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Union locals are vulnerable to international takeover: fired N.L. union leader

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A former union local president who had asked the provincial government to amend the Labour Relations Act to prevent unfair takeovers of union locals by their international bodies is disappointed by the response he got.

John Flaherty, former president and business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 904, was ousted from his position on March 20 by the union’s international general president in Washington, D.C. The international office then seized control of the assets of Local 904, worth an estimated $253 million — $53 million in bank accounts and investments and $200 million in its pension fund, he said.

Flaherty wrote letters to Premier Dwight Ball and Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Al Hawkins asking them to look at better legislative protection for union locals in the province.

“Local 904 was placed under supervision based on factually incorrect information and is now controlled by International,” Flaherty told the government.
“(Neither) Local 904, its elected officers, nor the membership were provided a fair and unbiased hearing.”

Hawkins’ department agreed to look into the issue.

A letter sent to Flaherty by Hawkins stated: “I took the opportunity to personally review the information you provided and requested my officials to conduct a jurisdictional review. Upon completion of the review, I was briefed on the results. I have given careful consideration to the information you provided, and the results of the jurisdictional analysis, and wish to advise that I am satisfied with the current legislation and will not be seeking amendments to the Labour Relations Act.”

Local 904 represents about 2,300 members in Newfoundland and Labrador, including heavy equipment operators, mobile and crane operators, mechanics and clerical workers.

Documents received by The Telegram state that Flaherty was elected president and business manager by the local union membership in July 2016. On March 20 of this year, the local was placed under emergency supervision. Among the reasons cited were financial malpractice and political in-fighting.

Flaherty was fired, as well as the local’s executive assistant/office manager, two business agents and the local’s executive board pending the outcome of a hearing to determine whether full supervision of Local 904 was warranted.

A three-member hearing panel later recommended that supervision be maintained.
Flaherty refutes the reasons provided by the international and says documents the local has compiled tell the real story. He says a fair, independent hearing by the province’s Labour Relations Board would have come to the same conclusion, but when he contacted the board, he was told there was nothing the board could do. That, he said, needs to change.
“There is currently no process for a local union, its officers or its membership to access a fair and unbiased hearing in the event the international decides to impose supervision upon a local,” Flaherty said. “The general president of the parent union has absolute control over all of the local’s finances, assets, contracts and bargaining authority. It has control of the dispatch and filters what information, if any, is given to the membership.”
Flaherty says the other 15 trade unions in the province have built up assets of similar value and are also vulnerable to takeover and seizure of these assets by their parent unions. He said legislative changes are needed to ensure the assets remain in the province and under the control of the local.
He said many workers are supporting him in his efforts to push for the legislative amendment, and it’s too important of an issue to let die.
He has requested a meeting with Hawkins to discuss the matter and to learn the details about why the minister believes there is no need for an amendment.

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