Recent discord in UNITE HERE is creating concern that in Canada the fight could end up involving other unions.
Four years ago the Hotel Workers Union (HERE) merged with the Textile Workers Union (UNITE) to create a new union UNITE HERE in the US and Canada. This new union it was hoped would merge the organizing zeal of HERE with the financial stability of UNITE. Many hoped this merger could help re-invigorate the labor movement.
Today that marriage is falling apart and threatens in Canada to draw other unions into the fray.
With the union’s first convention slated to happen this summer, Bruce Raynor past head of UNITE, and joint president of UNITE HERE is worried that he will lose power to the majority of the union which is largely from the old HERE. At stake is the $5 billion Amalgamated Bank owned by the union.
To try and stop this he has begun to try and secede the old UNITE locals from the union.The problem he faces is that he doesn’t have the support of the majority of the executive board to secede according to the union’s constitution. The majority of the Board has opposed attempts to split the union.
This has lead Raynor to file a lawsuit against those on the Executive Board who don’t support him. To fight this Raynor has launched a war of disruption to try and force a settlement on his terms. In the process he has not only launched a lawsuit but has:
- Used his areas of power in the union to put other locals into trusteeship, thereby removing the local elected leadership in an attempt to deprive the majority of votes at the convention.
- Launched websites attacking HERE leader and co-president of UNITE HERE John Wilhelm, the website strangely resembles the anti-union site unionfacts.com
(see www.fixourunion.org )
- Pulled organizers off of union drives from both Canadian and US UNITE locals to run campaigns to try and split HERE locals away from HERE and into the UNITE end of the fight.
In all of this Raynor now finds himself support by Andy Stern, the president of SEIU.
Clearly SEIU hopes that Raynor if he is able to win his war of disruption will merge UNITE into SEIU bringing with him the $5 billion bank.
This is where Canada begins to fit into the equation and raises some serious issues for the labor movement.Given that the majority of the UNITE HERE executive board show no signs of letting the divorce take place without a vote at the convention, which Raynor will lose, the options for Raynor and his Canadian ally Alexandra Dagg, legally taking members out of UNITE HERE are limited.
One scenario could see Raynor and his allies take what they can and merge quickly into SEIU. But with few members Raynor would have to raid his old union UNITE HERE through SEIU. If not through SEIU then through any number of proxy unions backed by Raynor and SEIU could be used to raid UNITE HERE.
Already in Toronto and Ottawa there are accusations that the recently formed Canadian Hospitality and Entertainment Workers Union is one such front. While the leaflets, which have been handed out at Hotels organized by HERE, have a picture and statement by Buzz Hargrove on them, it is believed that it is front for the UNITE end in Canada. The reason for these rumors is that organizers for this new union (which has no members) have been showing up on HERE members doorsteps and have remarkably accurate membership lists – suggesting a high degree of inside help – presumably from UNITE in Toronto.
If Raynor and Dagg merge into SEIU, it would then be SEIU that would be interfering in the internal affairs of another CLC affiliate. This opens up comparisons to the raids by the CAW against SEIU in Ontario that created a major rift in the labor movement.
In that case several SEIU locals voted to leave SEIU and join CAW. Similar to the UNITE HERE situation, these locals were prevented from leaving in that manner by the SEIU constitution. The CAW used that pretext to openly raid SEIU in Ontario – particularly in the healthcare field.
The result of this was that SEIU and other unions demanded that the CAW be kicked out of the Canadian Labor Congress.One wonders if the current leadership of SEIU in Canada, which came together to fight the CAW raids and has helped rebuild SEIU in Canada, will be able to stomach the thought of being turfed from the CLC for raiding UNITE HERE.
Sharlene Stewart, president of SEIU Canada, has built a reputation as fighter against raiding. At the last CLC convention she gave an impassioned speech against raiding between affiliates of the CLC. It begs to question whether she would allow SEIU’s name in Canada to be used to raid another union, especially one as prominent as UNITE HERE.
Stewart must know that if SEIU Canada is seen as raiding, or assisting to, raid a CLC affiliate it will provoke calls for SEIU’s expulsion from the CLC. Other unions, especially the CAW, would probably be more than happy to see SEIU lose the anti-raiding shield of the CLC.
It would be a sad irony that after rebuilding from the raids of the late 90’s SEIU Canada could see itself facing the same charges that it leveled against the CAW. The difference this time is that if removed from the CLC, SEIU would undoubtedly face raids from CLC affiliates interested in gaining members from SEIU.
Further it would be sad to see SEIU Canada which has engaged in very innovative organizing campaigns to unionize workers turn against a union that has done much to raise the cause of mainly immigrant hotel workers.