Lucky Skunk

 

lucky skunk

Are Unions In British Columbia Evil?


People wonder why I am so against the Union movement in British Columbia, with very few seeming to think it is anything other than my supposedly conservative upbringing on the west side of Vancouver.


Did I attend St. George’s School for Boys in Vancouver, a school consistently ranked highly by the Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based market liberal think tank as one of the leading schools in Canada? You bet I did. But I was brought up in a very liberal middle class family.  My parents taught me to always weigh both sides of an argument, and most importantly, keep promises.


At the age of 16 I was working as a busboy at the Jericho Tennis Club (JTC) in Vancouver, when the unionized employees hit a major snag in the collective bargaining.  Management was led by a seasoned club manager by the name of Fred Boates, while the shop steward was Norm Gautreau, an professional ex-boxer out of Moncton. 


Norm was a former multiple Canadian welterweight champion and 1984 Canadian boxing hall of famer, and he the head bartender at the JTC. He really was a character, and I enjoyed working with him immensely.   And damn did he have a temper.  Damn I liked him.


Norm Gautreau


 

Things started to get really nasty between management and the staff, to the point that it was effecting the Club.  That’s when I first met Brian Schramm who was the representative for the staff at Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) International Union Local 40.  He was a young man back in the mid eighties, and was charming to a fault.  He is currently a trustee for the British Columbia Public Service Pension Plan and works for the BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU).


Brian Schramm


When Brian first spoke to us as a group of employees he said that we would be sticking together, that we were a team and that management would not break us.  He even asked us teenage boys to stand on the picket line if necessary.  Now let me tell you, with the prospect of going from $3.65 and hour to $7.00 plus benefits as a part-time job in the mid eighties was proposed, you can bet I was 100% on board!


Let me be crystal clear here.  Representing Local 40, a Union in BC, Brian asked us all not to cave to management, but to stick together through thick and thin.  To paraphrase, we busboys were just as an important part of the equation as the rest of the staff.


Things progressed, and somehow the Province Newspaper was fed a story that ‘East Indians’ were looking to buy the Jericho Tennis Club, which by the way was having labour issues.  Not a bad plant if I might say so.  Not bad at all.  Pretty dirty tactics, but nothing like the games they play in USA politics.


Well, management and labour came to an agreement.  I don’t remember the specific details, but I asked our shop steward what we as busboys managed to get?


Nothing.


It turns out that we were a bargaining chip for the full-time employees, and that the Union didn’t consider us important.  While I understand that full-time employees need to make a living and that I was just a part-time high school student, a promise is a promise.  And Local 40 broke that contract with me.


And since that day, I have never respected Unions in B.C.


A footnote to this story.  I went onto managing people in the hospitality industry for some years before moving into the world of business.  In that time I managed to be the leading force against two successful attempts to unionize employees with staff totaling about 150, and I was the leader of a successful decertification effort of unionized staff totaling 25.  So Local 40 and Brian Schramm could have kept their promise for 3 busboys, but instead lost the potential to unionize another 175 plus.


So, remember how you treat people you work with, even if they are only 16 years old.  And keep your promises.


Patrick Smyth is a budding author and business executive.