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Biz Union Black Ops P02: Cliff and Jean's Excellent Raiding Adventure

Written by Wanda Pasz Saturday, 04 March 2006

In the spring of 1994, the leader of the Canadian UFCW did something unprecedented: He put the details of his Black Op - a covert raiding expedition on the Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Union in writing. It was a move he'd regret.

The story recounted in Belanger v. UFCW is the kind of secret operation that few - beyond the players involved - ever get to hear about.

The details of biz union Black Ops of this kind are typically never put in writing. The players work out the arrangement in a bar or other mutually agreeable venue and seal the deal with a handshake. If one side or the other renegs, the score may be settled in various ways that don't result in the gory details ending up on the public record.

We can thank the burgeoning bureaucracy of the Canadian UFCW and its leaders great love of lawyers for making possible the circumstances that allowed the disappointed conspirator in this story to take his beefs to a judge.

The judgment is so rich in details about Cliff and Tom and Jean and Gerry's biz union black op that it's really quite remarkable and well-worth summarizing the key elements of their scheme.

In the summer of 1994 the Canadian UFCW entered into a secret scheme with the mob-connected President of a Local of the Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees Union.

The scheme was concocted in two meetings between Cliff Evans the recently retired Director of UFCW Canada and still-active Vice President of UFCW International), Jean-Guy Belanger, President of HERE Local 75 and his right hand man, Local 75 business agent Gerry Jones.

In July 1994, Belanger attempted to breakaway or disaffiliate the Local from HERE International and then merge it - and its 6200 members - with the UFCW.

The Local was promptly trusteed by HERE International and, as legal battles over the trusteeship raged at the Ontario Labour Relations Board and in Ontario Superior Court, Belanger entered into two secret agreements with Tom Kukovica, then Director of the Canadian UFCW.

The first was a "Service Agreement" entered signed August 26, 1994 which would enable the UFCW to provide organizing, servicing, financial, legal and other assistance" to the breakaway Local "on request".

Dear Mr. Belanger

Re: Service Agreement

This will serve to confirm that the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is prepared to enter into a Service Agreement with Hotel, Employees, Restaurant Employees Union, Local 75 to provide whatever assistance is required to negotiate, service and organize on behalf of the membership of Hotel, Employees, Restaurant Employees Union, Local 75.

We will provide assistance, training, education, personnel and financial assistance to ensure that your membership is adequately serviced and protected.

Sincerely and fraternally,

(s) Thomas Kukovica

International Vice-President and Canadian Director

The second agreement, also dated August 26, 1994, granted the breakaway Local a UFCW charter.

Dear Mr. Belanger:

It is my understanding that Hotel, Employees Restaurant Employees Union, Local 75 is an independent labour organization not presently affiliated to any organization. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is prepared to grant you and your organization a charter covering the geographical jurisdiction of the Province of Ontario and trade jurisdiction in the hotel, restaurant, food service, casinos and related or associated types of work.

As with all of our other local unions, UFCW Local 75-Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union would run its own affairs, elect its own officers, prepare its own contract proposals, conduct its own negotiations, and ratify its own collective agreements. You would be responsible for selecting or electing your own staff or stewards and negotiating committees, etc. UFCW local unions are autonomous provided that they adhere to the bylaws which the local unions adopts and the Constitution of the international Union.

It is agreed that you and your organization will have three (3) years from the date of this agreement to alter its organizational structure and operating procedures if necessary to comply with the Constitution of the UFCW.

The UFCW Canada office which provides assistance to our local unions in Canada will assist you and your organization in organizing, servicing, negotiations, and any other matter on the basis of "assistance upon request". UFCW Canada office also provides legal assistance or financial assistance upon request, subject to the approval of the Canadian Director and/or the International President, we also provide financial assistance or subsidies to enable the local union to hire staff for organizing. The UFCW strongly believes that the local unions are autonomous and run their own affaires, the UFCW provides assistance to local unions at their request, not interference.

The per capita tax of the UFCW is $7.54 per member per month and in addition you can affiliate to the Canadian council which covers our 175,000 members in Canada and the Ontario Provincial Council which covers our 70,000 members in Ontario. As you are probably aware our International Union represents 1,400,000 members in North America.

I am not sure that you know, but the fact is that our Union has probably had more mergers and affiliations that any other labour organization in North America and the reason for this we have a very flexible structure which allows all of the merged or affiliated organizations the autonomy to run their own affairs and we provide the assistance to help them grow and better serve their members.

If your organization accepts this offer we will expedite all of the remaining issues, grant the charter and proceed in assisting you in your endeavors.

If the terms of this letter are accepted by you and your organization, this letter shall constitute a binding agreement between you and your organization and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Trusting the above meets with your approval. I remain,

Sincerely and fraternally,

(s) Thomas Kukovica

International Vice-President and Canadian Director

When Belanger's efforts to fight the trusteeship failed, he set up a new "independent" union which would raid Local 75's members and then merge with the UFCW.

Financing for the venture was funneled to Belanger through the Training and Education Fund of UFCW Local 175. Michael Fraser, then the President of Local 175 and a trustee of its Training and Ed Fund (currently Director of UFCW Canada), authorized the flow of money directly to Belanger's personal bank account.

The organizing venture was abandoned abruptly in July 1995. By that time, a total of $595,000 had been paid to Belanger from the Training and Ed Fund. The ex-HERE boss returned to Montreal, his hometown, and sued the UFCW for breach of contract, claiming just over $1 million in damages.

In June 1999, five years after the plot was hatched, the Quebec Superior Court sided with Belanger finding that he had a valid contract with the UFCW that was terminated prematurely. The Court awarded him $200,000 in damages.

In all the covert venture cost UFCW members more than $800,000 and put the details of their sleazy scheme on the public record.

At minimum, the Evans' and Belanger's covert raiding scheme highlights the UFCW's stunning hypocrisy when it comes to CLC-affiliated unions "raiding" each other's members. Here's Michael J. Fraser, who flowed the dough to Jean-Guy - the UFCW's raiding buddy - on the subject in an official biography on the UFCW International's official web site.

"Inter-union raiding is, without a doubt, the most counterproductive action that can be taken by a union," [Fraser] says.

A definition of "raiding" as it appears in a glossary of labour terms on the web site of UFCW Local 175:

Raiding: Attempt by one union to induce members of another union to defect and join its ranks. Prohibited by the constitution of the Canadian Labour Congress, raiding is punished by a mandatory loss of CLC privileges on the part of the offending union.

Indeed by the time Cliff and Jean-Guy went a-raiding, the UFCW had spent several years lamenting santimoniously about raiding as a group of fisheries workers in a UFCW-affiliated union called the Fish, Food and Allied Workers skipped off to join the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

Then there is the remarkable wastefulness of it all. Counting the funds that were dished out from the Local 175 Training and Education Fund and the $200,000 the UFCW was order to pay him in damages, the whole bizarre expedition cost UFCW members $800,000. If we add on the legal fees that would have been racked up in defending their stupidity in the Quebec Court, a total of around $1 million is likely.

Then there is the embarrassment of being caught out in Court, where the Judge saw right through the scheme: The whole thing was a covert raiding operation. The UFCW did not what to get caught mixed up with "indecent raiding" and so "all had to be done under cover". He went on to chastize the UFCW in his decision for "going against the code of ethics between international unions" and "trampling the flower beds of another trade union".

But apart from the counterproductivity, the expense and the embarrassment, the covert raiding adventure on which Fraser, Kukovica and Evans embarked in the summer of 1994 raises deeper and more troubling questions about the UFCW's motives in becoming involved with Belanger and his crew in the first place.

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