Why NUPGE is at odds with the Canadian Labour Congress

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As you may know, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is currently in a dispute with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) over the fundamental issue of raiding (when one union tries to take members away from another union).

Raiding is destructive to solidarity, doesn't advance the interests of workers and wastes precious resources that should be used to service members and organize non-union workers. Unfortunately, some CLC affiliated unions continue to raid other CLC affiliates. NUPGE has never subscribed to the position that some other CLC affiliates have taken: "if you are raided, then you should just raid back."

It's clear where NUPGE stands on this issue: in 2001 we suspended one of our largest component unions, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), for raiding another union.

The current CLC rules against raiding are ineffective and unevenly applied. In 2005, NUPGE's Manitoba component union, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU), was raided by the Teamsters union. In 2009, another NUPGE component union, the BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU), was raided by the BC Nurses' Union, an affiliate of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU).

Neither the Teamsters nor the CFNU faced any meaningful consequences from the CLC. In fact, under the current rules, a union that succeeds in a raid (such as the Teamsters) is actually rewarded for their behaviour. That's because the CLC allows the Teamsters to remain in the House of Labour and they benefit from the additional dues revenue from the members they raided. In fact, the Teamsters were allowed to attend the last CLC convention but NUPGE was not.

Isn't there something profoundly wrong with this situation?

In other cases (such as the CFNU), the CLC has not applied the rules evenly. In 2001, NUPGE was told by the CLC that we were responsible for the actions of our provincial component, the AUPE. However, in the case of the BC Nurses' Union raid, the CLC decided to suspend the BCNU only and not its national union (the actual CLC affiliate), the CFNU.

Why the double standard?

NUPGE has raised the problem of raiding for years. We've put forward proposals to change the CLC constitution and rules. We've made many attempts to start a discussion and have encouraged other unions to share their ideas. However, the CLC has simply said our proposals on raiding aren't acceptable and no one has offered an alternative proposal for discussion.

Consequently, our national executive board developed a policy to deal with instances where one of our components is raided wherein a small amount of CLC dues is withheld to defray the costs of defending against the raid. This policy was ratified by delegates at our conventions in 2007 and 2010.

Despite our best efforts to put forward proposals for consideration and discussion, the CLC has made no progress on this issue. Instead, they ordered us to change our policy with respect to withholding a small amount of dues and threatened legal action to recoup the money. We find it increasingly difficult to continue participating in CLC activities at the national level when this serious problem of raiding is not being addressed and while raiding continues to chip away at the fundamental cornerstone of labour unity.

As a result, NUPGE's National Executive Board, made the unanimous decision to suspend our participation in CLC activities -- at the national level only (effective November 25, 2010). We've made it very clear that we're committed to continuing our participation in the Federations of Labour and Labour Councils. To be perfectly clear, our decision is not to disaffiliate from all bodies associated with the CLC but to suspend our participation in CLC activities at the national level only.

However, in response to our decision, the CLC decided to expel NUPGE and its components from the Federations of Labour and Labour Councils (effective January 1, 2011). This decision contradicts many other decisions made by the CLC on the same issue over many years. The past practice of the CLC has been to allow other unions to participate in some parts of the House of Labour but not others:

• In some cases, a union has been allowed to affiliate to the CLC without also being affiliated to the Federations of Labour or Labour Councils;

• In other cases, a union has been allowed to affiliate to a Federation of Labour without being affiliated to the CLC; and

• In other cases, a union has been allowed to affiliate only a small per cent of its members to the Federations of Labour or Labour Councils while still being affiliated to the CLC.

In other words, for many years, the CLC has allowed other unions to be affiliated to some labour centrals but not others. The patchwork of affiliations is a result of decisions made and precedents set by the CLC.

So why now is the CLC treating NUPGE differently than these other unions?

Again, our decision to suspend our participation in the CLC at the national level is based on the clear lack of progress in dealing with raiding at the national level. The Federations of Labour and Labour Councils are not involved in this national dispute. NUPGE and its components contribute a lot -- in human and financial resources -- to the Federations of Labour and Labour Councils. Our members know firsthand the work that is done by these organizations to address the economic and political challenges confronting working families. We don't want to diminish these efforts.

Unfortunately, rather than deal with the problem of raiding at the national level, the CLC has decided to expel NUPGE and its Components from the Federations of Labour and Labour Councils. It's disappointing the CLC has made this decision. It's also a confusing decision since it contradicts so many other CLC decisions about affiliations to some but not all labour centrals.

I hope the leadership of the CLC demonstrates a willingness to work on a solution to the problem of raiding so that NUPGE and its component unions can proudly resume our full participation in all of the activities of the Canadian Labour Congress.

James Clancy is the national president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members.

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