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Biz Union Black Ops P01: Untangling the Web

Written by Wanda Pasz Friday, 03 March 2006

Business unionists are not pragmatists doing the best they can in the corporatist jungle, nor are they fallen angels of labour. They're opportunists engaging in self-serving Black Ops behind a facade of unionism. The first in a multi-part series exposes some operators whose schemes have taken "biz unionism" to a whole new level.

The term "black op" refers to an operation that is carried out in secret. According to wikipedia: "A black op is a covert operation. In this context, "black" is a term used in political, military, intelligence, and business circles to refer to activities that are either secret, or of questionable ethics or legality. Black Ops missions often fall into the deniability category..."

The Tangled Web

Looking over the information that's turned up on our site over the past couple of weeks, indeed over the past several months, one can't help but think that we're looking at the pieces of a large, complicated puzzle - one that presents a picture of an enormous web with something especially ugly at its hub.

Each piece of the puzzle seems to involve the UFCW or the UFCW and some other union, employer or business enterprise, and activities that seem...well, unusual would be the most charitable spin we can put on them. The pieces are beginning to connect, giving us a glimpse of a web of relationships and activities that don't seem to have much to do with advancing the interests of workers. On the contrary, they seem to be all about money.

That's an excerpt from a piece called The Tangled Web which was published on the Members for Democracy web site on September 22, 2001. It related to the baffling web of connections that we had only just begun uncovering. Our efforts at understanding union corruption had taken us into a labyrinth of business unionists and shady deals. As members of the UFCW, Teamsters, HERE, Textile Processors, SEIU and other biz unions began to share information with us about the "biz" side of their unions, it seemed as though we were looking at a massive web where union officials, businessmen and a mixed bag of guns-for-hire were all connected - but not by any shared sense of concern about their members' wages or working conditions.

Their relationships bore little resemblance to the image they presented to their members. Concepts like unity, solidarity and brotherhood had an altogether different meaning among the self-serving men who schemed, connived and lined their pockets all the while pretending to be leaders of the people.

The picture that was emerging was one of a sinister Black Op for which unionism was just a facade. Behind the strident speeches and wordy media releases about workers' rights, there was a secret world where union leaders conspired with businessmen towards some common purpose.

Mystery piled up on top of mystery. What was at the center of the web that we had uncovered? We resolved to find out. What we were looking at did not seem to be a case of a bunch of greedy guys each bellied up to his own trough. The troughs were connected by money - through pension funds, benefit plan administrators, investment managers and other biz guys. There was a system, a network - an operation here. The more we learned, the more apparent it became that something was seriously wrong in the mainstream house of labour and needed exposing.

On October 30, 2001, we published an article called The Haunted Houses of Labour. It was an instant hit with our community - one of the most-accessed articles on the MFD site - and began our ongoing inquiry into the UFCW's Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan (CCWIPP).

If the mainstream labour movement has any haunted houses, they must surely be the real estate interests of some of its biz unions and the tangled spider's web of relationships among union officials, corporate executives, pension plan administrators and businessmen that these have spawned.

The Haunted Houses focused on a UFCW pension investment in a bankrupt Toronto hotel. We now know that this was the beginning of a decade of bizarre pension investing that would become, in 2002, the subject of a lengthy probe by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario. It also related a mysterious liaison between the UFCW and a mob-connected former leader of a HERE Local in Toronto in the mid-1990's.

The Strange Story of HERE Local 75

Not long after it won successor rights for the Howard Johnson Plaza in Toronto, something very unusual happened at HERE Local 75. The local's executive attempted to break away from HERE International and go independent.

The flamboyant [Local 75 president] Jean-Guy Belanger was well known and not very well respected in local labour circles. Mainstream labour leaders publicly criticized his Local for its shabby track record and undemocratic practices. There were intimations of connections between the Belanger and organized crime figures.

On July 12, 1994, Local 75 officials attempted to disaffiliate from the International. The International promptly placed the Local in trusteeship. Belanger boldly resisted. During the course of [Ontario Labour Relations Board] proceedings it was alleged by another HERE official that Belanger's right hand man, Gerry Jones, told him that the Belanger and his group had five million dollars at its disposal to finance the new operation.

Local sources indicate that by 1995 Belanger and his followers had started their own independent union which attempted to raid existing Local 75 hotels as their collective agreements came up for renewal. For some period of time, the Belanger group occupied space at 61 International Blvd. in Toronto - the UFCW national office. Their attempts at raiding did not produce results and the group appears to have disbanded sometime in 1995-96. Belanger is reported to have returned to Montreal to work for a local supermarket. At least two members of his crew were hired on as business reps by the UFCW - one of them, Gerry Jones, currently works as a business rep with UFCW Local 206.

Now, we are not saying that the UFCW was involved somehow in Local 75's attempt to part company with HERE International. We are not even suggesting that the UFCW was supporting the efforts of the former Local 75 officials to raid the HERE hotels. All that we're saying is that there were some very unusual things going on indeed.

At the time, we only hinted at what a sleazy mobbed-up crew of ex-HERE officials might have been up to and how the UFCW might be involved. This week we found the proof in a Quebec Superior Court decision that came up in a search of an online legal database. Published in French, we were able to translate it with the help of an online translation program.

Without the Internet, our chances (and those of any interested members of either HERE or the UFCW) would have been virtually nil.

It's a Black Op that opens a window onto what may well be a much larger operation and sheds light on the motives and the methods. Check it out: Belanger v. UFCW

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