The remaining members of the AUFA executive finally released some information about this payment a week later, after I threatened to go directly to the members. But the executive have left out important context and the subsequent resignations. These omissions are very troubling. This information also comes only after the union’s elections have concluded.
This post compiles the information I have been able to verify about these very concerning events. I believe this decision shows very poor judgment and that the remaining members of the executive who voted in favour of this motion should resign. I understand that one of them has done so this morning.
I’ve redacted some of the details but the gist is that a member declined to comply with an employer direction (i.e., was insubordinate). After several unsuccessful attempts to gain compliance, the employer placed the member on an unpaid leave.
As much as I don’t generally like how AU behaves, placing a member on unpaid leave is permissible in these very specific circumstances (that I am carefully not discussing). This has happened periodically over the past 15 years that I’ve been active with the association and is not an unprecedented situation (what is unprecedented is the payment).
The member decided to continue not complying (and thus not be paid). While being placed on an unpaid leave can certainly create a financial emergency for a member, this is not a labour-relations emergency for the union.
Subsequently, a member of the executive sought an emergency executive meeting to authorize payment of $2500 in financial aid. AUFA does not presently have a system for providing financial aid to members. The union did create an emergency-loan system in anticipation of a strike last year. Absent a work stoppage, that system does not operate because the members have not approved expanding its parameters.
Consequently, this request was brought to the union executive as an ad hoc motion. Article 12.8 of the AUFA bylaws permits the executive to authorize unbudgeted payments of up to $5000 without seeking membership approval.
Nine (of then 13) voting members of the executive were able to attend the emergency meeting:
- Davina Bhandar
- Pamela Holway
- Jonathan Leggo,
- Gail Leicht
- Katie MacDonald
- Darka Pavlovic
- Kristin Rodier
- Rhiannon Rutherford
- Ching Tan
“AUFA make a one-time donation of $2500 to the member in question in support of undue hardship.”
This motion passed 5-4 with Leggo, Leicht, Pavlovic, and Rutherford opposed. A subsequent motion established an ad hoc committee to look into establishing a formal member emergency fund (which is a good idea).
While no one has been prepared to discuss all of the details of the in camera discussion, some attendees have characterized the information provided to them an incomplete. For example, they were not told that the member could have their pay restored by simply complying with the employer’s direction.
Over the next several days, Leggo and Pavlovic along with Florene Ypma and Dave Powell resigned from the executive over the motion. Leicht (who is also the treasurer) has also indicated she will be resigning as soon as the executive can put someone in place to perform financial oversight functions. In the meantime, she has declined to issue the cheque because she does not have a name and mailing address to permit the issuance of a cheque.
A number of questions jump to mind:
- Why it was necessary to call an emergency meeting last Friday when there was regularly scheduled meeting three working days later? An emergency meeting likely reduced the number of executive members able to attend.
- Why the secrecy within the executive about who the member is? How can the executive make an informed and accountable decision without recording to whom the payment was made (even if this information is shared only on a need-to-know basis)?
- Why was the executive not informed during the discussion that the member who received the payment could have their pay restored by ceasing their insubordination?
- Why was the funding provided as a donation, rather than as an interest-free loan?
- Has this decision established a precedent whereby other members who refuse to comply with legitimate employer directions (i.e., are insubordinate) can now seek financial support from the union?
- Why did the remaining executive not inform the AUFA membership of this significant departure from past practice and the subsequent resignation of five executive members in a timely manner? This question is especially salient since (1) there was an immediate member request for disclosure (within minutes of the meeting ending) and (2) the payment decision was made in the middle of union elections wherein some of the executive members who voted in favour off the payment were running for office.
- Does this expenditure fall within the definition of non-core expenditures under the Labour Relations Code (as amended by Bill 32 several years ago) and, therefore, does it require the executive to get the permission of members to collect and expend these dues notwithstanding the bylaws? If so, will payment open AUFA up to a complaint to the Labour Relations Board?
While the union executive can spend up to $5000 on its own initiative, this sort of expenditure (which was not an emergency) should likely have been subjected to meaningful consultation with the membership. Indeed, many of the executive members who voted for this motion ran last year on a slate that promised greater transparency.
Savvy union leaders go out of their way ensuring that union decisions, particularly about spending, are transparent and above reproach. Last Friday’s decision does not demonstrate this sort of political acumen. Instead, we see executive members:
- Calling an unnecessary emergency meeting that only a portion of the union executive could attend.
- Authorizing an unprecedented payment to another member (with the support of only 5 of 13 executive members).
- Failing to disclose to the executive members in attendance that the member could resolve their problem on their own by complying with the employer’s direction.
- Not naming the member who is to receive the funding in the motion, which has resulted in the treasurer being unable process the payment.
- Disclosing information about the decision only after members threatened to release the information directly to the members and only after the end of the union election, in which some of the remaining executive members were candidates.
- Possibly created a precedent where the union is on the hook to financially support other members who are insubordinate (or, at least, having to fight off claims for such support).
The good news is that a new executive will take control of AUFA as of September 1. Many of the key players in this decision will not be a part of that executive.
AUFA members could also call a special meeting (under Article 5.4 of the bylaws). At this meeting, they could demand an explanation from the remaining executive and/or they could advance motions. These motions could include overruling the payment, voting nonconfidence in some or all of the remaining executive members, or setting up a committee to develop an emergency loan system with meaningful oversight and sensible parameters.
Really, though, the simplest way for the remaining executive to restore membership confidence in the executive would be for the members of the existing executive who voted in favour of this motion to tender their resignations. I understand one of them has done so already (that is six resignations now, if you're keeping track). This would still leave enough executive members to get through the traditionally slower summer months and hand the organization over to the incoming executive in September.
-- Bob Barnetson