Money flows to rogue Autoworkers union

The Canadian Auto Workers says it has no intention of pulling back on millions of dollars in loan pledges to a new construction union that is allegedly undermining other unions. CAW president Buzz Hargrove said yesterday the CAW will continue providing periodic non-interest loans totalling a maximum $5 million until 2010 to the Canadian Construction Workers Union despite criticism from other labour leaders.

The CAW has approved about $1.6 million since 2006 in support of the new union's efforts in organizing construction workers into a Canadian union instead of being under international control. "We're lending them about $1 million a year," Hargrove said. "They're responsible for paying it back. There are no other conditions or tie-downs. The CCWU is also not an arm of the CAW."

The CAW broke away from the United Auto Workers in 1985 in a high-profile dispute over autonomy and bargaining direction.

Tony Dionisio, a controversial labour organizer and former political power broker in Toronto, is running the construction union after the Laborers' International Union of North America ousted him in an internal battle at its Local 183 in Toronto two years ago.

The international union put the local under trusteeship and an arbitrator in the dispute later agreed there was justification.

A labour arbitrator also concluded Local 183 under Dionisio did not enforce contracts and failed to tabulate benefit and pension entitlements to members.

The arbitrator also found Dionisio had participated in a scheme to forge several contracts, and Local 183 had spent more than $340,000 for surveillance of international union officers, local officials and members. Another arbitrator found Local 183's former board had improperly transferred $5 million to the control of Dionisio and another individual.

Dionisio has dismissed most of the findings as misunderstandings or simply wrong. For example, he said the former board moved the money for safekeeping after receiving legal advice and later returned the funds.

The CAW's support of Dionisio's union has outraged other labour leaders who charge his construction group is trying to raid other unions and is interfering in organizing drives.

"The CAW should reconsider its funding of this rogue union," said Wayne Fraser, Ontario/Atlantic director for the United Steelworkers.

Fraser pointed to the recent case where the Service Employees International Union had made progress in an organizing campaign for cleaners at Hallmark Housekeeping Services. But the construction union undercut the drive by reaching a "voluntary recognition" deal with management to represent workers. Dionisio defended the move and challenged the SEIU to a free vote by workers on their union preference.

Dionisio's union, which won't disclose its membership size, suffered a setback last month when the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled the group did not have status as a trade union in a dispute regarding bargaining recognition at several small building contractors.


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