|November 6, 2005
Hold the organ renditions of Solidarity Forever -- for now. The union organizing drive in the United Church of Canada failed to sign up
enough clergy by yesterday's deadline to trigger a certification vote for Ontario ministers.
The general secretary of the country's largest Protestant Christian church said he wasn't surprised the drive failed. But the organizers
said it's not a matter of "if" but "when" the clergy unionize, and Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, said he will meet
with organizers shortly to kick off a new drive.
Under Ontario labour law, 60 per cent of workplace members have to sign union membership cards within a 12-month-period to initiate
certification. If that percentage isn't reached, the signed cards become void and the organizers have to start over.
Although the pro-union clergy eventually want to form a national body, they decided to campaign province by province because union
organizing rules vary from province to province.
Colette Hooson, the senior CAW official handling the clergy file, would not give numbers on how far short of 60 per cent the Ontario
campaign fell. "It's CAW policy," she said. In fact, the CAW won't even tell the clergy spearheading the drive the final tally. "It's not
unusual for a drive of this magnitude to take longer," Ms. Hooson said. "We just keep going."
She said there's no geographical centre of the drive, such as there would be at an automotive plant, where union organizers can
campaign at the door. The clergy are spread out over Ontario, a number of them in remote communities. British clergy were able to
organize faster, she said, because the geographical diffusion was not as great, and the clergy who joined the union were not limited to
"But we feel good about what we're looking at. We're feeling very, very good about this. We're looking at those cards as they come in, and
people are putting a lot of thought into signing them."
The institutional United Church and CAW have been political, economic and social allies for so long that they are reluctant to criticize
each other publicly. The church has simply said, repeatedly over the past 12 months, that putting clergy into a union would not be a good
Rev. Jim Sinclair, the United Church's general secretary, pointed out that 50 per cent of the members of the church's management
structure are clergy who rotate in and out of those positions, thus there could never be a clear dividing line between management clergy
and unionized clergy.
"We had no empirical evidence [that the drive would fail]," Mr. Sinclair said. "But the anecdotal evidence was there." He said the church
has been working hard to address the issues that were drawing clergy into the union, such as compensation improvements, better
benefits, isolation and harassment by congregation members. It has brought in experts to work on them, he said.
With regard to clergy needing protection from harassing parishioners, Mr. Sinclair pointed to the problems teachers have with parents
and nurses with patients. They're both unionized, and the union hasn't solved their problems, he said.
Rev. Jim Evans was one of the leaders of the union drive, along with his wife, Karen Paton-Evans. He said the church still lags far
behind as an employer. "And it's pointless to say a union wouldn't fit the structure," he said. "If the structure can't fix the problems, then
there's something wrong with the structure.
"Some time it is going to happen. Typically, the union says, it can take five to 20 years. We think it's going to happen real soon."
Source: Globe and Mail