, “If I had brought this to a full board meeting, and not talked to people individually, I would have been ousted five minutes after that board meeting was over.”
Kinnear was unable and unwilling to go through his own local’s process to decide to disaffiliate from the ATU. So he himself, without consulting membership or winning a democratic mandate of the Local’s executive board, initiated the CLC’s justification process.
The CLC and raiding
This whole affair is a serious crisis in the CLC. As soon as the ATU trusteeship came down, the CLC suspended its own anti-raiding rules, section 4 of the CLC constitution, for Local 113 of the ATU. Yussuff unilaterally cancelled the meeting to follow up on the justification process in Section 4.9. This amounts to the CLC declaring that it is okay for unions to raid ATU Local 113.
The CLC, which is normally silent on most internal matters, had made statements showing it is taking sides in this dispute. Chris MacDonald, a former Unifor staffer and now CLC assistant to Yussuff, told the Toronto Star the ATU trusteeship was “payback” for Kinnear going to the CLC.
Section 4 of the constitution, dealing with disputes, was adopted in 2002 as is, in response to a series of raids by the Canadian Autoworkers (CAW). Section 4.9 was a process designed for members who wanted to leave their union and join another. The first step of Section 4.9 is to encourage members to use official channels and then set up a mediated process to find a solution. The mediator/investigator examines the claims made by the members, and makes sure no other affiliate union is attempting to influence them either directly or indirectly. The mediator then makes a binding decision, such as ordering elections, making them a directly charted local, or setting a cooling-off period. The process ensures fairness for the members making the complaint and also helps ensure no other union is interfering directly or indirectly. In short it helps to prevent raiding.
What is clear from the documents and letters now publicly available is that there was collusion between Kinnear and Unifor before, during, and after the trusteeship. On-going investigations inside the ATU is likely to reveal more evidence as to the extent of it. By suspending the justification process, the CLC has also suspended the formal investigation. The unilateral suspension of the justification process by Yussuff makes getting more facts and a more accurate account of what happened more difficult.
Kinnear was trusteed because as a local president he violated his duty to abide by the constitution of the ATU and the local by-laws by himself initiating the justification process without going through the proper democratic channels. His active communication with another CLC affiliate about this makes his actions hard to defend. It makes it next to impossible for the CLC to justify its actions, as well.
If all it takes for the CLC to suspend article 4.9 of the constitution is a local leader being trusteed for violating democratic procedures, then what good is it? Local leaders should not be afforded protection to undemocratically facilitate a raid.
Trusteeship is heavy-handed and flies in the face of local democracy. It is an action that certainly gives Kinnear some ammunition, but it is not a reason for the CLC to suspend the justification process.
Unifor claims that it did not interfere with internal matters in Local 113, though it does admit to offering legal advice to Kinnear before the trusteeship. The leaked communication between Unifor and Kinnear after the justification process was enacted is itself a violation of the justification process as laid out in section 4.9j which states:
“If the Investigator/Mediator concludes that another affiliate has attempted to influence or interfere with an affiliate’s membership either directly or indirectly, in any matter covered by this protocol, the offending affiliate will not be entitled to exercise any rights under this protocol.”
On Tuesday February 7, Jerry Dias sat next to Bob Kinnear at a press conference and slammed the ATU for imposing the trusteeship. “I’m not going to allow somebody in the United States to seize the assets of Canadian workers. That union hall is owned by the workers. They don’t have the right to take out of office those who were democratically elected,” said Dias.
It is worth noting that if Kinnear had engaged in the same action but as a Unifor Local president, he would have most likely been trusteed for violating Unifor’s by-laws under section 5b of the Guide for Local Union By-Laws, which states:
“A member in exercising the foregoing rights and privileges shall not take any irresponsible action which would tend to jeopardize or destroy, or be detrimental to, either the Local or National Union as organizations, or their free democratic heritage, or which would interfere with the performance by this Local Union or the National Union of its legal or contractual obligations as a collective bargaining agent, or interfere with the legal or contractual obligations of this Local Union as an affiliate of the National Union.”
Unifor is now openly raiding ATU Local 113. Organizers from Unifor will be visiting job sites and hoping to sign up ATU members to Unifor cards. Unifor needs to get 40 percent of members signed to cards to trigger a vote. This is happening because the CLC has suspended Section 4.
Better contracts? Fighting P3s?
This situation is very dangerous. If Unifor and the CLC are allowed to proceed, it opens the door for more widespread and flagrant raiding across the country. A practice which does not build the density or power of the union movement. It means the anti-raiding language in the CLC constitution is a dead letter at the whim of the CLC leadership. There is no reason to think Unifor will stop at Local 113 because it has a long history of raiding through its CAW roots. If they are successful they will go after every other ATU local in the country.
Of course that is easier said than done. The recent big three auto deals Unifor signed had big concessions to their pension plan for new hires. There is no reason to think that Unifor is better positioned to represent ATU members just because they are a Canadian union.
After a decade-long effort, the CAW successfully raided the Vancouver local of the Independent Canadian Transit Union representing Metro Vancouver public transit workers in 2000. The agreements reached under Unifor are worse than Local 113’s deal with the TTC. Unifor’s deal has a grow-in twice as long, and wages for drivers are significantly less.
The ATU has, especially since Hanley’s election, taken a political line that governments need to invest more in public infrastructure and mass transit. The ATU in Ontario and across Canada has taken a strongly pro-NDP line and spurned the Liberals. During the last election in Ontario, Local 113 itself was one of the major critiques of Wynne’s privatization schemes and lack of public funds devoted to transit. Contracting out and privatized P3 infrastructure under Trudeau and Wynne continue to be major political problems for the union.
Kinnear says he wants to help the Local 113 membership, but joining Unifor means lining up with Dias who is a backer of Wynne and Trudeau, two of the country’s biggest proponents of P3 and privatized infrastructure projects. P3 and privatization aren’t just cash cows for corporations. It is no secret privatization and P3s are also weapons against workers, their unions, and collective agreements.
South of the border the ATU like many other public sector unions is under the gun. Right-to-Work laws have just been in Missouri and Kentucky and they will significantly impact the ATU. The union will have to devote large resources to battle RTW in those states and restructure those locals unions so they can survive. A national Right-to-Work law has been introduced by the Republican-controlled Congress, which would be the greatest assault on American trade union rights since Taft-Hartley.
To effectively fight this attack, the ATU and other international unions will need resources and solidarity to sustain the fight. Unifor, with the CLC’s blessing, is trying to divide and weaken the ATU and by extension attacking all international unions through nationalism.
This is a gift not just to Trump and the Republicans south of the border, but a gift to the Tories in Ontario who would be happy to take power when unions are paralyzed by leadership power games. Hudak wanted right-to-work in Ontario in the last election and Brown is staying quiet on it now. We can’t put it past the Tories to introduce it with no notice if they take power. The struggle against anti-union Right-to-Work needs to be fought on both sides of the border as part of a common fight, not divided through nationalism.
What Local 113 needs is a principled and organized caucus of rank-and-file members whose goal is building a strong, democratic union that can actually fight management when it needs to, and work with other locals in ATU and other unions to fight for common goals: like public infrastructure, strong worker rights, and democratic unions.
Lessons can be learned from 113’s own great history, from the experiences of other ATU locals across Canada and the US, the RMT in Britain, as well as the lessons of the “New Directions” caucus of TWU Local 100 in New York City.
The future of 113, how it should handle the trusteeship, should ultimately be up to the members of the local, not Yussuff, not Kinnear, not Dias or Hanley.
The labour movement should take a strong position against this raiding by Unifor and demand the CLC restart the justification process. Internal matters inside the ATU should be left to ATU members to sort out themselves. The labour movement is facing many threats in Canada and the United States. The palace intrigue and power politics of leadership are a dangerous distraction from the true fights that lay ahead.