Unfortunately, during the 10 years since its’ founding the newly formed National Union had been losing members and strength. Finally, in 1984, virtually all the National Union leadership agreed that it could no longer continue as a separate Union. This issue came to a head at the National Union convention in Halifax that same year, at which the National voted to merge. A merger committee, of which Brother Nelson was a part, had received serious proposals from two U.S. based International Unions – the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Teamsters – and one Canadian Union, the National Union of Provincial Government Employees (NUPGE).
The National Union officers supported a merger with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, while Local 304 and many other Locals wanted to remain in a Canadian Union and supported NUPGE. When the issue of where to merge was put on the floor of the Convention, the National President, Gord Plenderleith, turned off the microphones when those favouring NUPGE attempted to speak, and ruled that the Executive Board of the National would decide where and under what terms the Union would merge. Local 304 could not accept this process and gave the National Union notice that it was exercising its right to disaffiliate pursuant to the Constitution.
In order to disaffiliate a two-thirds majority of the entire membership had to vote in favour at special meetings, which the National was entitled to attend. In order to ensure that all members would have easy access to such meetings, the Local purchased an old school bus, took out all but two of the passenger seats, and held meetings at shift change in every bargaining unit. The National Union officers were invited to each and every one of these meetings but did not bother to come to any.
When the votes were tabulated 1,977 members, out of a total of 2,434, had cast their ballots. Of those that voted, 1880 (95%) voted to disaffiliate.
Once this result was clear, the Local joined Canada’s second largest Union – NUPGE – as an independent component.
The then-President of NUPGE, John Fryer, presented our Union Business Agent Cam Nelson and President, Ambrose Carroll with its’ Charter on January 20, 1985.
The National Union was unwilling to accept the decision of this Union’s membership and attempted to impose a trusteeship on the Local on the very day the ballots were being counted. The excuse the National gave imposing a trusteeship was the nature of the meetings the Local had held to get the vote out.
The issue of the trusteeship caused a number of hardships during the following year. Although every employer continued to deal with the Local leadership in negotiations and grievances, all but one deposited the member’s dues into trust accounts while the legal battles over the disaffiliation were fought out.
During that period without dues coming in the Local fought a five-week lock out of its entire brewery membership. The National Union’s appointed trustee refused to allow the dues held by the Companies used to either pay for the cost of benefits or for strike pay, but, the Local made every payment and was able to win significant job security and technological change protections, in a Memorandum reached after 4 weeks on the street.
Throughout the lockout, and despite having no income for a full year, the Local continued to represent its members. Eventually, in January 1985, the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled that the Local’s disaffiliation process had been carried out in compliance with the Constitution and that the National’s attempt to trustee had been invalid. It therefore confirmed our Union’s independent status and our right to affiliate with the national union of our choice.
With that decision, the $450,000.00 in back dues, which had been withheld during the legal battle with the National, was released to the Local. In June of 1985 our delegates were seated for the first time at NUPGE’s National Convention.
Even during this period of struggle the Union continued to grow with the employees of Kwik Lok, Howard Johnson’s in St. Catharines, Woodings Railcar, and Upper Canada Breweries joining the Union.
1986 and 1987 saw the Union’s efforts focused on our fight against the Free Trade Agreement.
This was a huge political effort that found us, for once, working in close co-operation with the Breweries in that both the Union and the employers were aware of the devastating impact that the first Free Trade Agreement could have on the beer industry in Canada. At that time there was no free trade in beer even between provinces, let alone the U.S. and Canada, and there were breweries in each Province except PEI. These local breweries provided employment, generated good profits, and paid taxes in each Province.
The Union’s Save our Suds campaign cumulated in a one-day province wide shutdown of the Breweries on the day before a provincial election, September 9, 1987, and in a rally at Queen’s Park, which received terrific media coverage. The September 9th shutdown of the Breweries was the only time in the Union’s history that the employers took no legal action against either the Union or its’ members for conducting an illegal strike. While the overall fight by the labour movement against the FTA failed our fight to have the beer industry exempted was successful.
The year 1987 also saw the employees of the Senator Hotel in Timmins join the Union, and was also the year that Elders ILX, an Australian Brewing conglomerate, purchased Carling O’Keefe. This latter transaction was to have far reaching consequences to Canadian brewery workers.
On June 11, 1987 Business Agent Cam Nelson marched with Cesar Chavez, President of the United Farm Workers of America, along with approximately 50 other trade unionists to support the boycott of California grapes. The Farm Workers are boycotting grapes (for the 3rd time in 15 years) to protest the California government’s refusal to enforce state law protecting workers rights and the State Grape Growers refusal to bargain in good faith. Concern has also been raised about the use of toxic pesticides, which poison approximately 300,000 US farm workers each year.