there may be pink slips lurking behind every corner in this weakened economy, but that hasn't kept a bitter showdown from rocking one of the country's most militant unions.Canadian Union of Public Employees national president Judy Darcy and Ontario director Sid Ryan, comrades during endless Days of Action marches and partners in a string of radical causes, are now severely on the outs, and the consequences are tearing through the union.
The tale begins innocently in a wrangle over how many delegates one branch of CUPE should get at the union's convention in Vancouver next month. But underlying it is a vicious contest for the all-important stepping stone to the national presidency, the post of national secretary treasurer. Ryan is seeking the position, and Darcy is definitely not supporting him.
The nastiness hit the radar when the current national secretary treasurer, Geraldine McGuire, who's in the Ryan camp, charged Darcy with orchestrating a massive voting bloc for BC's Hospital Employees Union (HEU) at the convention so that the Ontario director would lose.
HEU, a collection of more than 200 locals and 46,000 workers, currently has slightly more delegates (439) than 65,000-member CUPE BC. (HEU separated from CUPE for a while but then merged with it in the mid-90s.)
McGuire, who is stepping down, recently sent an open letter to CUPE locals making her case that the HEU entitlement was an attempt at vote stacking. "National executive board elections should be based on delegates hearing the views of each candidate. Elections should not be won unconstitutionally, undemocratically and unfairly (through) stacking our convention,' she wrote.
In a bid to calm the storm, the HEU has said that it will seat only 200 delegates at the convention, but this has not placated CUPE BC. A legal opinion obtained by CUPE BC points out that the HEU-CUPE merger agreement was approved only by the CUPE national executive board, not by a convention, and is thus unconstitutional.
In a bid to keep the matter off the convention floor, the CUPE executive board announced recently that the matter will be sent to an arbitrator who will report back before delegates gather in Vancouver next month. But HEU president Fred Muzin hints that an agreement won't come easy. "We were one of the founding participants in CUPE in 1963. We've been around since 1944, 19 years before CUPE even existed,' he says.
Muzin's union supports Claude Genereux for the position of secretary treasurer, but he dismisses charges that he's angling for a large bloc to defeat Ryan.
For her part, Darcy complains that her critics have done some rewriting of history. The vote on the HEU merger, she says, was unanimous when the matter came before the national executive. Among the concurring votes, she says, were those of Ryan and McGuire. "We've had completely contradictory arguments from the same people on this issue," she complains.
Judging by how this issue has spiralled out of control, there's no guarantee anyone will find a middle ground acceptable to the warring parties. If the issue ends up on the convention floor, it could become a second convention embarrassment for Darcy.
At the CUPE convention two years ago, she was humiliated when a vote to increase union dues was screwed up. The results that were announced showed a narrow vote in favour. But it turned out that there was a discrepancy between the announced results and the number of yes votes, and the controversial dues increase hadn't passed after all.
Darcy says she was initially led to believe that it was a calculating error, but it turned out to be more serious. There was evidence of serious wrongdoing in deliberately conveying incorrect results to delegates. Two staff members were disciplined.
Well-placed CUPE sources tell NOW the 1999 convention's meltdown set the stage for the conflicts gripping CUPE today, especially that between Darcy and McGuire.
Says Darcy, "My position was that we should do a full investigation (of the discrepancy). It went to the national executive committee and I was overruled. There was a split vote. The secretary treasurer voted against investigation, as did Sid Ryan. I voted in favour of it, as did Claude Genereux. That's the story. The decision was to send disciplinary letters only. "I would not want to say,' she continues, "that this election for secretary treasurer could be reduced to differences over the last convention. But there is no question that Sid Ryan supported the secretary treasurer's position on this, and there are alliances that flow from that."
Not surprisingly, McGuire has a different take on what transpired in the bitter post-convention aftermath two years ago. It was she, McGuire tells NOW, who moved the resolution to discipline the two staff members responsible -- a motion that Darcy, whose executive assistant was among those disciplined, voted against. But McGuire says the real rupture came when Darcy carried out her own private probe and didn't tell her about it.
It's noteworthy, says McGuire, that HEU has never made an issue of the number of its delegates at the last three conventions. In fact, she says, it wasn't even a problem last year. It didn't become an issue until the HEU executive decided to endorse a candidate. "Why now? It's political."
So what of Sid Ryan, the third leg of this triumvirate of bad feelings? It's well known in CUPE circles that there's little love lost between the two union leaders -- and that Ryan would like to have Darcy's job. Both see themselves as the more militant, says one well-placed union source in the nation's capital. "It's all fucking ego."
(Ryan would not comment, and Genereux did not return calls.)
It's a mess, all right, and chances are high that it will end up in the middle of the convention floor on November 19.