‘Union boss’ a belaboured epithet

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By Larry Haiven, business professor at Saint Mary’s University and member of Solidarity Halifax. Originally published in The Chronicle Herald.

In the brouhaha over essential services legislation, Government House Leader Michel Samson used the term “union bosses.” This insulting epithet is all too common, conjuring up unelected and conspiratorial dictators. But how true is it?

Corporate CEOs like Emera’s Chris Huskilson or Sobeys’ Marc Poulin are hardly ever called “bosses,” though they are not elected. And leaders of public sector institutions? I haven’t read of Anne McGuire being the “boss” of the IWK hospital, or “Capital Health boss Chris Power.” Yet none of these positions require a popular ballot.

How about the people who preside over our three largest health-care unions? Joan Jessome, president of the 30,000 NSGEU members for eight terms, emerged from the ranks through a very competitive process at biennial (now triennial) conventions attended by 300 delegates, all chosen by their own union constituencies.

Danny Cavanagh of CUPE Nova Scotia (18,000 members) became president in 2005 and has been re-elected every two years at a provincial convention by 250 delegates, themselves chosen by their members.

Delegates chosen by members of the 6,500-strong Nova Scotia Nurses Union (6,500 members) elected president Janet Hazelton in 2002 and have renewed that mandate biennially at annual general meetings six times since.

All three leaders can be removed easily at the next union convention. As well as electing their leaders, union members vote regularly on: union policy, collective bargaining issues, and acceptance or rejection of employer offers. By law, only a majority vote can authorize a strike.

If they believe their union is representing them unfairly, they can go to the Labour Relations Board. Most importantly, they vote for union representation in the first place and can also regularly vote to change their union or get rid of it entirely.

Experts agree that unions, love ’em or hate ’em, are among the most democratic institutions in our province and our country.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.


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