The continent’s biggest construction local is spending more than $10 million to muscle out its own staff and their new union.
In a twist to the explosive political infighting that occasionally flares up in the labour movement, the Toronto-based Labourers’ International Union of North America Local 183 is buying out about 80 employees with lucrative financial packages after they joined another union.
Several insiders say the move will effectively snuff out the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2, which represents Local 183 staff, because replacement members won’t have any allegiances and will eventually decertify it.
“It’s disgusting what Local 183 has done to get rid of them and the union,” one insider said Tuesday. “It’s a good example for non-union companies. If you don’t want a union, just buy off the employees.”
The unions and staffers would not discuss terms of the settlement because of confidentiality agreements. But two sources familiar with the terms confirmed that Local 183 would be paying out between $10 million and $12.5 million to departing staffers.
The individual buyouts or severance packages will range between $30,000 and more than $400,000 for a few veteran employees, according to the sources
Senior staff who work for Local 183 and joined SEIU Local 2 earn about $120,000 plus several thousand more in benefits and car allowances.
Senior officers of Local 183, which represents about 28,000 construction workers in the Toronto region, did not respond to repeated inquiries for information or comment on the buyout costs or the future of SEIU Local 2.
Local 183 lawyer John Evans, who returned a call on behalf of business manager Jack Oliveira, said it would not comment on the messy dispute or the cost of offering rich packages to members of another union and then having to replace them.
But Terry O’Sullivan, president of the U.S.-based Laborers’ International Union, left no doubt earlier the SEIU was “not welcome.”
“We don’t want SEIU Local 2 in it (the Labourers’ union) in any way, shape or form,” O’Sullivan said in a statement, describing it as “a cheese-eating rat.”
Staff representatives, coordinators and administrators at Local 183 signed SEIU Local 2 membership cards in June in what they described as “protection” from reprisals including possible firings after a bitter Local 183 board election.
That election, which included a recount, swept five incumbents out of office and put a new board in control. As a result, staffers felt vulnerable because they supported incumbents or received directions to campaign for them.
“People were afraid of losing their jobs,” said one staffer, who requested anonymity.
In the past, victorious candidates in construction union elections would sometimes dismiss staff who opposed them or didn’t take sides in an election.
“That’s something out of the 1950s and still goes on in some unions,” said one insider. “You might see someone going out the door, who has more than 20 years serving workers well, because of a political agenda. How does that help workers ?”
The staffers quickly arranged an organizing drive through the SEIU; gained certification and negotiated a first contract with the losing Local 183 incumbents just before they technically left office. One of the major improvements was a seniority clause to protect veteran staffers and a provision whereby management would need to show just cause for a firing or other discipline.
The construction union described the drive and contract as “a travesty of trade union democracy and an outrageous interference” by SEIU Local 2 in its affairs.
Insiders said Local 183 executive officers forced staffers to hold a protest against their new union at SEIU offices in July. Then the construction union officers rounded them up on the same day and read them a “termination” letter.”
The firings included Frank D’Abbondanza, a Local 183 staffer for 16 years who expressed surprise at the construction union’s conduct.
“I was really disappointed to see that our employer (Local 183) was more anti-union that the employers we’ve dealt with over the last 15, 20 years,” D’Abbondanza said in an SEIU leaflet.
“How can you trust a union that fires its own staff for getting organized,” added Maria Da Silva, another veteran worker who lost her job.
The two unions took their fight to the Ontario Labour Relations Board where they filed numerous allegations against each other. SEIU Local 2 argued that Local 183 refused to recognize it and the contract. Local 183 charged that the union drive and contract were “a sham” perpetrated by former leaders.
But earlier this month, the two sides reached a settlement which included the buyout offer. Staffers accepted it in a vote last week.
“I think Local 183 should continue to recognize the new union but they’ve hired new people who may feel differently about the SEIU,” said one union official who expects a decertification. “Would Local 183 pay that much to have them (SEIU Local 2) still there?”View Original Article