After spending seven months on a public misinformation campaign including costly province wide townhall meetings against the backdrop of anti-union raiding, the Unifor National Executive Board has been found in violation of our constitution by the Public Review Board (PRB). The Public Review Board is an arms-length body that hears appeals from Unifor members against decisions of the NEB. The first PRB was established by Walter Reuther for the UAW, when unions were under attack from claims they were not democratic.

From the outset the NEB denied the constitutional violations, but also took the position that the PRB did not have jurisdiction over the appeal or the ability to reverse their undemocratic decision, asking for our appeal to be dismissed outright. Not only did they seek to derail pubic inquiry into their actions, but several other appeals from locals across our union were denied without satisfactory explanation, seemingly in an attempt to make the calls for democracy appear isolated rather than widespread. While the PRB stopped short of overturning the decision to leave the CLC, they made it extremely clear that the National did in fact violate our constitution and expressed that hopefully this decision will lead to further discussions about the need for true union democracy within Unifor. In addition, the PRB dismissed the arguments of the NEB as being “unreasonable”.

“In our view, the language of Article 19(2) makes plain that the decision to disaffiliate from the CLC does not lie with the NEB alone. The words “subject to” indicate a qualification of
on the NEB’s authority and reading the provision in a way that authorizes the NEB to make and implement such a decision unilaterally effectively reads these words out of the article. We appreciate and have considered the argument, made by Unifor, that other articles of the Constitution make it explicit when decisions must be approved by other means prior to being implemented. Certainly, compared with the language contained in article 15(A)(4), article 19(2) is less explicit and arguably gives rise to some ambiguity. However, we cannot accept that the words “subject to” have no real meaning or that they simply confer a power to decide whether a decision made and implemented many months ago will remain in effect, or be reversed. In our view, such an interpretation is unreasonable.”

When the CLC disaffiliation was first announced it shook the Canadian labour movement to its very core, sowing seeds of mistrust and division at a crucial time for our movement. With a degree of arrogance rivaled only by the corporations we are supposed to be fighting against, they made this unconstitutional decision with zero input from the people most affected by this change, the rank and file members of Unifor itself.

On the eve of Unifor Canadian Council, our delegates have the chance to reverse this horrendous decision, or conversely to support it. After months of misinformation from our leadership surrounding this issue, it is likely that the latter will occur, but the fact remains that the appropriate decision making body will finally and rightfully get to decide the direction of our union, a direction presupposed by an executive board who believe themselves to be above reproach and powerful enough to flatly violate the constitution they swore an oath to uphold. This attitude is truly an enormous shame and does a great disservice to workers across the nation. Apparently Democracy only Matters when we are raiding other unions and need a catchy phrase to justify our grossly divisive actions during a public relations nightmare.

What can we expect next from a National Executive Board that is willing to use our own dues to lie to us about the scope and use of the power we allow them to have? Only time will tell, but a few things are certain: we need leaders who respect and uphold our constitution, who remember where they came from and who they represent. We need honest and accountable leadership who embrace constructive criticism rather than leaders with fragile egos who stifle dissent to create the illusion of solidarity where obedience sadly takes precedence. More importantly, we need rank and file members to raise their voices in dissent when the principles of our union are violated. This rank and file driven victory for our members stands as proof that through dedicated grassroots effort we can ensure that those in power are held accountable, whether it be in the workplace or in our own house where these constitutional violations should never occur in the first place.

This is the entirety of the PRB Decision (applicant is erroneously stated as our Local 222 Recording Secretary who filed the request on behalf of Local 222). We at Solinet hope that each of you will take the time to read these documents and catch a small glimpse of why grassroots union activism is needed now more than ever. Only when the workers who make up our union have a meaningful and respected voice in our national decision making will our union achieve its enormous potential. Until then we all must demand democracy when it is denied, and if our demands are silenced by those in power we must take democracy without apology.