As a full-time staff representative for the Canadian Auto Workers union (now Unifor), my work involved negotiating, presenting arbitrations, appearing before various labour tribunals, working with local union leadership, and instructing a variety of education programs. But organizing is the one task that provided the most bizarre and sometimes funny situations in my 30 years as a staff representative.
In the late '80s, I was trying to organize the workers at the Rio Algom tin mine 25 miles outside of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. It was a cold fall and we had early snow. The gate to the mine was about a mile from the main road and I decided that it would be much easier to pass out organizing leaflets at the mine gate rather than hoping workers would see me and stop.
The management relations person appeared at the gate and advised me I was trespassing and to get off the company's property. I refused and he promptly advised me that he would call the RCMP, which he did. I stayed long enough to hand out the rest of my leaflets and left for my hotel.
A few days later I went back to the same gate and started handing out more leaflets and soon the same management person came out and told me again that if I did not leave, he would call the RCMP. I refused, so he called the RCMP, but I was gone before they came to the mine.
The next day, an RCMP officer showed up at the hotel where I was staying and asked me if we could have a chat. He advised me that the mine gate was considered private property and I could be charged with trespassing. But, he did mention a little known by-law that would allow me to be on that property if I were hunting.
A few days later, I went back to the mine gate, wearing my orange hunting jacket and a 303 rifle in tow.
Once again, the same management person came out and asked me if the RCMP had spoken to me and I told him that yes, an officer did talk to me. He said, "then what are you doing here?" I replied that I was hunting and he retorted, "for what?"
I told him I was hunting for deer … and union membership cards and he stomped away cursing and yelling. I never heard from him or the RCMP down there again.
The miners were certified with the CAW and they enjoyed the benefits of their union until the mine closed due to the low price of tin.
Larry Wark is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Union Retirees.
Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.