Friday, 27 August 2010

Power struggle at the Ontario Federation of Labour

There's been a showdown building at the OFL between recently elected president Sid Ryan and five of the affiliated unions that fund the labour federation and have all cut their dues payments forcing the OFL to layoff several of its staff. It also appears that there's a power struggle between Ryan and his two deputies, Marie Kelly and Terry Downey . All in all, this amounts to an attempted coup that would either force Ryan to resign or force him to all but resign by becoming President in name only and ceding all operational authority to Secretary-Treasurer Marie Kelly and the unions that are backing her. Kelly is supported by Wayne Fraser, Director of Steelworkers District 6 (ie the leader of the Canadian Steelworkers) despite an apparent conflict of interest as Fraser and Kelly are said to be in a long term romantic relationship.

The following letter detailing the crisis has been making the rounds:

What is going on at the OFL?

By now, you may have heard rumours about affiliates cutting their per capita to the OFL, and OFL staff being laid off. Unfortunately, those rumours are true! Five unions - OPSEU, ONA, SEIU, Firefighters and the Society of Energy Professionals all cut their per capita payments tot the OFL in half over the last few months.

Why? No one is saying. But a leaked e-mail from ONA President Linda Haslam-Stroud dated April 29, 2010 shows that the per capita cuts were planned and orchestrated by a handful of OFL Executive Board members, and that OFL Secretary-Treasurer Marie Kelly and Executive Vice President Terry Downey are part of the secret "OFL Group".

What motive could they possibly have for trying to financially cripple the OFL?

Flash back to spring 2009. A majority of union leaders have agreed to back Sid Ryan to run for President of the OFL at the November convention. Then some start to get nervous about whether Sid will be too outspoken or controversial. They decide they want to run Marie Kelly as President instead of Sid, but this time Sid has made it clear that he will run no matter what. Realizing the Marie can't beat Sid on the convention floor, they decide to shift tactics. They announce that they will support Sid for President after all and run Marie for Secretary-Treasurer. All three Officers are subsequently acclaimed at the November OFL convention.

Flash forward to January 2010. Sid takes over at the OFL and brings his EA from CUPE, Antoni Shelton, with him. The majority of OFL staff are enthusiastic about Sid's leadership and activist agenda for the OFL, and embrace Antoni as part of the team. But OFL Secretary-Treasurer Marie Kelly and Executive VP Terry Downey immediately object and e-mails start flying at the Executive Board. They want Antoni fired. At the very first Board meeting, less than 2 months after Sid has assumed office, Marie and Terry spend 5 hours berating Sid and airing every minor grievance they have against him. Without even looking at the budget, Marie, Terry, Marie's "close associate", Wayne Fraser, and a few of their friends on the Board argue that the OFL doesn't have the money to employ Antoni (this despite the fact that the OFL has been employing an extra Director on contract for the past two years, and he has now left to take a job elsewhere.)

The situation escalates over the next few months. The secret "OFL Group" is formed, with Marie Kelly and Terry Downey as participants, and they work to try to convince other Board members to join them. They agree on a plan to de-fund the OFL. This is in direct violation of the Officer's oath of office. The first of the five affiliates (OPSEU and ONA) cut their per capita in half. Two OFL Directors and one support staff are given lay-off notices. Two posted positions are left unfilled. The CAW announces it will re-affiliate 15,000 members to the OFL as of June 1. The other three affiliates in the secret group proceed to cut their per capita.

The situation comes to a head at the June Executive Board meeting. As Secretary-Treasurer, Marie Kelly brings in a budget that she tries to use to prove the financial crisis is the result of mismanagement by her predecessor and long-standing un-funded liabilities, in order to shift the blame away from the de-funding by the five unions. At around 7:00 pm, after half the Board members have left, the Board votes 12 to 11 to fire Antoni Shelton without cause and pass a budget that forces the lay off [of] two more Directors and one more support staff. Marie and Terry vote in favour of the firing of Antoni and the staff lay offs. Some Board members who are part of the secret group start talking about demanding concessions from the remaining staff in order to save jobs. The decision cuts the OFL staff by over half. When the lay offs are complete, only 4 of 9 department Directors will remain, along with an office manager and 4 admin/clerical staff. And 3 full-time officers!

The reality is there was no financial mis-management at the OFL. The present financial crisis has been manufactures. The intent is to undermine Sid Ryan as President, either force him out or set the stage for Marie Kelly to run against him in 2011, and to extract concessions from the OFL staff whose collective agreements are currently expired, and downsize the organization.

This does nothing to strengthen the labour movement. This does nothing to help our members in the workplace. This does nothing to help us oppose concessions from employers and the government. This will only serve to silence the voice of organized labour in this province.

What can you do to support the workers at the OFL and the duly-elected President from this attack?

Help get the word out. Distribute this [letter] to all your contacts in the labour movement. The secret "OFL Group" wants to keep all of this under wraps. They threaten anyone who tries to speak out.

Find out where your union leadership stands. Ask the president of your union how he/she (or their designate) voted at the June OFL Board meeting.

If you are a member of one of the five unions who cut their per capita, ask the members of your Executive Board if they knew and approved of their union's role in de-funding the OFL.

If you belong to one of the small affiliates, ask your leadership if they knew that the VP Representing Small Affiliates, Rod Sheppard, is part of this secret "OFL Group" that is working to destroy the OFL and voted to lay off OFL staff.

Help put pressure on the 5 unions to restore their funding. If you belong to one of the other unions, pressure your leadership to speak to the leaders of the five unions who have cut their per capita in half to stop this nonsense and work to build our labour movement, not destroy it!
This letter is from a long-time trade union activist who asked that their name not be used for fear of reprisals.
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Anonymous said...

The actions of a smear campaign against Sid is absolutely wrong. If affiliates did not want Sid as their president they had an obligation to run who they wanted. The dues cuts and insubordanation of officers is hurting us all. If you have issues with Sid, call him up and talk to him. Stop this undemocratic action now!

Grievance Letters said...

This is a perfect article and true on showing what is OFL. Many may disagree with this but is really true. thanks

Anonymous said...

Does the OFL need three Officers, it is time to get rid of the Exec VP

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a violation of the Constitution by the 2 officers and isn't time that they face the music, some sort of disciplinary action by the Board making them accountable.