Monday, January 24, 2011

Jim Sinclair Conceals his own Record of Benefiting from Slave Labour Practices, while Calling for a Review of Khaira Enterprises' Record

Talk about the pot calling the kettle dirty. Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour, this morning asked the BC government to set up an independent review of unfair labour practices experienced by tree planters working for Khaira Enterprises, and to enforce labour standards. Sinclair was responding to the case of workers who say they were treated like "slaves" while working at a tree planting camp near Golden, BC. Sinclair didn't mention the fact that he has personally profited from treating workers like slaves.

Sinclair and the BC Fed have for years ensured that CUPE Local 116, which staffed their executive office exclusively with non-union secretaries, was not held accountable for slave labour conditions endured by these women. CUPE would allegedly run the non-union secretaries into the ground with double and triple workloads, more often than not denying them benefits, and firing them after they spoke up about working conditions. One secretary, Kim, got fired when she spoke up about ongoing verbal abuse by the Vice-President, Paul. Verbal abuse was one of the issues raised in the Khaira case. But Sinclair has never been interested in this abuse, as he continues to accept financing from CUPE Local 116.

Not only has Sinclair ignored complaints about unfair working conditions at CUPE Local 116, he has participated in them. Police records show that Sinclair allowed a written request that he curb abuse of secretaries at CUPE Local 116 to be passed off to police as, "Workplace Harassment". At least one of the secretaries received a call from police on behalf of union brass ordering her to shut up about working conditions.

Sinclair and the BC Fed ensured that CUPE was an equal opportunity intimidator though. With Sinclair's knowledge, CUPE Local 116 also called the police on a male union member who spoke up about some allegedly creative accounting at the union office. The man, a steamfitter, at one point found a cheque for $1,000 slipped under his door, but he continued to talk to other union members about his concerns. That's when CUPE resorted to political psychiatry of the type used against dissidents in China. They falsely portrayed the steamfitter as crazy and got him fired. The Local 116 Vice-President who portrayed him as crazy was the same official who had been verbally abusing the secretary until he fired her, claiming that she had breached his privacy by discussing the abuse with another CUPE official. Jim Sinclair seems to be fine with destroying a man's life when he questions his union, but he supports a human rights complaint against Khaira Enterprises.

The workers who say they were abused at the tree-planting camp have now been awarded $228,000 in back wages and the employer, Khaira Enterprises of Surrey, has been fined, $3,500 by the BC Employment Standards Branch. Secretaries inside CUPE could only wish for that. One fired secretary, Kim, was required by CUPE President John Geppert to sign a document agreeing to muzzle herself about her firing or he would withhold $5,000 in overtime pay owed to her by CUPE. Another secretary, Ann, had to retain a lawyer to take CUPE to court in the hopes of merely getting a pension she had been promised during her 12 years of service.

A shop steward at CUPE Local 116, Ann S. said, after two secretaries were fired (a third would soon quit due to health problems from overwork), "We don't make very good employers, do we."

Sinclair pointed out today that there is a definite incentive for an employer to resort to unfair labour practices as even when fines are levied, they are low. "That's not a punishment or a deterrent, that's a reward. What it says to the employer is `Fly at it'." That's exactly Sinclair has been saying to CUPE Local 116.