In an extraordinary show of support and solidarity, 2,000 delegates at the Canadian Union of Public Employees conference in Quebec City unanimously passed a resolution putting the IWA (Industrial, Wood & Allied Workers) on notice that CUPE will use all its resources to stop the IWA from signing yellow dog contracts with private health care multinationals.

(In the early days of the American labour movement, corporations forced workers to sign away their rights to unionize as a precondition of employment. These contracts became known as “yellow dog contracts” since employees were deemed to have to cower before their “masters” to get a job. Any situation in which workers must sign away better working conditions for lower wages falls into the same category.)

Because of B.C. government privatization legislation, health care services are being sold off to private companies. Workers, mostly women and people of colour, organized by the Health Employees Union (HEU, a division of CUPE) are invited to continue in their jobs with the new employer, often at half the wages with no benefits. To add insult to injury, they are told to sign a union card with the IWA.

In a powerful grass roots protest, 2,000 delegates gave Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) President Ken Georgetti the silent treatment. In a 30-minute speech, Georgetti received less than a smattering of applause. CUPE feels that Georgetti has not been hard enough on the IWA.

A debate on an emergency resolution pledging all of CUPE’s resources to stop the anti-labour practices of the IWA — up to and including withholding dues to the CLC if they don’t stop or sanction the IWA — followed Georgetti’s speech. Angered by the silent protest Georgetti did not stay to hear the anger of those affected.

“I want to know if the President of Canadian Labour is here,” Brenda Jordinson asked at the microphone. “I want him to hear what we are going through,” she said in a breaking voice. “I work for the Salvation Army and I was just fired.” At that point the room broke into a prolonged standing ovation. Empowered by the expression of support, she continued and concluded, “I knew we’d have to fight with the government. I knew we’d have to fight the employer. But I never though I’d have to fight another union,” she said.

“The actions of the IWA mean that people have to beg for their jobs,” said HEU president Fred Muzin. “They are blacklisted, demeaned and isolated.”

The energy in the room supporting the devastated workers was electric. It has been years since this observer has seen this kind of energy at a labour convention. In an interview, Muzin told me that his members were tremendously empowered by the debate and protest, which he characterized as “fabulous.”

Marie Clark Walker, executive Vice-President of the CLC who did stay to hear the debate said in an interview, “What the IWA has done is not a case of simple raiding. This is a much deeper violation of trade union principles. We don’t get in bed with the employer under any circumstances particularly to undermine the workers’ rights we have fought for, for generations.” Most of the jobs affected are the most marginalized, she added, those whom the labour movement is trying to reach.

The resolution reads: “In the event that the IWA does not immediately comply with this direction, that the CLC Executive Committee be called upon to immediately impose full sanctions on the IWA.” Such sanctions are progressive starting with removing CLC services and ending with removing the union representative on the CLC Executive Board, which amounts to an expulsion.

Outgoing national CUPE president Judy Darcy called on the CLC to “tell the IWA to get the hell out of those scuzzbag agreements.”

Darcy is stepping down at this convention and will be replaced by Manitoba’s Paul Moist. In a human rights forum Wednesday night, women expressed a fear that CUPE was going backwards in terms of women’s leadership and pledged to start organizing again to support women to run for leadership positions.

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick is one of Canada’s best-known feminists. She was the founding publisher of , wrote our advice column and was co-host of one of our first podcasts called Reel Women....