Taking up union corruption from the Left

On Monday, members of OPSEU/SEFPO and the broader public had been made conscious of allegations of corruption in opposition to the previous President Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas, Vice-president/Treasurer Eduardo Almeida and former monetary administrator Maurice Gabay. 

The extent of alleged corruption is staggering. The three have been accused of unlawfully transferring $5.75 million price of funds and property from the union. These allegations come on the heels of corruption scandals at Unifor and CUPE. Not solely do these scandals give the union motion a foul title, however they increase severe questions on how and why these scandals occur. For the left, stopping corruption scandals within the commerce union motion can’t be separated from the challenge of constructing a preventing labour motion from beneath. 


The small print of the pilfering of union funds by the previous OPSEU executives and administrator  exhibits the three have openly been stealing from the union to counterpoint themselves. The three have been accused of taking $670,000 in money from a strike fund with out rationalization. Thomas and Almeida are accused of paying themselves lieu and additional time pay to the tune of $488,000 and $360,000 respectively. As elected officers neither Thoman nor Almeida had been entitled to any lieu or additional time pay. 

Thomas was accused of transferring possession of six OPSEU owned automobiles to his household. Almeida transferred possession of two automobiles to himself and Gabay transferred possession to a detailed private pal. Thomas and Ameldia filed harassment and defamation complaints in opposition to the manager board that had been then settled  for $500,000 every. These settlements had been unauthorized payouts. On prime of this all three racked up prices on union bank cards, that union paid out with none receipts or paperwork. Ameldia alone expensed, with out documentation, over $1.3 million on the union bank card. 

Whereas the OPSEU union corruption scandal is noteworthy for the massive sums, it’s hardly distinctive. In 2021 the previous head of the United Auto Staff, was sentenced to jail for his half in a large ranging embezzlement and racketeering scheme that noticed the UAW leaders collude with auto firm executives to swindle members. Up to now yr Unifor and CUPE’s largest native have each been rocked by scandals. In March 2022, former Unifor President Jerry Dias was accused of taking a $50,000 kickback from a COVID-19 speedy take a look at provider to advertise the assessments to employers of Unifor members. After stepping down, revelations concerning the lavish and sometimes doubtful bills of some Unifor executives had been made public. Additionally in March of 2022, the President of the most important CUPE native in Canada, CUPE 79, was compelled to resign after being entangled in a kickback scheme which concerned him receiving $20,000 to nominate his second in command ​​a $46,000 a yr OMERS board place.    

Corruption of union officers like Jerry Dias and Smokey Thomas usually make for large splashy media tales. There may be little doubt the company media like to make fodder out of “union bosses” engaged in kickbacks or embezzlement. These tales serve to strengthen the company narrative that unions are out to swindle employees. They make unions look like third events which are no totally different than every other massive establishment.

Union corruption in context 

However companies don’t care about employees, as a result of they exploit them every single day. Companies don’t care that union bureaucrats embezzled funds, they a lot choose that to seeing these funds used for strikes or organizing. However the company press will use these scandals to weaken unions for their very own advantages, and to distract from the exploitation on the coronary heart of workplaces. 

What generally will get misplaced in headlines about union corruption scandals is that they merely pale compared to the routine enterprise swindles and authorities corruption. The mega rich in Canada have stashed over $380 billion {dollars} in offshore tax havens, costing taxpayers billions of {dollars}.  

In 2021 it was reported that not less than 68 Canadian companies that had been incomes income and paying out huge dividends to shareholders had acquired over $1 billion by way of the federal government’s Canadian Financial Wage Subsidy (CEWS). This blatant swindle of the general public purse elicited no fines or punishments (the federal government did see match to crack down on individuals who acquired overpayments Canadian Financial Restoration Profit). 

The connection between massive enterprise and the federal government breeds a routine virtually on a regular basis type of corruption. Huge companies are frequently bequeathed subsidies, tax write-offs, exemptions, and heft contracts. They’ve a seat on the desk when legal guidelines are written that govern their pursuits. As an example, When Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline development challenge was susceptible to failing the Canadian authorities swooped in to buy it. The ties between the federal authorities and the oil and gasoline sector run deep. This additionally occurs on the provincial degree. In Ontario, the Ford Conservatives skirt the foundations and take cash from builders, for-profit long-term care houses and for-profit medical firms and in flip they move laws to assist these firms line their pockets

Loblaws maybe is an ideal encapsulation of the routine corruption that dominates our enterprise class. During the last decade they’ve engaged in tax avoidance schemes, mounted the worth of bread, acquired huge subsidies from federal and provincial governments, engaged in egregious pandemic profiteering, controversial all whereas pushing to decrease the minimal wage. The homeowners of Loblaws have confronted no penalties for his or her actions.

It’s hardly a scandal to listen to of enterprise corruption as a result of capitalism is predicated on exploiting folks and the planet. However it’s a scandal to listen to of union corruption as a result of they exist as a defence in opposition to exploitation. The query is then is how have democratic organizations of employees been taken benefit of by union bureaucrats

From compromise to corruption 

The fact is that unions, at their core, are the collective energy of employees. They’re organizations that permit employees to mix and battle for his or her pursuits. After all there are challenges with unions, they’re formed by the facility buildings of society. Fashionable unions have developed a robust forms which tends in the direction of stability and self-preservation. This may tamp down democratic and militant impulses to problem the large enterprise agenda. Compromise somewhat than confrontation. The identical tendencies within the union forms that steer in the direction of compromise can even open the door to corruption. 

In different phrases, the corruption on the prime of OPSEU is a mirrored image of how a lot the previous management distanced itself from rank and file exercise from beneath. 

Thomas’ management of OPSEU was from the start top-down and unaccountable. It was additionally devoid of any coherent imaginative and prescient and technique to battle to enhance the lives of OPSEU members and the working class of Ontario. As a part of an influence wrestle inside the labour motion Thomas pushed a dues strike on the OFL in 2011. This led to OPSEU splitting from the OFL at a time when most unity of the working class was wanted. As an alternative of united rallies in opposition to the Liberals’ Invoice 115 in 2013, we had separate rallies. As an alternative of a united marketing campaign to tackle Hudak’s menace of proper to work – OPSEU was formally outdoors this effort. This served solely to weaken the labour motion. 

Thomas’ politics had been deeply conservative within the sense he aimed to protect and prolong bureaucratic routinism of the commerce union. Thus he may vacillate between working with the Working Households Coalition – a coalition of unions supporting the Liberal Occasion – and accusing his opponents corresponding to Sid Ryan of not supporting the Ontario NDP sufficient (on the time the NDP was working on a platform of austerity lite). Within the final variety of years Thomas’ politics tacked additional to the fitting, going as far as to reward Doug Ford and assist bolster his picture by showing with him in public.

His intention was to cut price, compromise and foyer. As he put it, the union ought to be “advocators not agitators” and that centered on “Session somewhat than simply confrontation.” Any rank and file members or leaders who questioned the course of the union, or who aimed to construct rank and file energy had been handled as an opponent and attacked. A tradition of secrecy and unaccountability enveloped the union. The workers had been routinely mistreated and the democratic lifetime of the union flatlined. 

This isn’t inevitable, as the current training employees strike exhibits. Staff in unions are greater than able to partaking in militant union techniques and defying the legislation

Militancy is the most effective medication 

Corruption thrives when there isn’t any accountability and transparency. The small print of the OPSEU scandal got here to gentle as the results of a forensic audit ordered by the manager board in December of 2021, which the three accused tried to scuttle. The broader context for this was an ongoing problem to Thomas’ management. 

The scheduled OPSEU conference within the Spring of 2021 was delayed by a yr because of COVID. Regardless of this JP Hornick, the then chair of the Faculty School Bargaining Group and chief of the 2017 Faculty school strike, launched a  marketing campaign for the presidency of OPSEU. The marketing campaign was primarily based on union renewal, transparency, empowering members and reinvigorating the union to make it a preventing pressure for employees. It was this marketing campaign that struck worry within the previous guard of the union and empowered folks to problem Thomas’ corruption. Thomas selected to not rerun and Hornick’s year-long marketing campaign culminated in a first poll victory on the OPSEU conference in April 2022.  

It’s commendable that the newly elected OPSEU management – like the brand new Unifor management – is dedicated to rooting out corruption and guaranteeing accountability. That is no small process. Sweeping misdeeds underneath the rug can be a severe mistake. It’s true that the most effective disinfectant is daylight. However transparency and extra stringent reporting guidelines inside unions are just one facet of the coin in combating corruption. 

Corruption is extra prone to take maintain in unions which have developed a enterprise like-culture. Unions which are seen by members and leaders as merely a transactional change – members pay dues whereas the forms gives companies and contracts – results in a management that’s unaccountable and in the end undemocratic. Selections find yourself being made behind closed doorways and the temptation to cozy as much as employers and governments grows. 

The perfect medication to sort out corruption is militancy. When members are engaged, lively and really feel a part of a collective challenge that improves their very own lives and uplifts their communities, the probabilities of corruption diminish. The British Miners strike of 1984/5 gives probably the most heartening examples. When Nationwide Union of Miners miners went on strike to defend their jobs, their union was hounded by authorities. Not solely had been the police violently assaulting picketers, however the state was surveilling the union and levied huge fines for an unlawful strike and froze their financial institution accounts. The NUM was compelled to run its total strike on money funds funnelled throughout worldwide borders. Regardless of claims on the time, not one penny was unaccounted for. The chance for corruption absolutely existed, however the class wrestle spirit of the union militated in opposition to this.   

The left’s response to the OPSEU scandal should counter the large enterprise narrative that unions and union leaders are inevitably corrupt. We’ve got to intention to construct the boldness and capability of rank and file members to not solely assert themselves of their unions, however to tackle the bosses. One of the simplest ways to forestall union corruption is to construct class wrestle unionism from beneath. 

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