Richard Cashin moved quickly and decisively. A little more than a month ago, on the afternoon of March 10, he summoned the 24-member executive board of the Newfoundland fishermen’s union to a special meeting in St. John’s the following day. When they arrived, their president, Cashin, hit them with a bombshell announcement. The local was quitting its affiliation with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) for Robert White’s sprawling and still growing Canadian Auto Workers (CAW).
That decision sparked a vicious dispute within the Canadian labor movement. By the end of March the UFCW had retaliated with court challenges, a formal complaint with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and verbal attacks on Cashin. “Power grabs are power grabs,” snapped UFCW Canadian co-director William Hanley. “Adolf Hitler provoked riots and civil unrest and then claimed he had to grab power to prevent a Communist takeover. There is really no difference.” Cashin says that he pulled his 23,000 members out of the UFCW because of meddling by union officials at the international headquarters in Washington. The latest incident occurred in January when the UFCW international
selected Hanley as Canadian__
co-director. But UFCW spokesman William Reno countered that Cashin is bitter because he wanted the job and was passed over. As well, said Reno, under new UFCW rules, in 1988 Cashin would, for the first time, face a membership vote on his leadership and feared his position was threatened. Meanwhile, some Canadian labor leaders have accused CAW president White of raiding another union.
Cashin’s Local 1252 represents inshore and deep-sea fishermen, as well as processing-plant workers in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Cashin, a former lawyer and Liberal MP, organized the fishermen in 1970 with 69 members and helped build the union to its current size. He decided to
end the affiliation with the UFCW following the appointment of a new Canadian co-director. The position was vacant from last June until several days before a special UFCW convention held in Toronto in January. Then, the Washington international chose Hanley. But the delegates passed a motion that the Canadian executive board should make the appointment. The board chose Vernon Derraugh, now Hanley’s executive assistant. On Feb. 5, a Canadian delegation
attended an international board meeting in Miami and sought support for Derraugh, but the board sided with Hanley.
Cashin then approached White in late February to discuss merging the fishermen’s local with the CAW. On March 5, Cashin presented his case to the CAW board and a week later consulted his executive council for the first time. The following day White was in St. John’s to issue a CAW charter. Caught off guard by Cashin’s desertion, UFCW officials in
_ Toronto were furious. Hanley
denounced Cashin for denying his members a vote on the merger in advance. “Dictators have always justified taking away the democratic rights of the people by citing some unknown or potential threat,” said Hanley.
Other union leaders directed their wrath at White. Said John Fryer, president of the National Union of Provincial Government Employees: “I don’t see how it can be interpreted as anything other than a raid.” Indeed, Fryer said that some union executives want the CAW expelled from the CLC. But White maintained his innocence: “Most of the people who have pointed fingers at me publicly have been involved in raiding themselves over the last 15 years.” White
also denied allegations that the CAW has adopted a policy of aggressive expansion.
Still, the CAW has grown rapidly since December, 1984, when White pulled the Canadian membership out of the U.S.-based United Auto Workers. Its ranks have zoomed to about 140,000 in December, 1986, from 118,500 when it left the UAW. Now, by absorbing the fishermen’s union, the CAW will surpass the UFCW to become the largest private-sector union in the country. Even so, the CAW’S organizing department has larger ambitions. “We would like to see ourselves the largest union in Canada,” Hemi Mitic, director of organizing, said in an interview. “We have got about 100,000 to go, so it is not out of reach.”
But the growing influence of the CAW is also partly due to the diversity of its members. Along with auto workers, the union represents salt miners, brewery and distillery workers, airline reservation agents and baggage handlers, cannery factory workers and now fishermen.
The UFCW has appealed to the Newfoundland and Ontario Supreme Courts for orders to prevent the Newfoundland local from joining the auto workers. UFCW spokesman Reno said that the international union has provided operating subsidies and strike pay of more than $4 million to the Newfoundland local since 1979, which has kept it afloat. The UFCW also accused Cashin of transferring $2.25 million from a Food and Commercial Workers bank account to a CAW account and wants the Newfoundland court to declare that the local must stay with the UFCW. Cashin said: “The question is, whose money is it? A portion of it belongs to the people in the local.” The warring unions are also battling before the CLC. The UFCW filed a formal complaint of raiding against the CAW, and last week a CLC umpire heard the case at a closed hearing in Montreal.
Meanwhile, about half the locals have already cast votes for the UFCW or the CAW, though the results have not been released. But it was clear that there was disenchantment with both the UFCW and Cashin. “This American bunch doesn’t want our local to have any say in the affairs of our union,” said Ellisson Barfett, a fisherman from Salvage, Nfld., about 320 km northwest of St. John’s. On the other hand, Alice Landry, who works in a Cape Breton Island fish processing plant, said, “I never dreamt that Mr. Cashin would be such a dictator.” Indeed, Richard Cashin’s big gamble could still backfire.
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