There’s a state of war among construction unions as new and old players raid each other for members, flooding the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) with cases.
With the three-month “open period” starting Feb. 1, as it does every three years, two powerful alliances are pitted against each other and at the core remains the continuing scrap between the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and the massive and controversial Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 183 which have waged war on and off since 1991.
Carpenters’ District Council executive secretary treasurer Ucal Powell is on the offensive and isn’t pulling any punches: “If they want to start a war, we’re gonna see it through. We are not going to roll over and play dead.”
The bitterness and acrimony is palpable. Powell accuses LIUNA of reneging on “peace treaties” made in 1991, 1995 and again in 2007. Further, he says LIUNA not only didn’t honour the treaties, it refused to release some of its members to rejoin the Carpenters’ after Powell’s locals had turned back members to LIUNA.
In preparation of the fight, the Carpenters have signed a “no raid” agreement with Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons’ International Association of the United States and Canada, Union Local 598 and the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers, Local 721.
The 10-year agreement also has an interesting signatory, the fledgling Building Union of Canada headed by Craig Bromell, the former Toronto Police Association boss from 1997 to 2003.
His tenure was marked by a no-holds-barred style of confrontation with management and, conversely for union leaders, a right wing stance. For the last year or so he has been working with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and last April launched BUC, with he says, his own money.
He’s promising to go full bore in the fight for members against LIUNA Local 183, saying he’s been investigating the leadership and their actions and is ready to go to war.
For the most part, however, he said, it’s about what’s right.
“We’re simply offering a better deal,” he says, adding BUC is not being backed or affiliated with CLAC.
“I’m having fun here. With the (Police Association) it was life and death.”
He said BUC’s offer is for the same level of benefits as under Local 183’s contract with an immediate 15 per cent increase in pay because the opposition’s contract costs $8 an hour in overhead and BUC’s is half of that with the difference (paid by the employer) going back into the employees’ pockets.
Bromell alleges that LIUNA’s pension is “48 per cent underfunded” and that the BUC will invest in its members.
“Our union is set up as a non-profit corporation,” he says. “Unions shouldn’t make a profit.”
LIUNA Canada president Joseph Mancinelli doesn’t seem worried: “I was surprised to see Craig sided with the Carpenters’. I had met with him and he told me he had no plans to side with anyone. I don’t see the BUC or the Carpenters’ as a threat, more of an annoyance.”
Powell is blunt in his assessment: “I’m just glad Craig’s on our side. He’s going to do well in the industrial sector and I’m glad he signed the accord and we don’t have to fight him.”
Ironically, also in Powell’s fold are three former bosses of LIUNA Local 183, Durval Terceira, Jaime Melo and Danny Avero. The three were elected to office as Mancinelli’s loyalists after a bitter fight for four years to wrest control from former boss Tony Dionisio from 2004 through 2007.
It wasn’t long before new accusations erupted against the new slate and lawsuits started. The trio was ousted by Jack Oliveira who now heads up Local 183 and bitterness remains on both sides.
“We had to leave LIUNA,” says Terceira in a statement on a new website, MakeTheBigMove.ca
“Here at the Carpenters’, democracy is a priority. It is a union with integrity, and it has been strong for 130 years.”
Durval goes further on the same site: “I believe an undemocratic union does not deserve to call itself a union. Members like you and me deserve to be represented properly. That is why I am so happy to be at the Carpenters’ now, where the members come first.”
The three, who did not respond to requests for comment, now head up Carpenters’ Local 1030 and have come in for blistering attacks from Oliveira and Mancinelli.
Mancinelli said the hiring of 15 former LIUNA reps triggered the war.
“These former LIUNA representatives were either fired, or thrown out, by the membership of LIUNA Local 183,” he said.
He went on to question the Carpenters’ decision in hiring the former LIUNA executives given the cloud hanging over them and their rejection by its membership in a subsequent vote.
Fact or fiction, the war of words is somewhat colourful and a throwback to old school politics:
“No local executive elections: just shut up and work. That is what Danny and Durval have to offer you now...We have all the work. We have the big builders under contract. We have the big sub-contractors under contract,” reads a statement by Oliveira on Local 183’s union website.
“Our members have great work lined up for years to come. Members of Local 183 have more work, better benefits and guaranteed pensions. The Carpenters’ are tiny compared to us: provincially, we are six times bigger....As for all of Ontario we out number them 60,000 to 9,000.”
Oliveira did not respond to requests for comment.
LIUNA is a signatory to a Jan. 22 “unity coalition” through 2016 which includes: LIUNA locals 183, 506 and the LIUNA Ontario Provincial District Council, Sheet Metal Workers, Local 51 and 285, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 353, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of Canada and the United States (UA), Local 46 and Local 853, Teamsters Local 230, Brick and Allied Craft Union, Local 2, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793, Bricklayers, Masons Independent Union of Canada Local 1, Brick and Allied Craft Union of Canada and Marble Tile and Terrazzo Local 3 and the Canadian Construction Workers Union.
The joint statement says the coalition will use an internal dispute resolution mechanism.
If there are any jurisdictional disputes it is governed by “consensus” and has a fund for the 2013 raiding period.
The raiding period ends May 1 but will likely drag on in OLRB hearings for another year.
Look out for Tuesday’s Daily Commercial News for the last installment in this three-part series.