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Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on the Canadian Labour Congress and Unifor’s disaffiliation



OPSEU Friends, 

I am greatly troubled by Unifor’s recent decision to leave the Canadian Labour Congress.

It has the potential to rip apart the very foundation of the labour movement at all levels, namely, worker solidarity.

OPSEU is affiliated to the Congress through membership in the National Union of Public and General Employees. Brother Larry Brown is our national president and it is through NUPGE that we participate in the 3.3 million worker Congress.

The CLC, founded in 1956, was established by forward thinking leaders out of a struggle to fight for the values of working Canadians. Its foundation was built on a profound sense of the need to organize and to achieve fairness.

In any political organization there exists differences of opinion. That's healthy. Taking unilateral action to violate the rules isn't.

At the heart of this current disagreement is Article 4 of the CLC constitution that sets ground rules about the rights of workers to leave their current union and join another. As in any Constitution, it is the President's duty and authority to interpret those rules. In my opinion, President Yussuff has interpreted the rules correctly in the current dispute between UNITE HERE Local 75 and Unifor.

But as in any dispute there are at least two sides to the issue.

Raiding another union’s members is an ultimate offence because our movement is built on unity and demands solidarity.

Ignoring the concerns of Canada's largest private sector union is equally unhelpful.

Igniting an internecine war of unions is counterintuitive to the opportunities currently on the table. Remember, we may be competitors but we are not enemies. We are sisters and brothers and at the end of the day our goal must be the advancement of workers' rights and organizing the unorganized, rather than reshuffling the membership deck.

Brother Dias has, in my opinion, raised some valid points about the state of our Canadian labour family and he and his union deserve to be heard.

I've said it many times, in peril there is opportunity and as with most crisis, collectively we have the chance to take something great and make it even better.

My friends, OPSEU/NUPGE are uniquely placed to take a leadership role in helping to find common ground. In the past NUPGE has been at the forefront in seeking changes to the CLC constitution. The changes that resulted from those efforts have convinced me that a solution can be achieved. 

And that's why last week I agreed to meet with Brother Dias in Montreal and later spoke to Brother Yussuff to better understand the issues and do our part to try to broker a deal and bring all sides together.

I was pleased to see there is goodwill to address all concerns. Whether there is enough to break the stalemate remains to be seen.

But the leaders must be willing to try, therefore I’m calling on all leaders to park their grievances, table their differences and figure out a way to reach consensus.

This won't be easy. Unifor, as a prerequisite, must commit to abandoning any and all future plans to raid.

I believe a constitutional review committee will have to be established.

Goodwill must prevail. 

And sleeves need to be rolled up. 

Every day, the labour movement prides itself in negotiated settlements. This dispute can and must be resolved in that spirit.

I will end with a familiar OPSEU sign off. Forward together friends. Because together we are unstoppable.