Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bank Union

Banks and credit unions need unions. Especially those credit unions that were created by unions. But even then being unionized does not mean that the management and democratically elected board that runs the credit union will act differently than any other boss when it comes to the union. As the ongoing strike in Hamilton by credit union workers shows.

We are reminded of the exploitation of tellers and other bank workers by Karen a contributor to the Progressive Bloggers.
TD Bank Needs A Union for underpaid Workers - by poor teller

And by the latest class action suit which while successful in the U.S. may not be as successful in Canada which does not have tort law.

Teller launches CIBC lawsuit

CIBC facing class-action suit over unpaid labour

Such class action suits would not be necessary if bank workers were unionized.

And once upon a time in Canada we had the beginnings of a bank union drive organized by SORWUC in the lower B.C. mainland amongst credit unions and later the CIBC.

The success of that drive in the 1970's emboldened the labour movement, but instead of supporting SORWUC which was an independent Canadian union organized by rank and file women, it saw SORWUC as a competitor. So instead the old style business unions tried their hand at bank organizing in Toronto amongst the big five banks, and failed. Never to try again.

In light of this new class action suit, SORWUC tried to organize CIBC branches as did the CLC affiliates. But they were defeated by legal battles and the deep pockets of CIBC. Which is why this class action suit faces a dubious future.

The resulting defeat of SORWUC led the banks to aggressively reduce their workforce of tellers replacing them with ATM's, the one armed bandits that rip us off with their monopolistic surcharges.

The irony is that thirty years later women workers in banks are still unorganized, while the labour movement has changed embracing the social unionism of SORWUC. Bank workers need a union, and the labour movement in Canada needs to organize these unorganized workers. It has been done, it can be done, it must be done.

1972 Association of University and College Employees (AUCE) and the Service, Office, and Retail Workers’ Union (SORWUC) are formed as feminist unions in response to the resistance of mainstream, male-dominated labour to organize traditional women’s jobs, or to bargain for issues of importance to women. They also applied feminist principles to collective decision making and action. Neither
exists today.


Paper prepared for the Union Module of the Gender and Work Database
Jan Kainer
April 18, 2006

Many new and independent women’s organizational structures emerged in the seventies because of a lack of support for feminism within labour movements. In Canada, feminist women who supported labour struggle and wished to unionize women, formed their own women-centred structures to overcome the obstacles they experienced from organized labour. In 1972 the Service, Office and Retail Workers of Canada (SORWUC), a self-described “grass roots, feminist union” (Lowe, 1980:32) was formed by women labour activists to unionize workers in service sectors where women predominate. Despite a weak commitment by the Canadian labour movement to SORWUC, the union certified 26 units in the banking industry. Eventually limited resources and an important legal decision restricting certification (i.e. unionized) units to bank branches in small, scattered locations, undermined the momentum of the campaign, and the union was unable to continue its organizing efforts. While SORWUC was relatively short-lived, its alliance with the women’s movement sustained, and informed, other organizing achievements, as this activist explains: (Jean Rands cited in Rebick, 2005:91) We got our confidence from the women’s movement. We were intimidated, but we supported each other and kept reminding ourselves that organizing was our right…we believed that workers should be the ones negotiating, rather than trade union leaders. Collective agreements should be readable by workers too – short and well indexed and written in plain language.

Bank Book Collective An account to settle; the story of the United Bank Workers (SORWUC).Illustrations and cover by Pat Davitt.

Press Gang Publishers Vancouver 1979 127p., wraps, illus. "In 1976, a group of women bank workers decided to organize their workplace. The banks were enraged. When they decided to do it themselves, the big unions were upstaged. Over the next two years, nearly a thousand bank employees in western Canada participated in a unionizing drive that challenged not only the banks but organized labour's approach to a workplace they had long considered beyond their range of union activity."

Thinking Through Labour’s Organizing Strategies: What the Data Reveal and What the Data Conceal

Efforts to organize women in the Canadian private sector are not new. One of the most important campaigns took place in the mid-1970s and involved an attempt to organize chartered bank workers. The Service, Office, and Retail Workers Union of Canada (SORWUC) made an important breakthrough in organizing predominantly female bank tellers in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. At the height of the organizing drive, more than one thousand workers were signed up.

SORWUC was a small, avowedly feminist union dedicated to implementing a nonbureaucratic democratic process. It perceived itself to be a movement of women workers, but the CLC and the Canada Labour Relations Board (CLRB) took a different view.

SORWUC’S connections to the women’s movement and the political Left were regarded with suspicion by both organizations. Marc Lapointe, head of the CLRB, expressed skepticism that a feminist group could be considered a legitimate trade union. Indeed the Banks, the Labour Board, and the CLC declared SORWUC to be irresponsible, not acting as a legitimate trade union, and unable to play by the rules of the game because its leaders were naive, incompetent, or linked to subversives.

Prior to SORWUC’s efforts to organize bank workers, the Canadian Labour Congress
(CLC) had established an organizing fund through a levy on its entire membership. In response to SORWUC’s campaign the CLC, using this fund, established the Bank Workers Organising Committee (BWOC) with the purpose of enlisting all of its affiliates to contribute organizers and union support to the Committee. Several of the affiliates, however, refused to participate, arguing that bank workers were part of their jurisdiction so they should be the ones to organize the banks, not the CLC.

To this day, this stance on the part of many affiliate unions blocks the possibility of a coordinate response to organizing the unorganized. It is a discourse of ownership. Unions in a particular jurisdiction perceive that they own the workers; if those workers join a union, it must be their union. The lack of solidarity among unions over who should organize bank workers and how it should be done contributed to the failure of the BWOC. There were other important reasons as well, including the very aggressive anti-union campaign conducted and coordinated from the headquarters of the chartered banks.

As well as placing nails in the coffin of a coordinated, solidaritistic approach to
organizing the unorganized, the failure to organize chartered bank workers also enforced the discourse that women were difficult to unionize.

Feminism as a Class Act:

Working-Class Feminism and the Women’s Movement in Canada
Meg Luxton

The 1970s in particular was a period of women’s organizing activities in unions. For example, at the 1970 United Auto Workers convention, union women called for "full equality now." 34 The fight for affirmative action started with struggles to get women hired into so-called non-traditional jobs or all-male preserves at workplaces such as Stelco and Inco or in the trades; such initiatives demanded union support for challenges to employers. 35 Union women formed organizations to help them fight inside the labour movement to improve women’s situations; for example, in March 1976 Organized Working Women (OWW) was formed in Ontario, with Evelyn Armstrong as its first president, with a membership restricted to women already in unions, while in September 1979 Saskatchewan Working Women (SWW) formed with its membership open to all women who agreed with its objectives. Frustrated by the lack of support for women in the existing unions and outraged by the failure of the union movement to organize in predominantly female workplaces, a group of socialist feminists in 1972 formed an independent union in BC, the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada (SORWUC). 36 Unable to sustain their efforts in the face of employers’ hostility and the reluctance of the union movement to support them, they collapsed after a few years but their initiative prodded the union movement to pay more attention to predominantly female sectors of the labour force.

Responding to increasing pressures from their members, unions began to take up union women’s issues. 38 They held conferences, educationals, and training programmes. Many unions from locals to national organizations developed women’s committees or caucuses intended to help women identify their concerns, develop the strategies and tactics to advance their issues, and strengthen their capacities to intervene in the male-dominated culture of the union. In 1965 the Ontario Federation of Labour set up its first women’s committee, which was chaired by Grace Hartman, then a Vice-President of CUPE. In 1966 that committee organized a conference on Women and Work. 39 In 1976 the CLC held its first conference for women union activists. Unions developed new structures and new positions. In 1977 the Ontario Public Service Employees Union hired its first full-time equal opportunity co-ordinator. Recognizing their failure to get women into leadership positions, some bodies developed affirmative action measures. In 1984 for example, the CLC designated a minimum of six women vice-presidents. They recognized that when competent women leaders are visible, more women are likely to participate and more men and women are able to accept women in leadership positions. Even more important were the positions unions adopted both in contract negotiations on, for example, maternity and parental leave or same-sex spousal benefits, and in union policies such as providing child care at conventions. Finally, unions were also part of, and supported the activities and organizations of the women’s movement. They co-sponsored specific activities such as International Women’s Day demonstrations and joined coalitions to work on campaigns such as those for employment and pay equity, access to abortions, and quality child care.

What makes an Approprite Bargaining Unit?

The appropriate bargaining unit sets the initial constituency within which a trade union must gain employee support for collective representation. The right to collective bargaining set out in labour statutes should not be illusory, so labour boards resist creating such large and diverse bargaining units that they are impossible to organize. The B.C. Board put the proposition this way in one of its leading cases:

It is an absolutely fundamental policy of the Code that the achievement of collective bargaining is to be facilitated for those groups of employees who choose to use this procedure as the means for settling their terms and conditions of employment. (...) If bargaining units are defined too widely, or a number of separate groups are put into one unit, it is unlikely in the department store industry that the employees will agree on union representation. In these circumstances we will not deny collective bargaining to those small pockets of employees who, by reason of their own special needs and interests, have.

That does not mean the Board will carve out totally artificial units, based solely on the extent of organization by the union (and sufficiently to give the latter a majority). We will require some reasonably coherent and defensible boundaries around the unit over and above the existing, momentary preference of the employees. (...) However, we will not reject applications for small bargaining units on the basis that a large unit is a more rational structure for hypothetical collective bargaining in the distant future, where the result will be the denial of actual bargaining rights now.

Woodward Stores (Vancouver) Ltd. [1975] 1 Can. L.R.B.R. 114

This approach is especially prevalent in industries that are historically hard to organize. See, e.g. SORWUC v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce [1977] 2 Can.L.R.B.R. 99 (Can.L.R.B.); CUBE v. Canada Trustco Mortgage Company [1977] 2 Can. L.R.B.R. 93 (Ont. L.R.B.). In each of these cases the board found a single branch of a financial institution an appropriate bargaining unit.

Jonas Gifford – December 2004

· Kitimat CIBC (20 yrs earlier) – board rejected application of Kitimat branch, saying ABU was all CIBC branches in CDA – de facto denial of CB for bank workers

· SORWUC and CIBC (1977)

· Held: branch is the ABU

· Comments: BUT note that board recognized this as a variant of foothold – eventually wanted to rationalize

iii. Comment

· Pluralism cares about negotiation of CAs, not about organization

· Bank EEs in CIBC got ability to unionize, but lost a lot of bargaining power b/c restricted to branch

· This especially b/c CIBC really didn’t want to be unionized

· Used protracted litigation – applied for judicial review for EVERYTHING

· Effect – serious $$ impact on SORWVC

· Effect – delayed CB process w/ significant $$ implications – union just couldn’t afford the whole process, also EEs wouldn’t want to keep paying dues for nothing

General Barriers to Women's Trade Union Participation

Women's Unions: Many unions in which women form significant sections of the membership (like banking and retail) are still not recognized as legitimate by employers. Two examples are the Canadian banking system (SORWUC; CUBE), and Eaton's Dept. Store (RWDSU; UFCW)

Costs more burdensome for union than employer (e.g. organizing small workplaces; 1 reason for SORWUC self-decertification)

Saskatchewan Working Women (SWW)

The SWW was a grassroots, feminist organization of female wage earners which operated from 1978 to 1990. SWW was formed by an alliance of trade union women and community-based feminists. Members of SWW came from many different political backgrounds, including the Waffle, the New Democratic Party, various Communist, Trotskyist and Marxist-Leninist parties, the women’s movement on university campuses and women’s centres, and the trade union movement. Some SWW women were also involved in the organizing drives of the Service, Office and Retail Workers’ Union of Canada (SORWUC), a feminist trade union active in Saskatchewan and BC. SWW originated because an increasing number of women were joining the workplace and becoming both unionized and mobilized.

Vancouver History Timeline 1987

Local 1518 of the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers Union), with 23,000 members, began representing 57 home care workers when the Service Office and Retail Workers Union (SORWUC) merged with it.

Sisterhood & Solidarity: Feminism and Labor in Modern Times - Google Books Result

Janet Mary Nicol, " `Unions Aren't Native': The Muckamuck Restaurant Labour Dispute Vancouver, B.C. (1978-1983)," Labour/Le Travail, 40 (Fall 1997), 235-51.

"IN THIS SOCIETY," explained First Nations union organizer Ethel Gardner to a skeptical First Nations community, "being in a union is the only way we can guarantee that our rights as workers will be respected." (1) Ethel was an employee at the Muckamuck restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia when its First Nations workers decided to organize into an independent feminist union in 1978 and subsequently struck for a first contract against white American owners. The dispute allied First Nations people with predominantly white trade unionists and made an even wider community aware of their circumstances. The union picketed the restaurant for three years, discouraging customers from entering, while the owners kept the restaurant functioning with the use of strikebreakers, many of them from the First Nations community. When the owners closed their operation in 1981, the union ceased picketing and both parties waited a further two years for a legal ruling from the Labour Relations Board. Finally in 1983, the owners were ordered to pay remedies to the union, but sold the restaurant and pulled all their assets out of Canada, refusing to comply with the decision.

Songs For Ourselves, Revisited:

Most Friday evenings for the last couple of months, a group of women has appeared near the corner of Davie and Denman in Vancouver, unpacked guitars and tambourines, and started singing. The scene is the SORWUC [Service, Office and Retail Workers' Union of Canada] picket line at the Muckamuck, a Vancouver restaurant, and the strike is into its ninth month. We pass out song sheets to the other people on the picket line and spend two or three hours picketing and singing together about our goals and our struggles. They are feminist songs; at the same time they are songs for all working people. The strikers and their supporters on the picket line are both female and male and we all bellow out Working Girl Blues, the Secretaries' Song or Solidarity Forever.

Helen Potrebenko, one of Vancouver’s most uncompromising feminist writers, was born on June 21, 1940 in Grand Prairie, Alberta. After arriving in Vancouver to attend university, she documented the struggles of a female cab driver to earn a living in her novel Taxi!. “It just never occurs to them we’re people and not zoo animals to be stared at,” the narrator writes, “and that we have feelings and don’t like being prodded and mauled by thirty different guys in one day.” Potrebenko’s second book, No Streets of Gold, is a social history of Ukrainians in Alberta. Her collection of fiction and other writings, A Flight of Average Persons voiced her pride in the dignity of working class lives, particularly women disadvantaged by a patriarchal society. Potrebenko marked the second anniversary of her participation in the strike to earn a first contract for SORWUC workers at the Muchamuck restaurant on Davie Street in Vancouver with the publication of Two Years on the Muckamuck Line. The owners of Vancouver’s first restaurant to exclusively serve West Coast native Indian cuisine ultimately left Vancouver in the strike’s third year. Six workers had been fired upon the union’s application for certification and the owners had refused to negotiate. “The Muckamuck hired scab labour and tired to keep the restaurant open,” says Potrebenko. “Sometimes they were assisted by outside goons. When the owners finally left town, the Labour Relations Board bestirred itself to order the Muckamuck to pay a token $10,000 because of its illegal activities. This could never be collected. We’ve never officially called the strike off.” The restaurant became the Qualicum Restaurant, operating with the support of the union, but the restaurant eventually closed.

Patricia Lucille Nelson was born in Montreal on December 12th, 1953. Although
both her parents are from the West, Nelson and her four siblings grew up in
Laval West and St-Eustache (Qu├ębec). She studied the humanities and
languages at Vanier College in Saint-Laurent, printing at Ahuntsic College in
Montreal and worked at Classic Books before moving to the West in 1974.
Nelson quickly settled in Vancouver and started working in a screen printing
shop, a coop house and, in 1975, she joined Press Gang. Here she worked on a
voluntary basis and she became a press operator. This is also the time when
she came out as a lesbian and decided to change her name to Lou, a shortened
version of her middle name, in honor of the occasion. It is also when she
became involved more actively in the feminist, socialist and unionist movement
that prevailed in Vancouver in those years. For example, she joined the NDP in
September 1974. The following year, she participated in the occupation of the
Vancouver Canada Manpower Centre Office to pressure the Canadian
Government to make real changes regarding women and work. She supported
Press Gang by involving herself in numerous fundraising activities and helped
organize the 1979 Conference on Women and Work. “In order to sustain
herself”, she ran Simon Fraser University Student Society’s printshop for four
years. While working at SFU, she also got involved with the feminist union
Service Office and Retail Workers Union (SORWUC).


Feminizing the Proletariat

Whose Family Values?

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