John Tunney's Stubborn Fight for Justice
Here is the it-can’t-happen-here story of how a pro-union Winnipeg milkman spent seven years and thousands of dollars battling the union leaders who cost him his job. Even when he won a judgment the International vice-president shouted, “I don’t give a damn what the Canadian court said; it doesn’t mean a thing to me"
A BONUS-LENGTH FEATURE
ON MONDAY, October 19, 1953, John Evers Tunney, 727 Weatherdon Avenue, Winnipeg, got home from work at the customary hour of six o'clock.
Before he had a chance to say hello to Gabrielle, his wife, the phone rang. The caller was Dave Buick, a milkman with whom Tunney had once worked at the Crescent Creamery. He was obviously excited.
“You’ve won your case, Tunney . . . you’ve won your case,” Buick said. “I’ve just heard it at the dairy.”
The news left Tunney speechless for a few seconds. When he could talk again, he asked,
“You’re sure? You’re absolutely sure? You’re not pulling my leg?”
“It’s true, Tunney!” came the reply. “You’ve won your case.”
Gabrielle found him dazed and pale, still clutching the phone. After leading him to his favorite stuffed chair in the living room, she asked softly, “What’s happened John?” Tunney repeated, unbelievingly, “I’ve won my case . . . I’ve won my case . . . I’ve won my case.”
Thus, forty-two-year-old John Tunney learned that he had successfully sued his union, Winnipeg Local 119 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, an American Federation of Labor affiliate.
Tunney’s emotional reaction to the news of his momentous victory was not hard to understand. His light with the Teamsters was a modern version of the encounter between David and Goliath. With more than one million members, the Teamsters are not only the largest union in North America, they also have the reputation of being one of the roughest and toughest . Continued on next page
THESE MEN WERE INVOLVED IN EVENTS WHICH THE JUDGE CALLED “HARD TO BELIEVE’’
Tunney’» struggle with the union started in 1946 when, as a driver for Crescent Creamery, he began to stand up at meetings and criticize the executive for sloppy administration, misappropriation of union funds and carrying on in a dictatorial manner. The particular object of Tunney’s criticism was Edmund Houle, the local’s fifty-five-year-old business agent and secretary-treasurer.
For his trouble, Tunney was indefinitely suspended from the union before being given a hearing and, because of a closed-shop agreement the union had with his employer, fired from his job without notice. When the local executive and the international headquarters of the Teamsters refused to give Tunney what he considered a fair hearing, he carried his case to the civil courts. “The whole thing became an obsession with me,” says Tunney. “No one has ever been able to kick me around.”
John Tunney has always been tough and stubborn. As a twelve-year-old boy in a coal mining town in Yorkshire, he beat up a seventeen-year-old youth who had swiped his kid brother’s cigarette cards. At fifteen he was working underground in the coal mine as an “onsetter” pushing loaded coal cars from the tracks on to the elevator and by the time he was sixteen no one would box with him at the local gymnasium. He came to Canada shortly after his seventeenth birthday and worked in Ontario as a farm laborer, lunch-counter attendant, construction worker and masseur. In March 1934, he settled in Winnipeg and went to work as a driver for the Crescent Creamery. Now forty-two, Tunney is a squarely built, powerful man with a ruddy complexion, broad face and deep-set steely eyes. His voice is quiet and he still retains some of his Yorkshire accent. He likes talking and he’s fond of people—a combination that made him a successful milk salesman.
To win his seven-year fight Tunney was forced to make many personal and economic sacrifices. Almost singlehandedly he had to collect concrete evidence to prove his charges that the union executive was behaving improperly. Out of a job and without savings, he borrowed money from friends and relatives to live on while he gathered his facts and figures. Barred from one of the dairies, he got to a man he wanted to see by forcing open a storage-room window and crawling through. To reach as many union members as possible, he spent countless hours in clubs, beer parlors and restaurants where they hung out. Threatened by reprisals, old union friends began to snub Tunney on the street. When he walked
into a beer parlor they would scurry away for fear a stool pigeon would carry word to Houle that they had been associating with Tunney. At times, Tunney had to arrange meetings with groups of union friends at out-of-the-way places. The men would arrive and depart singly to avoid detection. “It was real cloak-and-dagger stuff,” says Tunney.
To continue his struggle for justice, Tunney had to change the pattern of his family life. He sold his second-hand green Austin for four hundred dollars and gave up curling, cricket and summer vacations. Anonymous callers phoned in the middle of the night, threatening him “to lay off the union, or else . . .” Because mysterious strangers were sometimes seen lurking near his home, Tunney gave orders to his wife never to open the door to anyone except close friends. For a period he was away from home so much that his wife seriously threatened to leave him. “You’re no longer a husband or father,” she told him, pointing out that he hadn’t seen his four children for almost two weeks. Tunney appealed to her. “I just can’t give this thing up. Someone has got to put a stop to this monkey business.” His wife realized how much this fight for justice meant to him and stuck by him.
Before his battle with the union was over,
Tunney estimates that he spent fourteen hundred dollars in cash as well as losing additional thousands in wages. The lawsuit with Local 119 has also been costly for Tunney’s lawyer, seventy-five-yearold Lewis St. George Stubbs. Stubbs, who all his life has championed the underdog, has paid out about one thousand dollars in legal charges in addition to spending some fifteen thousand dollars’ worth of his time. His lawyer-son, Gerald, has also spent a good deal of time on the case. Both Stubbs and his son have yet to receive a penny for their services. Before Tunney’s lawsuit ended, there were almost one hundred exhibits, scores of witnesses and thousands of pages of testimony which gave the Canadian public a revealing picture of Local 119’s irregular behavior.
The one-hundred-and-fourteen-paragraph judgment handed down by Chief Justice Esten Kenneth Williams of the Court of Queen’s Bench, Winnipeg, says of some of the evidence, “It is hard to believe that this could have happened in Canada.” Finding the union guilty of the charges Tunney made against it, he singled out for castigation Tunney’s chief tormentor, business agent Edmund Houle. The executive, said the Chief Justice, carried on “under the domination of Houle.” He described Houle as a witness “entirely unworthy of belief” and stated that “no strictures I could pass on him would be unmerited and too severe.” His Lordship ordered Houle to account for eighteen thousand dollars of missing union funds. He awarded five thousand dollars’ damages to Tunney.
Anti-labor sentiment played no part in the struggle between John Tunney and Local 119. Tunney has been a strong supporter of labor ever since he joined the Yorkshire Miners’ Union as a boy of fifteen. Stubbs has been strongly sympathetic to unions as a lawyer, judge and as a member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. The witnesses who appeared to give testimony against Local 119 were either members or exmembers of the local who believed in unionism. But all these people were vigorously opposed to the slipshod manner in which the affairs of Local 119 were being conducted.
John Tunney became suspicious of Local 119’s business methods shortly after he started working for Crescent Creamery as a milkman in March 1934. He was approached by a stranger who said, “I’m the union business agent. I want ten bucks for your initiation and three bucks for your first month’s dues.” Tunney had planned to join the union so he handed over the thirteen dollars to
the agent who put it in his pocket and walked away. “Wait a minute,” said Tunney, “when I pay money I want a receipt. How about a properly stamped due book?” The agent was nonplused. “What the hell,” he said, “nobody around here bothers with books.” Tunney insisted on having his money back. “No proper receipt, no money,” be said. The next day the agent returned with a properly receipted book.
Receipting procedure came up repeatedly before the Tunney case was ended. The Teamsters’ constitution provides that every member should be supplied with a small red book known as a due book. There’s a space for an initiation stamp and a space for a dues stamp for each month of the year. When a member pays his initiation fee or his monthly dues, the business agent is supposed to fix a stamp in the proper place and cancel it out with the union cancelation mark plus his own signature. These stamps are obtained from International headquarters and cost thirty cents each, or ten percent of the three dollar monthly dues. It is from them .hat. the International office can keep track of its membership and derives its revenue.
After paying dues for five months, Tunney had yet to receive a single copy of the union’s monthly magazine. This led him to suspect that his joining ihe union was not officially recorded in the union books since each new member reported to the head office was automatically placed on the subscript ion list. He mentioned the matter to the agent. ‘‘Somebody must have slipped,” the agent explained. “I’ll give you my copy after I’m through
with it.” But Tunney was aware that many other members were not receiving their magazine.
In 1938, a young milk driver named Donald Sinclair complained to Tunney that, he had been thrown out of the union and hence automatically fired from his job at the dairy. He didn’t know why except that he had openly criticized the agent. Tunney asked Sinclair to accompany him to the offices of Local 119 where they confronted the agent,. “I’ve been paying my dues and I want to see my name in the ledger,” said Tunney. The agent refused. “We’ve never shown the books to members and we don’t intend to start now,” he said. Tunney then asked why Sinclair had been fired. The agent side-stepped the question by offering Sinclair his job back, telling him he could have any milk route he wanted. Tunney too was offered a better milk route. “It became obvious that this fellow was frightened,” says Tunney.
There Were Shouts of “Shut Up!”
The business agent’s unusual actions finally led fifteen members including Tunney to call a rump meeting at which his conduct was discussed. The ult imate result, was this agent’s departure from the union.
In August 1940 Tunney joined the Royal Canadian Navy. He spent the next five years on convoy duty as a radio telegrapher. In November 1945 he returned to his job at Crescent Creamery.
According to Tunney, a few days after he had
returned to his job, Edmund Houle showed up at his home. Houle had l>ecome the union’s business agent and secretary-treasurer during Tunney’s absence. “I want to talk to you privately,” he told Tunney. The two men went into the kitchen and closed the door. Houle produced a bottle of rye. After a drink and a few pleasantries, he became very serious. “I want you to back me in the union,” he said. Tunney pointed out that he only had one vote, the same as any other member. “One vote yes,” said Houle, “but you have a following.” Tunney said he would certainly back Houle if he did his job as business agent honestly and efficiently but that if he didn’t “I’ll be the first one to go after you.”
Houle persisted: “I want you to support me,
Tunney. I can get you on the executive.” Tunney became angry at this proposal and ordered Houle out of his house. “After Houle left,” says Tunney, “I figured that things must be in pretty bad shape or he wouldn’t have come to me with that request.” Within a few months, various union members came to Tunney bearing strange tales. Several members were paying dues but had neither due books nor any other form of receipt. In his personal dealings with members, Houle was often discourteous and dictatorial. He would sometimes shout “Shut up!” to members who disagreed with him at meetings or tell them that t hey were stupid and didn’t know what they were talking about. At a meeting at which he presided on September 1(>, 1940, Houle had played an important part in having t he
Continuai on pane 53
John Tunney's Fight
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 11
following remarkable resolution passed:
“To enable the union to carry out the business of running the local in a satisfactory manner, it was moved by Brother Baxter and seconded by Brother Miller that the constitution he suspended.”
Another incident that disturbed John Tunney was the tiring of sixty-twoyear-old Andy Allison, a former union president. Allison had worked for Silverwood Dairies for over twenty years as a route driver, supervisor and foreman; in recognition of his services, the company had presented him with a gold watch. But a series of disagreements with Houle led to his expulsion from the union in 1943 and the loss of his job.
To start with, there had been the matter of the Turnbull loan. The union had loaned money to Harry Turnbull, a friend and co-worker of Allison’s. Turnbull had put up his house at 575 Melbourne St., East Kildonan, as security. Turnbull died without repaying the loan. Thereupon, Houle took title to the property in his own name.
Allison was critical of this step. Whenever the subject was broached, Houle firmly maintained that the Turnbull property was a personal matter, not a union matter. The full report of the auditor, which was not shown to the entire membership, stated, “We have examined the certificate of title to this property which is registered in the name of E. Houle. In our opinion a declaration of trust should be executed by him in favor of the local.”
Allison had also been critical of Houle because of the way in which members were being initiated into the union. In 1943 Allison broke his back and was off work for four months. Upon his return, he was given a job cleaning stables and fixing tires. Weakened by his illness and suffering from a bronchial condition, he asked Houle to help him get a transfer to an indoor job. Houle refused. Allison then protested the manner in which Houle ran the executive meetings. Finally he reported his criticisms of the union leader to International headquarters at Indianapolis and a special executive session was arranged to hear the charges. Allison entered the meeting room and noticed that only four of the seven executive members were in attendance. “This meeting can’t legally arrive at any conclusions,” he claimed, and walked out. Ten days later he received a letter stating that he had been expelled from the union. Shortly after the superintendent of the dairy approached him. “I’m sorry Andy,” he said, “but I’ve got to let you go. The union fires people not the dairy.”
Because of his age, Allison was jobless for the next two years. His family survived by taking in boarders. Allison tried to sell grocery products from door to door and later got a job as a janitor. He still holds that job today.
The Allison episode confirmed Tunney’s belief that the rights of individual union members were in jeopardy. Because of bis willingness to get up at meetings and speak his mind he became recognized as a sort of unofficial grievance committee for the rank and file. Between November 1945 and March 1946 he received numerous complaints. Houle continued to disregard the constitutional methods of receipting payments made by union members for their dues. Often payments were not receipted. One driver had a book in which not a siry'.-G stamp had been
placed for almost two years. Another had an empty book which didn’t even contain his name; still another who had been paying dues for several months didn’t even have a book.
Despite his preoccupation with union affairs, Tunney had to earn a living. He would start his milk route at five in the morning and generally be finished by three in the afternoon. He received thirty-six dollars a week; later, as a salesman calling on stores, he got forty-two dollars a week. An accomplished baker and cook, he enjoyed talking shop with housewives. Once,
he rescued a customer by whipping up a cake for her in fifteen minutes, in time to be served to guests coming for dinner.
Neighbors and friends refer to Tunney as “a family man.” Occasionally he would attend a Canadian Legion meeting or do some curling and bowling but most nights he stayed in, playing his flute for his admiring children or playing Canasta with his wife. On Saturday night he would have the boys in for poker and lieer while the wives sat around knitting. However, as Tunney’s interest in union affairs
II(~1St~(l. tlW aflmunt of time he had to spend with his family de creased. The more he learned about the way Local 119's business was being run, the more he wanted to learn. Tunnev s findings prompted him to get up at. a regular union meeting in March 1946 and demand that the auditors report be read in full at the next meeting. Only an abridged `er sion of the report had ever been shown to the members. .\s a reply Houle jumped to his feet, glared at Tunne and shouted. ``You can go straight to hell.'' R~ persisting Tunnev tinallv got.
a motion passed that union members could examine the auditor’s report by visiting the union office. A few weeks later in company with three milk drivers, Cy Holmes, Sam Stewart and George Ferguson, Tunney showed up at the Labor Temple. An argument ensued with Houle. Finally it was agreed that the books would be shown on condition that Tunney waited outi side in the hall. Houle bawled the men j out. “I’m surprised to see that you j men mix with Tunney,” he shouted.
Even with a limited examination of | the union’s books, the three men found | many irregularities. Ferguson for example looked up the ledger number —453—assigned to him in his due book. He could not find his name in the ledger. The visit to the Labor Temple ended on a sour note. Houle asked the men why they hadn’t shown an interest, in the union books before this. George Ferguson replied that all of them had been in the armed forces and had only resumed their interestin union affairs recently. Houle responded by j telling the men they were a bunch of ! “Zombies.” He singled out Ferguson | for a special attack. “Why,” he said, | “I’ve done more for my country by ! spending the war sitting in my office j on my behind than you did by going | overseas. Now get out.” The men left to avoid a brawl.
It was not until several months later, when Tunney was to obtain a court | order enabling him and Eldon Johnston, a public accountant whom he had employed at his own expense to examine the union’s books, that the full j extent of the executive’s doubtful methods became known. Of thirty ' union due books which Tunney had collected from fellow members, not one ! corresponded with the entries in the ¡ ledger. The Sick Benefit Fund was being mismanaged. Benefits, according to the constitution, were to be limited to one hundred and sixty dollars per member per year. Yet in the year ending April 30, 1947, A. Deschenes had received $224.50, E. Johnston $475.50 and W. Brolly $401. Tunney himself had received fifteen dollars in sick benefits from Houle in cash after being off work for three days with an infected wisdom tooth. Yet the books showed that he had been given twenty-six dollars and fifty cents. The auditor’s report dated April 30, 1947, showed that Houle and the executive had transferred $4,976.80 from the general revenue fund of the union to the Sick Benefit Fund to-make up a deficit. The constitution states that the funds are to be kept separately.
Private loans to members are forbidden by the constitution. ’Tunney found Houle and the executive had made thirty-eight loans to members, including executive officers. ’The books contained such vague statements as “Loan to suspended member written off —$72.00.” The books showed that members of the executive had exempted themselves from paying union dues. The International constitution forbids this.
Tunney discovered that Houle had j used union funds in many other ways not sanctioned by the constitution. He had invested five thousand dollars in the Labor Temple; he had contributed money to help establish a local newspaper, the Winnipeg Citizen which was | to fail; he paid out death benefits on a basis so confusing that later on, | investigators had difficulty in understanding it.
By the spring of 1947, union morale was so low that of Local 119’s nine hundred members, fewer than forty bothered to go to general meetings. Negotiations were now under way with the Winnipeg dairy owners for a costof-living bonus. Houle and his execu-
live unanimously urged the men to accept an increase of forty cents a week. Tunney spoke against the proposal. “Why that would only mean a pack of cigarettes and a coke,” he said.
He was supported by Emile Bernier, a forty-year-old checker working for the St. Boniface Creamery. “The u'ay Houle is urging us to accept a measly fcrty cents a week, you’d think he was working for the dairy owners, not for us,” he said. Because of this outburst and previous ones in which he defied the executive, Bernier was expelled from the union and automatically lost his job. Besides working in the dairy, Bernier made money playing the trombone and saxophone and held a card in the musicians’ union. Houle demanded that Bernier write him a letter of apology on pain of being thrown out of the musicians’ union, also an AFL affiliate. Bernier complied.
But many other members now shared the feeling of Tunney and the unhappy Bernier that negotiations were not being handled in a satisfactory manner. The union constitution empowered any three members to demand a special meeting by presenting the executive with a signed request. Fearing that if only three members signed such a request they might be singled out for reprisals, Tunney, George Ferguson and Dave Williamson circulated a petition and obtained a hundred signatures asking for a special meeting.
On May 6, 1947, they entered the Teamsters’ office to present their petition. Houle was sitting at a table with three members of the executive. He took the petition, glanced at it, then ripped it into pieces and flung it in the waste basket. “That’s what 1 think
of you and your ----drivers,” he
shouted. “Now get the hell out of here.” Dave Williamson got down on his knees and carefully retrieved the scraps. “We’re going to need this,” he said. (It was to be produced later as evidence.)
Criticism of Houle’s conduct became more common. He ended one argument with Tunney with the threat, “Remember this, Tunney: I’m doing
all right and you still have to feed your wife and kids.” When George Ferguson once pointed out that members of the executive acted like puppets he was condemned by Houle as an “agitator.” Houle’s domination of the executive became so complete that president Harold Orchard often conferred with him before accepting a motion from the floor. Issues were usually decided by a voice vote of “aye” or “nay”; many observers felt that the chairman often declared as the winner whatever side he favored, regardless of which was the louder.
It was obvious that a showdown was inevitable. It came when Tunney re-
ported for work July 21, 1947. He was greeted by Bill Mortimer, a Crescent Creamery official, with the words, “Too bad, Tunney, hut you don’t work here any more.” Tunney was dumbfounded. He went to see Bill Johnson, the general manager. Johnson showed him a letter from the union stating that Tunney had been suspended at an executive meeting on June 18.
That night a registered let ter arrived at Tunney’s house reading in part:
You passed a remark on several occasions that you have the goods on the secretary (business agent and secretary-treasurer E. Houle) obtained by you through you making investigations. Insinuating that discrepancies exist in the affairs of the union.
Statements of this sort are detrimental to the welfare of the union.
Your trial has been set for Monday. August 4. at 8 p.m. in the Labor Temple. 165 James St.
(Sgd.) H. M. ORCHARD.
Later, in discussing the so-called suspension and trial of Tunney, Chief Justice Williams observed, “. . . the purported expulsion of the plaintiff was in had faith, the rules of the constitution had not been observed and the fundamental principles of justice were disregarded . . .”
What Were The Charges?
The constitution outlines the manner in which a union member can he suspended. Two members can prefer written charges against any other member, detailing the charges so t hat 1 lie accused knows exactly what he has lo defend himself against. The executive then grants the accused a fair hearing and brings in a recommendation to the membership which votes on whether the accused should be suspended. In the Tunney case, no written charges were made; lie was suspended by the executive first and informed about it afterward; at his hearing, no specific charges were laid against him in the words of the Chief Justice, the so-called charges were nothing more than “rhetoric” and “innuendo”; and finally, the executive’s decision to suspend Tunney after the hearing was never ratified by the general membership.
At the executive meeting held to “try” him. Tunney was asked by president Harold Orchard how he pleaded. Tunney said the hearing was illegal since the union liad failed to follow constitutional procedure. Furthermore, how could he plead when there were no specific charges against him? This angered Houle. “If you don’t like the way we do things here you can go somewhere else ” he shouted.
Five witnesses were called. The events that followed are reconstructed
I below, based on the sworn testimony j of four of the witnesses. The first was j Maurice Barker who stated that about I two months earlier, Tunney had I climbed on his milk wagon and told I him that he “had the goods” on Ed Houle and that he would be getting j rid of him in a few months. Questioned by Tunney, Barker couldn’t produce : a witness to this statement.
The second witness was William McClelland, who had been invited by Houle to testify against Tunney. Mej Clelland said he had met Tunney on the corner of Sargent and Valour Road one morning. Tunney had said, “You’re going to get quite a surprise one of these days!” McClelland asked, “What about?” But, despite his persistent questioning, Tunney would not elaborate.
The third witness was Joe Widiner, another driver. He testified that the day before the trial Houle had asked him to give testimony. At the trial, j he was asked if he had heard Tunney ! repeating rumors that the ROMP were about to seize the union’s books and that a new executive would he in power within forty - eight hours. “1 told them I didn’t hear these rumors from the mouth of Brother Tunney,” said Widiner. Houle told him to get out.
The fourth witness was Dennis Furness, another Crescent Creamery driver.
Houle had asked him if he had heard from Tunney that the union was eighteen thousand dollars short. Furness told the tribunal he had never heard Tunney discussing the matter.
The fifth witness, George Ferguson, testified, “Tunney and 1 work the same route and we speak to each other two or three times a day. We also I see each other a few nights a week.
But I never heard Tunney say that ; Mr. Houle was eighteen thousand dol! lars short or that he had the goods I on him.”
Tunney pleaded not guilty. Chairj man Orchard then asked Houle and I Tunney to leave the room while a decision was being reached. Houle i refused and demanded that the execu| tive punish Tunney. Asked again to j leave the room with Tunney, Houle ; burst out, “I wouldn’t be seen in the j same room as that rat and that no-
point Tunney and Houle almost got into a fist fight and had to be forcibly restrained. The hearing broke up in disorder.
Three days later Tunney received a i letter stating that “it is the unanimous i decision of the executive that you are guilty of the charge as read to you at the trial.” His suspension from Local 119 was now final and permanent.
A special meeting of the union membership was called on Aug. 29 to ratify the executive’s decision. Ferguson, Hartley, Williamson and other friends of Tunney protested against the way Tunney had been treated. The meeting finally broke up in disorder. The membership was never to endorse Tunney’s suspension from the union.
Nowhere in the union records is there a complete account of Tunney’s suspension. Despite the requirements of the constitution the executive didn’t keep complete written records of union business. Thus, there were no written minutes of the executive meeting held
July 18, 1947, at which Tunney was suspended. Minutes of meetings were in such skeletonized form as to be almost useless. For example when it was announced at the general meeting of Oct. 14, 1947, that Houle and the executive were being sued for illegally suspending a member, misappropriating union funds, and inefficient administration, the only mention in the minutes is, “Brother Houle reported on the lawsuits against the executive and himself.”
Why were the minutes of the union kept in such a sketchy manner? Part of the answer is that recording secretary Albert Cowley made notes of what -transpired at a meeting on a scrap of paper and handed it to Houle who dictated the minutes for the record.
The days following his firing were black ones for Tunney. He was jobless and without savings. He gave up most, of his leisure-time activities. He knew he was blacklisted wherever the Teamsters Union held contracts. An official of one dairy company told him, “Keep a w a y , Tunney. You’re red hot.” Finally, he took a job with a packing company killing sheep and hogs. The plant was an open shop.
Tunney developed a skin rash all over his body which his doctor described as being of nervous origin. Before he had been talkative and friendly; now he spent hours sitting i.n his living room quietly thinking. He couldn’t sleep at night; to pass the time, he would pace up and down the living room, smoking one cigarette after another.
He laid charges against Houle, addressed to the local executive, signed by thirty-eight union members, which accused the business agent of flaunting the constitution and bylaws, abusing union members, misappropriating funds, inefficiency and irregularity in receipting dues and initiation fees. Although only two signatures were necessary to lay a charge, Tunney deliberately gathered thirty-eight to avoid reprisals. Nevertheless, one by one : these men left the union and today there are only three left.
The executive set Houle’s hearing for Sept. 19, 1947 -a hearing which Chief Justice Williams described as “a farce.” The details might never have come to light had not the Indianapolis head office of the Teamsters’ Union insisted that a court reporter take down a verbatim report.
The “farce” actually started a few days before the hearing with the arrival in Winnipeg of J. M. O’Laughlin, an International vice-president from Indianapolis. Ostensibly, O’Laughlin came to see that the hearing was impartial. Accompanied by Houle, he visited dairies, waylaying the men who had signed the complaint against Houle. He tried to get some of them to withdraw their signatures and a few of them did.
The hearing opened with chairman Orchard reading off the charges. Then O’Laughlin said he had met two or three signatories who didn’t know what they were signing. He believed many other men were in the same position and if so they had the opportunity to withdraw by affixing their signatures to a letter he had drawn up:
“We the undersigned do hereby wish to withdraw any and all charges that are formally preferred against
E. Houle as those charges were preferred by us on misunderstanding and misrepresentation?'
About fifteen men signed. Tunney later stated that he had collected the signatures himself, that each man knew exactly what he was signing and had signed the charges not once but four times.
Next, O’Laughlin asked for witnesses to give evidence against Houle in support of the charges. One of the signatories got up and stated that Tunney was outside in the hall with all the evidence and asked that the “court
allow him in. O’Laughlin replied, “We can’t allow Tunney in because he’s no longer a member of the union.” Dave Williamson and others said Tunney had not been legally suspended. “Why even a drunken man lying in the gutter will be given a trial the next morning and may be found not guilty,” said Williamson. O’Laughlin and the local executive refused to allow Tunney to be heard. When his friends persisted O’Laughlin warned them, “I don’t want you fellows to get in Dutch but every one of you here is in violation of the constitution . . .”
Tunney, barred, refused to hand over his evidence to anyone else to present because he was afraid O’Laughlin would get hold of it and not return it.
With Tunney excluded, no documented evidence was presented against Houle. He arose and said the hearing had shown he was innocent; it was therefore his intention to lay charges against everyone who “signed these charges against me.” The executive issued a statement saying that Houle had been acquitted of all charges.
Enter Counselor Stubbs
Tunney turned to the 1 eamsters International General Executive Board in Indianapolis. He had originally written them on Aug. 12, 1947. On Sept. 8 he wrote again. On Sept. 15, a reply was received from one of general president Tobin’s assistants saying that Tunney’s original complaint had never been received. On Sept. 17, Tunney mailed another copy of his complaints against Houle and the executive to Indianapolis. On Dec. 29 he finally received a notification that the Genera) Executive Board would hear his appeal in the Alcazar Hotel, Miami, Fla. As Stubbs later observed, “For all practical purposes the hearing might just as well have been set in Shangri-la.”
Tunney then sought help elsewhere. He interviewed the president of his Canadian Legion branch who told him to go to a lawyer. The local representative of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs gave him the same advice.
He decided to consult Lewis St. George Stubbs. He explained his case to Stubbs and told him he didn’t have a penny. After studying the case, Stubbs accepted it because he regarded the fight as a matter of grave public interest. On Oct. 6, 1947, Stubbs entered a statement of claim on behalf of his client, John Tunney.
Stubbs is no less remarkable and determined than his client. At seventyfive he is still vigorous and alert and presides over the Winnipeg law firm of Stubbs, Stubbs & Stubbs, which includes himself and his three sons. A rugged individualist, he has never been known to turn his back on a fight. On the wall beside his desk, hangs a framed quotation from Thomas Paine:
“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, to do good is my religion . . .”
Stubbs came into national prominence in 1933 when he was removed as senior judge of the County Court. Winnipeg, after being on the bench for eleven years. One of the main causes for his removal was the manner in which he charged the Manitoba Appeal Court with usurping some of the powers of his own court. “The constitution of my court has been torn up and its soul raped,” he declared and proceeded to rent a local theatre and thus bring
the case directly to the people of Winnipeg. He once observed, while on the bench, that two months in custody was penalty enough for a man accused of stealing two thousand dollars. In arriving at this conclusion, he referred to a recent case where the court of appeal had given a man who had embezzled two hundred and eightyfour thousand dollars only eighteen months in prison. He was always on the side of the little fellow. He acquitted strikers of rioting, flayed the police for using force, opposed the lash, capital punishment and the garnishment
of wages. As a Winnipeg member in the Manitoba Legislature from 19361949, he was consistently in favor of labor and social legislation. But he was nobody’s rubber stamp. In 1949, his last year in the house, he denounced lawless and racketeering unions and sponsored a resolution requiring that all Canadian labor unions be autonomous and governed by Canadian laws.
With the doughty Stubbs in his corner, Tunney believed that his action, started in October 1947, would be over within a year. Instead, it dragged on until October 1953. It took
a year in the Manitoba courts to establish the fact that a union could be sued in the name of its executive. The lawsuit had no sooner started on April 26, 1950, when the famous Winnipeg flood began and the courthouse itself was partly covered with water. The suit was resumed in October and lasted for nine days. It was not until three years later -Oct. 19, 1953 that a judgment was rendered.
From the moment he decided to take civil action against the union, Tunney was busier than ever. To keep posted on happenings within the union, he
met secretly with union members. Gabrielle, his wife, often worried about his late nights. “I knew a lot of people were out to get him,” she said. It took three years, almost to the day, for judgment to be rendered. For Tunney, this delay for which he could discover no explanation was sheer torture. He was frustrated and restless. “1 thought a decision would be reached in a year at the most,” he says. “I had fought hard and 1 was waiting for the court to vindicate me.” But the first year went by and then the second.
His enemies twitted him that his case
had been pigeon-holed and that judgment would never be rendered. His friends tactfully stopped asking him when a decision might be expected. Again his body broke out in a flaming rash and the sleepless nights returned. He had quit his job at the packing plant in 1948 and returned to the dairy business when two of his closest friends, both milkmen, reported they had been fired for reasons which they regarded as absurd. Tunney suspected they had lost their jobs because they were friends of his.
He approached the non-union Cam-
bridge Dairy—one of the smallest in Winnipeg—and asked the manager, “If I can build up two extra milk routes for you, will you give them to two experienced drivers whom I suggest?”
The manager was agreeable; he had nothing to lose. Tunney began spending twelve hours a day canvassing houses on the old routes of his two friends. He explained to the housewives, “Your former milkman is without a job because he was a friend of mine.” Within two weeks, both friends were back in the milk business. So was Tunney, developing new routes and building up store sales. By early 1953 his regular salary was fifty-three dollars a week; occasionally, with commissions and bonuses added, it rose to eighty or ninety dollars. He left the dairy ten months ago to start his own landscape-gardening business.
But back in October 1950 it took nine days for the court to hear all the evidence in the case of John Tunney vs. Orchard et al. (president and executive of the union). Accused of repeatedly violating the constitution and bylaws of Local 119, the defendants denied the existence of any such body of laws. “We operate under the constitution of the International Teamsters’ Union,” they maintained. They held this stand despite the fact Stubbs supplied the court with a copy of the local constitution; that dozens of members of the local had copies; that the defendants themselves referred to the local constitution frequently in the union’s meetings. On this point, Chief Justice Williams declared, “The . . . evidence leads me to only one conclusion, namely that at all material times the local had its own constitution and that the . . . defendants in denying its existence were deliberately stating what they knew, or must be taken to have known, to be untrue.” Tunney’s suspension from the union had been carried out “in bad faith,” while Houle’s so-called trial was a “farce” and it was difficult “to credit what took place on that occasion. The plaintiff was not allowed to attend the meeting or to be called as a witness.”
Costly For the Union
His Lordship singled out Houle for his sharpest criticism. He found that the executive of Local 119 “acted at all times under the domination of Houle.” He repeatedly flaunted the constitution and did “whatever seemed good in his own eyes.” As a witness, he was dishonest. “The whole story of his conduct is shown in the record and ... no strictures I could pass on him would be unmerited or too severe.” Houle was ordered to account for some eighteen thousand dollars in missing union funds which His Lordship listed as follows:
The improper handling of due stamps cost the union, at a conservative estimate, five thousand dollars. In the matter of initiation fees, “in many cases no such fees were charged or collected and the local suffered a substantial loss.” Different members were charged different amounts. He fixed the amount for which Houle was liable in this respect at one thousand dollars. He also held Houle liable for $4,976.50 which was arbitrarily transferred from the general funds of the local to the Sick Benefit Fund. The five-thousand-dollar investment in the Labor Temple and the three hundred dollars given the now defunct Winnipeg Citizen were improper and Houle was asked to account for them. His Lordship also listed the payment of death benefits to members “not authorized by the local constitution.”
Then, last Oct. 19 at 6 o’clock in the evening, Tunney learned he had won
his fight. “I wasn’t jubilant,” says Tunney. “I just felt empty and kind of light. It was as though a heavy load was taken off my shoulders.” He sent one of the children to Carter’s grocery store to get some soft drinks and peanuts, and after a small family party, he played Canasta with his wife until 10.30.
He arose next morning at the usual time, 6.45. While shaving, he heard the early radio news announce the judgment. By the time he left for work at 7.30 he had received a half dozen congratulatory phone calls. Many were from milkmen who refused to reveal their names. The phone at the Tunney home rang steadily for the next week. Wherever Tunney went, he would immediately be approached by friends and strangers alike, who expressed their admiration for what he had done.
His children felt the impact of his unique victory. Brian, age seven, came home from the Sacred Heart School and said, “Gee Pop, you must be famous. Even the Sister Superior stopped to speak :o me today.”
Considering the strong, unmistakable language of Chief Justice Williams’ judgment, many observers felt the International Teamsters’ office would immediately set about cleaning up the affairs of Local 119.
But exactly the opposite happened.
Tunney An “Ignorant Tool”
Houle sent a mimeographed letter to the membership requesting their presence al a special meeting Oct. 21 to consider the decision. The letter read in part, “Our general president D. Beck has instructed vice-president S. L. Brennan to attend this meeting and he will be present to give us the benefit of his experience and wisdom.” Also attending were three other International representatives from the United States as well as representatives from the Winnipeg affiliates of the American Federation of Labor and the 'Trades and Labor Congress.
The meeting opened with an angry diatribe delivered by R. C. McCutchan, business agent of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Local 832, AFL, Winnipeg. Lewis Stubbs, he said, was out to smash the unions. 'Tunney was merely an ignorant tool; he didn’t know what was going on.
A member jumped to his feet on the floor and wanted to know what McCutchan was doing on the platform. What, right had he—not a member of the Teamsters—to make the opening address? A motion was placed before the meeting to have him ejected and a voice vote taken. Some observers present claim the pro-ejection vote was stronger.
The next spokesman was an International representative who had some legal training. He skimmed through the judgment and stated that the five-thousand-dollar award to 'Tunney was too severe. In referring to the judgment, he made no reference to the sections'that were critical of Houle.
Ken Howard, a milk driver, jumped to his feet. “Read those parts where the judge says that Houle is not to he believed and that he’s surprised to learn that such things can go on in Canada,” he demanded. After some hesitation, they were read.
Howard was on his feet again. This time, he wanted the meeting to deal with a motion that he had submitted to chairman Albert Cowley to the effect that the membership no longer had any confidence in the executive and that they should resign immediately. “The way I look at it,” said Howard, “the executive are all guilty as it says they are in the judgment.”
The motion was ruled out of order.
International vice-president Brennan got up to discuss the judgment. Nettled by interjections from the audience, he shouted angrily, waving a copy of the International Teamsters’constitution above his head, “I don’t give a damn what the Canadian court said. It doesn’t mean a thing to me. All that matters to me is this.”
Ken Howard was on his feet again. He pointed to the Canadian flag on the platform. “I fought for that flag for six years,” he said. “It stands for the British system of justice as represented by our courts. You mean to
say that, our courts don’t mean anyt hing?”
Brennan began to apologize.
The meeting settled nothing. The International representatives returned to their American headquarters and, later, an appeal was filed by the union. At this writing, Houle and other members of Local 119’s executive are still in office.
John Tunney is again leading a more normal life. He finds time to take his wife to the movies; he’s teaching his seven-year-old son Brian to box and to wrestle. He once again has the boys
in on Saturday night for beer and poker. He plans to continue with his landscape gardening and to sell life insurance in the slack winter season. Sleep comes easily to him now. “I wouldn’t want to go through it all again,” he says.
But whenever he stops to talk to a milk-driver friend and notices him nervously glancing over his shoulder to ser1 if he’s being observed, Tunney wonders if the job he set out to do at Local 119 has really been done or whether il has only just been started. if