By David Bush
The intense legal battle being waged over the fate of ATU Local 113 is not simply a two-sided affair between Bob Kinnear and ATU International. RankandFile.ca has learned that Bob Kinnear’s legal fees are being paid for by Unifor. This should not come as much of a surprise after Dias announced in his February 7 press conference with Kinnear, “if there are lawsuits and one of you gets sued. I’ll pay the lawyers’ bills.”
In a leaked audio recording of a meeting this week between Kinnear and members of Local 113, Kinnear is asked by a member of the union, “who is paying all the legals costs you are incurring right now?”
Kinnear said, “Unifor is paying.”
The member replied, “why would Unifor pay that?”
Kinnear’s legal costs are not insignificant, because much of the fight over the fate of ATU Local 113 has taken place in the courts and law offices. Currently, Kinnear and ATU International are in mediation over the allegations that Manny Sforza, the former trustee, was in contempt of court. The mediation dealing with the contempt of court issue may expand to include other disputes between Kinnear and ATU International. But as far as we know, none of the legal battles between Kinnear and ATU International deal with defending him from lawsuits.
Heated exchange with members
The lengthy recording, which is punctuated by many heated exchanges between Kinnear and members, outlines his reasoning for initiating the CLC justification process (process for leaving current union/joining another union) and explains why Unifor is supporting him. Kinnear admitted he was in contact with Unifor before the trusteeship was filed, which is confirmed by a previously leaked email. Kinnear also stated he was initially supported by other Canadian unions in his battle with ATU International, though he does not not name these unions.
Kinnear strenuously and repeatedly denies Unifor is interested in representing ATU members. He stressed the point that Unifor was standing up for the rights of Canadian union members. He claims Unifor “took on the battle because the International trusteed us. They believed that the membership should have the opportunity to discuss and if they so choose to have a vote.”
Kinnear argues that Local 113 pays 2 million per year to the International, but the local is essentially acting like a national union and not getting proper training and resources from the International office.
Kinnear goes it alone
Kinnear explains he initiated the justification process because he knew a trusteeship would occur and that he wanted to give members a choice. Members in the room pressed him repeatedly about why he didn’t bring it to the executive board or to the membership before he filed the CLC justification. He argued that the local would have been trusteed if he brought it up first. At multiple points in the meeting members questioned him about this. One member stated “you should have brought that up to the board members and all of us here, before you made a decision all on your own to go ahead and do so. That is only to benefit you, not for the members, you are not thinking of the members.”
Another member stated, “why, not just you, but everybody go through this, what is the reason?”
Bigger questions for labour
While the leaked audio confirms that Unifor is paying Kinnear’s legal fees and is involved in the intra-ATU fight, it also raises a number of questions for ATU members and the wider labour movement.
Are Unifor members aware they are paying Kinnear’s legal fees? When exactly was Unifor contacted by Kinnear about this situation? Kinnear claims Unifor only got involved because of the trusteeship. Yet he also claims they were in contact before the trusteeship. Could this be considered a violation of the CLC’s justification process? What other unions did Kinnear say were onside with him?
Did Kinnear himself pay the over $50,000 price tag to the Toronto Star and other papers last week for the full page open letter from Kinnear to 113 members announcing his legal victory, or did other parties help foot the bill?
ATU 113 members will have to judge for themselves the merits of the claims coming from the executive board, the International and Kinnear. Why did the trusteeship happen? Was it justified or not? Do Kinnear’s reasons for wanting to leave the International hold water?
March 19 meeting
The answers to these questions are not all simple. Kinnear argues that a large local like ATU 113 doesn’t get anything from the International, it simply pays money into it. As in all unions large locals help sustain smaller locals and give them greater access to resources. This is not an act of altruism, but a strategic question of ensuring industry standards are raised across the board. If a large union local like 113 goes out on its own, how will that shape standards and working conditions in public transit in Ontario and Canada long-term?
On March 19, ATU Local 113 will hold a meeting at which Kinnear plans on introducing a motion that will allow ATU 113 members to vote on their union affiliation.