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21st Century Insights

Keep up with changes in the industry, and find out what's around the corner, with Joe Mulhall's thoughts about a 21st Century Union. Click on image under each topic to download the PDF.

What does it mean to be a 21st Century Union?

How did CUSW start? What was the motivation behind it all?

CUSW is a modern union, designed for modern times. One that incorporated the Knowledge Worker- someone who can see and understand the changes taking place in the world around us. 

The 21st Century is about embracing innovationand encouraging Member participation. CUSW was built around the participation model, which is a very different approach from most traditional unions.

The 21st Century Booklet was created to give Members a clear vision for what the future looks like, while also giving a bit of history of CUSW. 

By understanding how CUSW came to be can help with this transition and in turn create a better future for Members.

It's the start of a New Era!

There is clearly a shift taking place in the way that we organize our economy.  With every shift in the economic conditions that define our society there is a parallel opportunity to redefine the relationships that shape that society. 

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers was formed in 1999 by a group of workers that came together to build a union that would redefine the way that work would be organized in the workplace while at the same time redefining the relationship between workers and the broader community. 

We believed that the workplace of the 21st century would have the potential to contribute to building a civil and social environment where there is mutual respect amongst workers and employers and a sincere desire to work together for the betterment of all. 

To accomplish this we would need to promote a new kind of economy.  A progressive economy that respects the environment that we live in and the people who we live with. 

We would also need to work with strong partners to build capacity in that economy and we would need to develop a workforce with the skills to make the transition a success. 

Today we can say that we are well on our way to realizing those goals.  We are part of building capacity in a sustainable economy where people matter.  Through partnerships, such as SmartNet Alliance and Alliance Learning, we are able to encourage like-minded people to come together to build that society. 

What does this mean for us? 

Back in 1999 CUSW adopted the phrase Knowledge Worker to represent the concept of a worker who understands the world around them. A worker who can adapt to the changes that are taking place in their workplace.   In this new economy not only will it be up to workers to know what is taking place around them but it will also be up to them to provide their creativity and input into shaping how work is carried out.  

CUSW is well on our way to bringing these ideas to life.  We have developed a Leadership Academy to support both the Knowledge Worker and our employer partners.  Through face-to-face and on-line learning, members are able to access the information that they need, to participate in the day-to-day affairs of CUSW and the workplace. Though Take the LEAD, members learn how CUSW operates and the role that democratic participation has in making it a success.  The union is the members.

On the employer front we are already seeing a new style of employer emerging with a more inclusive approach to the operation of the workforce.  The layers of management that once defined the industrial workplace are being replaced by a collaboration of skills and talents that break down traditional job descriptions and defined roles.  Employers and workers are partners in success

Utilizing the legal framework of a union allows Architects, Engineers, technicians and the appropriate trade support workers to come together with a voice in the structure that these workplaces will take on.  Through democratic participation in the workplace we are able to redefine these roles and set new standards for the way that work is done.   At CUSW we already have workplaces where this is taking place in response to the changing work environment. All employees are members of the union and all members have voice

The 21st Century Union is not restricted to members employed through a union management agreement.  Membership is open to anyone who shares the vision of coming together to build a social society based on the principles of inclusion and respect.  Small Business owners such as Janet Stewart and Kris Stevens who have joined CUSW are a great addition to the voice within the union.  Although they have no collective bargaining relationship with the union they are full participating members who bring a community voice to the development of the union as we move forward.

These are exciting times.  Being involved at the start of a New ERA is the thing that stories are made of.  You are part of that story

A New Union for a New Tomorrow

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers was founded in 1999 to create a pathway for workers and other Canadians to transition from the Industrial Economy that had formed the base of our society for more than 200 years, to the “Information”, knowledge-based economy of the 21st Century.   The founding members could visualize this transition and set out on a path to realize that goal.  Some in society would ask the question – Why bother? 

Unions or “Trade Unions”, as some refer to them today, have had a major influence in the development of both civil and social society throughout history.  They have appeared in many forms. The Guilds emerged as far back as the 1200’s in response to the need for civil structures of governance and a desire to ensure skilled craftsmen, quality products and value for their communities.  The Knights of Labour rose quickly in the 1800’s in response to a void around social justice and a lack of political solutions to resolve them, but just as quickly disappeared as their member’s dissipated and the union disappeared.

By the 20th Century a myriad of organized responses sprouted up around the globe as industrialization and the drive for profit intensified.  Productivity stalled as workers rallied against the brutal treatment by employers.  Wars were fought over the oppression imposed on the workforce and in some areas political movements were formed as the battle raged.  By 1919 the United Nations had formed the International Labor Organization in response to the social justice violations that were rampant across the globe and by 1946 the UN were holding regular meetings to set Labour standards that were recognized throughout the world.  Work was the driver and unions were the response.

Over time Industrial Society divided into three distinct categories – government, employers and workers.  The basis for the division is that these three groups have distinct interests and that the interests could only be harmonized if one group or the other was subject to the will of the other more dominant group or groups.  The struggle over control came to define who we were as a society. 

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers was created in response to this outlook of our economic and political structure.   As the “information economy” began to emerge it became clear that there was an opportunity to redefine the relationship amongst the interests.  The founding members realized that a union based on a simple employer/worker relationship that was regulated by the government would lead into the same divisions as in the society that had come before them. 

The model and the relationships amongst the three categories would need to change. There was an opportunity to influence the future development of civil and social society and it was decided to take the challenge. The timing was right and the ground fertile.  The centralized mass-production model was shifting to a system where local economic development was prevalent.  The workforce would no longer be centralized in one location and workers would need to be able to transition to opportunities as they were created.  Skills would need to be flexible and portable.  

The goal of the founding members was to build a union that would redefine the way that work would be organized in the workplace while at the same time redefining the relationship between workers and the broader community. 

The CUSW Constitution was drafted to go beyond the traditional view that a Union is only there to regulate the relationship between employees and employers through collective bargaining.  The door was opened for all citizens to join the Union even though they were not part of a union-represented workplace.   The Objects of the union outlined in the CUSW Constitution reached far beyond the workplace and were written to include “all citizens of our country”.   CUSW members understood that to break down the divide in society created by the Industrial Economy, there would need to be opportunities to build open discussion across partisan lines.    

The term “knowledge worker” formed part of the dialogue that launched the shift in the way that workers would participate in future discussions.  The idea that worker-voice was expressed through the Institutions that they belonged to was replaced with member-voice and participation.  The members of the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers are embracing this change and are moving forward to redefine the ways that workers can participate in the society.  

Today there is clearly a shift taking place in the way that we organize our economy.  With every shift in the economic conditions that define a society there is a parallel opportunity to redefine the relationships that shape that society. 

CUSW members believe that the workplace of the 21st century has the potential to contribute to building a civil and social environment where there is mutual respect amongst workers and employers and a sincere desire to work together for the betterment of all. 

To accomplish this we are promoting a new kind of economy.  A progressive economy that respects the environment that we live in and the people who we live with.   We need to work with strong partners to build capacity in that economy and we need to develop a workforce with the skills to make the transition a success. 

Today we can say that we are well on our way to realizing those goals.  We are part of building capacity in a sustainable economy where people matter.  Through partnerships we are able to encourage like-minded people to come together to build that society.  

In 1999 CUSW adopted the phrase Knowledge Worker to represent the concept of a worker who understands the world around them. A worker who can adapt to the changes that are taking place in their workplace and in broader society.   In this new economy not only will it be up to workers to know what is taking place around them but it will also be up to them to provide their creativity and input into shaping how work is carried out.  

CUSW is well on our way to bringing these ideas to life.  We have developed a Leadership Academy to support the Knowledge Worker and our employer partners.  Through face-to-face and online learning, members are able to access the information that they need to participate in the day-to-day affairs of the union and the workplace. Through the Take the LEAD program, members learn how the union operates and the role that democratic participation has in making it a success.  The union is the members.

On the employer front we are already seeing a new style of employer emerging with a more inclusive approach to the operation of the workforce.  The layers of management that once defined the industrial workplace are being replaced by a collaboration of skills and talents that break down traditional job descriptions and defined roles.  Employers and workers are partners in success. 

Utilizing the legal framework of a union allows architects, engineers, technicians and appropriate trade support workers to come together with a voice in the structure that these workplaces will take on.  Through democratic participation in the workplace we are able to redefine these roles and set new standards for the way that work is done.   At CUSW we already have workplaces where this is taking place in response to the changing work environment. All employees are members of the union and all members have voice. 

The 21st Century Union is not restricted to members employed through a union/management labour agreement.  Membership is open to anyone who shares the vision of coming together to build a social society based on the principles of inclusion and respect.  Small Business owners who have joined CUSW provide a great addition to the voice within the union.  Although they have no collective-bargaining relationship with the union, they are full, participating members who bring a community voice to the development of the union as we move forward.  

These are exciting times.  Being involved in building a “New Tomorrow” at the start of a “New ERA” is the thing that stories are made of.  

Bringing the 21st Century Workplace to Life - Pt. 2

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers was formed to provide a pathway for workers to move from the 20th Century workplace to the 21st Century workplace.  When we set out on the path to build CUSW we did so with a clear understanding that we would need to change our thinking about the role of the worker in the modern workplace. There would need to be a transformation from reactive to proactive in the way that we approach our role at work. The members of CUSW would need to have a clear understanding of our goals and they would need to be a part of the transition.  Managing the changing environment around us would be essential.

This concept is captured in the banner of Working Today – Building for Tomorrow that was added to the cover on the CUSW Constitution after our 2nd Convention.  We understood that the changes in the way that work was organized and managed would emerge in different workplaces at different times. Members would experience life in the workplace very differently depending on what type of management style was in place.  Having this message displayed up front on the Constitution would remind members that change was underway and that we would need to lead that change.  But first we would need to be able to recognize the world around us. 

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Management was trying to understand the drivers that would increase productivity and increase profit.  They saw the workforce as a barrier to success.  The idea of Human Resource Management (HRM) emerged as a means of coordinating the introduction of management systems that would produce these results.  One of these systems was introduced by Frederick Taylor.  “Taylorism” or Scientific Management as it came to be known, is a production efficiency methodology that breaks every action, job or task into small and simple segments which can be easily analyzed and controlled.  This method of managing the workplace gave production managers a dangerously high level of uncontrolled power and the demands of work intensified.  Workers became dissatisfied, resentful and hostile towards the work environment and became angry. Scientific management lowered worker morale and increased existing conflict.  The role of unions in this environment was focused on offsetting the power of the manager.  Although these ideas continue to exist in some workplaces even today, de-skilling the workforce and intensifying work have proved to be less helpful than Taylor suggested. 

By 1970 there had already been a shift in management techniques in many workplaces.  Programs such as Total Quality Management, Continuous Improvement, Kaizen and LEAN Production that had focused on trying to increase production opened the possibility for looking at new ways of managing.   These ideas revolutionized the mental model for managers by suggesting that they replace thinking about how to get people to do things with thinking about how to help people do things. (Robert Greenleaf 1970)

This shift was the first step in moving towards the 21st Century worker model that CUSW is built around.  By the turn of the century, managers of all stripes began to realize that when “knowledge workers” were given the opportunity to contribute their ideas to the work at hand, innovation and productivity increased.  The negative effects of scientific management were eliminated as workers engaged with their work and realized satisfaction in the success. 

At the start of the 21st century a whole new wave of HRM (Human Relations Management) studies focused on the role of the “manager” and the “workers” within a new model based on helping people do things and not on making people do things.  The concept of the “production” manager has not yet disappeared, however it is generally projected that the purpose of the manager will change. 

Looking at a number of these studies undertaken by the HRM community found that the following points rate to be the most important ideas regarding the role of management going forward. 

  • Management is for everyone.  As educational levels rise and information technology accelerates, the distinction between "managers" and "workers" will fade away and management knowledge will be everyone's responsibility. 
  • Management is for learners.  As information becomes the chief product of every business and as knowledge continues to explode, everyone will be a learner and the manager's foremost task will to promote learning. 
  • Management is based on communicating.  As techniques for planning, strategizing, decision-making, and problem solving become the common province of everyone in the organization, the need for improving communication will be paramount and managers will be increasingly using dialogue and other communication tools. 
  • Management is about change. As technology and information reshape all our lives, change management will be "business as usual" and managers will be change agents who guide everyone to find and embrace the best new practices. 
  • Management is broad based.  As boundaries disappear within organizations and in the world at large, the scope of management will grow and managers will be organizational development experts, diversity experts, facilitation experts, consultation experts – and much more.

These management studies all show an increased role for the worker in the workplace. CUSW was built to respond to this new and emerging workplace.  The CUSW Convention in April 2015 amended the representation model for the workers to align with the workplace of the future.  CUSW members will have a greater role in the workplace and there will be no room for the outside Third Party Unions of the 20th Century. 

Like the managers of the future, the Stewards and H&S representatives will also become organizational development experts, diversity experts, facilitation experts, consultation experts – and much more.

We are positioned to take on our role, now we need to give our members the tools to be successful.  

– Joe Mulhall  

Bringing the 21st Century Workplace to Life

The popularity of Unions as an Institution has fallen dramatically in the past 30 years.  Workers as well as employers have rejected the concept of working together through a Union. This is proven out by the decline in union density across North America. The reasons for this rejection have been well documented in the history since the 1950’s.  Workers reject Unions because they do not see themselves reflected in the operation of these Institutions.  There is a common cry of “what does the Union do for me” or “they take our money but they do nothing for us”. Employers reject Unions because they interfere in “management’s right to manage” and in their view Unions negatively affect the bottom line of the business.  On the one side the workers do not see the value of participating in the union and on the other side, the employer is discouraging that participation.  The result is that profits are rising and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Workers are being left out of the benefits of the economy both at work and in the marketplace.     

It is from this start point that we begin to build the 21st Century workplace.  As workers, we have come to understand that life at work does not need to be defined as an “us and them” relationship.  The concept of the 21st Century Worker has been created to provide a new paradigm from which we can move forward.  In the 19th and 20th Centuries workers had to struggle to get recognition for the right to bargain with employers over the distribution of wealth.  In Canada we have won that struggle.  We have the right to bargain collectively solidly enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and endorsed by the highest court in our land. 
In the 21st Century the struggle will be to have our Right to participate in the workplace recognized.  Rights that are granted by Laws, even Supreme Court of Canada Laws, are only words and concepts unless given life through action.  It has been broadly recognized at the Policy level, both political and academic, that workers’ involvement in the workplace will provide a sense of Worth, of Freedom and of Participation that directly contribute to harmony and greater economic success in the workplace.  Industrial Democracy improves safety, increases productivity and enhances the quality of life at work.    

It is not surprising that there is resistance to these ideas from the mainstream of business. For all of the reasons described in the research undertaken by the University of California (G. William Domhoff, 2012 and 2013) business owners have not yet recognized that workers, as citizens, have the right to enjoy the same privileges at work as they do when participating in a democratic government.  Resistance of this type is not new.  History shows that for decades employers vehemently opposed the “right to bargain collectively” about wages and benefits.  History also shows that workers successfully overcame that resistance by working together both in the workplace and in the broader community.

CUSW has been built for the opportunity of building a new approach to the workplace.  The Constitution of CUSW provides for member participation both in the internal operation of the union and in the workplace. We have aligned our structure with a clear understanding that we as members have a role in the workplace.  We are well positioned to realize the value of Industrial democracy.  As members we have set a standard of values and beliefs that directly impact on our actions every day both at work and in the community.  We have included our stakeholders as a part of the fabric of our union. The employers are not the enemy. They are one of our partners.

CUSW members did not build our structure in isolation from the Law or the intent of the Labour Legislation.  The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the rights of unions to participate in the workplace provides the framework that opens the door to our members taking a leadership role in making this opportunity a reality.  We are very well positioned to move forward to implement the rest of the rights provided by Canadian Labour laws. 

We cannot leave this discussion without a comment on the current state of our membership. The struggle for recognition of worker rights has pitted employer against worker for almost 100 years. It is not easy to simply turn that page.  The challenge for CUSW as a group will be in building an environment in which we the workers will realize that contributing to the success of the company, is contributing to our own success.  

As a group of members coming together to create a better future for our members and their families we have set a clear vision for the future of work.  The path is clear.  Through education, skills and an understanding of the world around us we can make the transition to the 21st century workplace.   

– Joe Mulhall  

Harmony of Interests - Bridging the Divide

Unions in the 21st Century have to look back to the 20th Century to design the way forward for workers as we move into a Modern Era of economic restructuring and possibility.   The collapse of the Union movement in the United States (private sector union density is now below 6% of the workforce) has left workers on the outside as the wealth created by the economy flows steadily to the very wealthy.  We need to tap into the 21st Century information technology that provides us with access to the information that can provide guidance to these discussions. 

In the 20th Century model of Industrial Relations there was a presumption that workers/employees, employers and government all had common cause and that a social contract amongst them would ensure that everyone could benefit from the success of business.  This concept was based on the assumption that it was better to work together than it was to wage war in the workplace.  The violence in the last part of the 19th century resulted in massive strikes, employer owned private police forces and governments being forced to take sides.  Workers and Citizens were defined as different groups with different interests.  By the late 1890’s the cost of the violence was impacting on the society as a whole and governments began to look for ways to create stability.  Research undertaken by the University of California (2012 and 2013) shows that by 1913, John D. Rockefeller Jr. engaged employers and worker groups in discussions around “Harmony of Interests” and the value of human relations. MacKenzie King, who later became the Prime Minister of Canada, worked with Rockefeller for 12 years as a Labour Relations expert developing a path forward.  They concluded that the solution to workplace conflict was to include the elected representatives of the employees in discussions with management in the workplace, on company time.  That was in 1913.  More than 100 years later we are still having the same discussions. 

The social contract approach failed because it did not address the root of the divide amongst the economic partners.  To build a path forward in the 21st Century, it is important to understand the drivers that divide the interests of workers and the interests of employers in the workplace.  In his Article “Rise and Fall of Labor Unions in the US” G. William Domhoff describes the factors that impacted on the success of the “Harmony of Interest” approach suggested by MacKenzie King and later expressed in the Wagner Act.  Dumhoff summarizes this discussion as follows:

“ ….why do workers want unions in the first place, and why do business owners resist them so mightily?  Workers originally want unions primarily for defensive purposes -- to protect against what they see as arbitrary decisions, such as sudden wage cuts, lay-offs, or firings. They also want a way to force management to change what they see as dangerous working conditions or overly long hours. More generally, they want more certainty, which eventually means a contract that lasts for a specified period of time. In the United States, as we will see, the early trade unionists also wanted the same kind of rights at work that they already had as independent citizens.”

“Business owners, on the other hand, don't like unions for a variety of reasons. If they are going to compete successfully in an economy that can go boom or bust, then they need a great deal of flexibility in cutting wages, hiring and firing, and adding extra hours of work or trimming back work hours when need be. In fact, wages and salaries are a very big part of their overall costs, maybe as much as 80% in many industries in the past, and still above 50% in most industries today, although there is variation. And even when business is good, small wage cuts, or holding the line on wages, can lead to higher profits. More generally, business owners are used to being in charge, and they don't want to be hassled by people they have come to think of as mere employees, not as breadwinners for their families or citizens of the same city and country.”

Outside of the workplace…. “All this soon leads to more general disagreements over the rate and progressivity of taxation, the usefulness of labor unions, and the degree to which business should be regulated by government. Employees want businesses to pay higher taxes to government, and they often want government to regulate businesses in ways that help employees. Most businesses reject these policy objectives -- they are for low taxes on businesses, minimum regulation of their businesses, and no government help for unions.”

All of this sounds so familiar.  Elected Governments are under pressure from business on the one side to favour their agenda and from Unions on the other side to favour their agenda.  As political elections go (Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, Ronald Regan in the US, and Steven Harper in Canada) so also go the fate of the workplace parties.  The concept of “Harmony of Interest” has failed because there is no agreement on the rights of workers to participate in discussions about the impacts of the economic system on business and the workplace.  In Canada the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has set the legal framework that is needed to encourage workers and employers to come together. 

In BC Health Services (Supreme Court June 2007) the Supreme Court of Canada supported the approach that workers and employers need to address these issues directly and not defer to political solutions.  Workers have the right to bargain collectively and to participate in the workplace in the same way that they do as Citizens outside of the workplace.

Canadian workers have the right to have a voice in the operations at the workplace.  The 21st Century Union must take up this opportunity and move forward to work with employers to find solutions that benefit business, workers and Society as a whole.  We need to understand the issues that divide us and we need to address them directly.  The Era of Class Conflict was very divisive and we need to leave it far behind us.  Workers need to accept responsibility for creating the conditions in the workplace that result in the outcomes they need and Business Owners need to move past their EGO and fear that workers will not share their interests. 

CUSW has built a framework to engage in this discussion.  We are positioned to take up the challenge.  We need to seek out employers that share the “Harmony of Interest” approach to success and want to work with us in building a better future both in the workplace and in the broader society as a whole.    

– Joe Mulhall  

Continuing the Journey - Building the Path

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers was founded in 1999 for the purpose of protecting the rights of the members that were being impacted by the changes in the Economy including the structure of the Energy and Information Technology Sectors and more specifically the changes that were impacting our workplaces.   


The nature of the founding “bargaining units” of CUSW defined a start point for the new union that was set in the context of a business union model.  The American style union that we displaced had regressed to the role of a business supplying people to employers in exchange for employment opportunities and the funds to pay for the operation of the employment agency.  This model of business unionism had failed in the US and workers had lost confidence in the concept of “unions” as a means to provide a voice in the future of their workplace. 

CUSW was designed as an alternative to a failing union model that was moving very quickly into the Canadian environment.

That was 1999.  It is important at this point to note that this trend has continued.  

An article on the decline of unions in January 2013 noted:  “Last week came news that the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low. A mere 11.3% of workers now belong to a union, and a great chunk of those are in the shrinking public sector. In the private sector, unionization fell to an abysmal 6.6%, down from a peak of 35% during the 1950s.” (Time: January 2013).  The article went on to report that this decline has resulted in a state where Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression.   There had to be another way and we had set out to find it.   

The challenge for the members of CUSW in dealing with this shift to a non-union environment was to understand the changes taking place in their environment and then to find ways to take control of the change.  CUSW members are not the only 21st Century workers looking for an alternative solution. The Times article went on to observe: “it’s significant that innovative forms of worker organizing are now emerging that bypass traditional union structures altogether.”  This is no surprise to those that have been involved in CUSW since the beginning.  Workers will not support an organization that is focused on the survival of the institution and not on how the members can participate. 

There is much literature on the purpose of unions and the structure that has been put in place to ensure that members can participate in the workplace.  The Wagner Act in the US and the sister labour legislation that emerged to provide similar rights for workers in Canada clearly provide the legal framework for worker voice in the workplace.   The difficulty is that Legal rights do not translate into action unless the workers join unions.  Workers do not want to belong to unions unless they see themselves represented in the union.  In the absence of member support for unions the legally recognized rights that we have won lay barren.  As members retreat from unions the rights they might otherwise have are left dormant.  There is no one to blame for the inequity we see in our society other than to look at ourselves as the workers. 

Because of the “business” mentality associated with Unions there is a tendency for members to look at unions as third party service providers.  To undermine the Union, employers simply need to convince their employees that the union is not providing any positive benefit to them. Once members start to say “we do not need the union, the employer will look after us” we have defeated ourselves.  To be successful as workers we need to take this power out of the hands of the employers.  Only when members understand that their interests are served by working together with employers as a recognized body of workers with a voice, will we be able to see ourselves as having any say in the future of work.  

To get to this place requires the members to be engaged in CUSW. We need to see ourselves in the very fabric of the organization.  It requires us to look beyond short term gain and self-gratification.  It requires us to look beyond both the personal and the institutional “status quo”.  We can build a union that responds to our needs and we know how to do it.   

According to Regina Bailey (Biology Expert) the Lymbic system of the human brain controls our unconscious emotions and motivations related to survival.  By connecting ideas to outcomes our unconscious mind will find solutions that lead to positive feelings that stimulate innovation. Through engagement we also activate our passion, creativity and initiative. Participation in CUSW provides the mental connectors that allow our brain to see opportunities and a way forward.  Overcoming “status quo bias” requires the conscious mind and only you can turn your mind to that.  

– Joe Mulhall  

Membership and the Relationship to Work

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers was founded as a “trade union” in 1999 to provide a legal entity that could house the bargaining rights that were displaced when the membership voted to move away from the IBEW.  The “bargaining unit” that started our CUSW journey was made up of a group of workers employed as “casuals” at Ontario Hydro construction.  This Ontario Hydro bargaining unit had been established between 1953 and 1957 for the purpose of providing a Province wide casual workforce that could be expanded and contracted as needed to respond to the construction program at Ontario Hydro.  It was from this start point that we began the journey towards becoming a 21st Century Union. 

Construction Unions in North America had a long history of providing casual employees to companies and contractors.  Over the decades most established some form of Hiring Hall arrangement with a body of contractors, managed their own benefit plans and retirement programs, provided supplemental training where needed and looked after the general welfare of the workers that were members of their union. This model would prove to be very adaptable to the changes that were coming in the world of work.

At the same time we were forming CUSW, the mainstream was writing about the Future of Work. Futurists such as Jeremy Rifkin were talking about the technology revolution and the need for a very different kind of labour force.  Robert Reich, who went on to be the Secretary of Labor under the Bill Clinton Presidency, had already written a book in which he also took a futurist view.  “We are living through a transformation that will rearrange the politics and economics of the coming century....Each nation's primary assets will be its citizen's skills and insights.” (Robert Reich, The Work of Nations, 1991). 

By 1998 the Conference Board of Canada had weighed into the discussion. Contingent Work: Trends, Issues and Challenges for Labour.  They predicted that 25 to 35 percent of all work in Canada would be performed by contingent workers by the early 21st Century.  The paper defined Contingent work as 1) supplemental workers, 2) temporary workers and 3) contractors.   US Legal .com defined Contingent workers to include those who are hired through staffing firms, who are independent contractors, who work less than full-time, or whose jobs are structured to last only a limited length of time.  In addition to the shift in the way work would be organized, the writers identified that learning and empowerment would be central to the goals of productivity, innovation and competitiveness.  To meet this challenge, societies will need to create a skilled, quality, adaptable workforce.

Building on the concepts of the old construction framework and using the insights of those that could visualize the future of work in the New Economy we have been able to move forward on our journey.  CUSW is now able to provide hiring and referral for supplemental workers through staffing agencies; temporary workers through arrangements such as the Chestnut Park Accord; contract workers through collective agreements and other employment contracts where the need arises. We can now represent all workers in our bargaining units and not just trades. We can represent workers in full time, part time, and contingent worker relationships. CUSW can now provide health benefits, retirement benefits and other supports for members and their families in all industries, in all Provinces and Territories across Canada and beyond. We have built on what we knew in 1999.  CUSW has become a union of workers that together can respond to the opportunities of the 21st Century. 

Many of the traditional construction unions have evolved into employment agencies that try to control the work opportunities through monopoly union and monopoly employer relationships. Members of these unions are not committed to building the Union of the future.  When employment dries up in one union the members become freelance workers and move to other unions that have work through their monopoly employers. Some of these folks find their way to CUSW because we have the closed shop rights to work at OPGI, Hydro One and Bruce Power. These members will come and they will leave again. While they are here they probably will not participate.  Those members that can grasp the vision of Robert Reich will stay.  In the 21st Century, workers will be the primary asset for the employers and not the closed shop monopolies of the 20th Century.   The “skills and insights” that our members are building will attract the businesses that want to thrive in the new economy. The Employers will come to us looking to partner for success.  When they get here we need to be ready.   

– Joe Mulhall   

Setting the Stage for the 20-20 Worker

When CUSW was established in 1999 a group of 20 members from across the Union were asked by the National Executive Board to come together in Hamilton Ontario and build a Plan that would support the development of the Knowledge Worker concept.  With the assistance of a Facilitator, the group charted the steps forward that would set the stage for the future of Education and Training within our Union.

The first step in heading down the path was to set up a Training Trust Fund.  The first Trust Agreement was officially signed in January 2001 between the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers and the Training Trustees appointed through the CUSW Constitution.  The Trust Document provided the legal framework for the Union to receive contributions from employers, governments or government agencies for education and training purposes as the Trustees may from time to time approve. To coordinate the delivery of the education and training areas identified by the group in Hamilton the NEB also appointed the National Training and Education Committee.  

The next stage was to roll out the vision of a skilled workforce that 21st Century Employers would want to engage with in building the future for their companies.  We clearly understood that the 20th Century scientific management systems where management created the work methods and workers carried out the work under the direction of management could not survive in the New Economy. The future for CUSW members would be dependent on the skills that they could bring to the workplace and not on their ability to take direction. Workers would need to be innovators and not just as a part of the mass production model. 

Implementing our vision would prove to be a challenge. Most of the companies that we had long-term collective bargaining relationships with were 20th Century style employers that had little or no interest in changing their approach to worker involvement.  We also found that many of the workers at these companies had accepted the managed workplace style and resisted the change as well.  It soon became clear that to participate in the new economy we would need to seek out Employers to work with that were not shackled by old thinking. We also realized the need to provide the members with the tools to make the transition.

The CUSW Constitution and the Training Trust Agreement provide the forum for the NEB, the Trustees and the NTEC to all come together to design, fund and build the Education and Training Programme that we as members will need to participate as 20-20 workers.  “Take the LEAD” was designed back in 2007 to support members in designing an individual action plan to build the skills that will help them participate in CUSW and in the workplace.  In 2013 the NEB added the term CUSW Leadership Academy to the tool box of assets that we have built over the past 13 years.  The concept of the Leadership Academy provides each member with a profile of education options to tap into that will contribute to their personal development.  Identifying and delivering skills training is more elusive and required a different approach. 

When the Training Trust Agreement was drafted it was understood that Employers in the 21st Century would have very different business interests and that the skill sets needed to respond to the new opportunities would vary from employer to employer.  The identification of the skill sets that our members will need to work in these industries must include the employers that are relying on us to make them a success.  The concept of developing bargaining unit level Education and Training Participation Agreements was included in the original Trust document and is only now getting implemented. 

The Participation Agreements provide the members of each bargaining unit with the opportunity to sit down with their Employers and design an Education and Training Plan that will respond to their individual needs as they innovate and expand their business.  These workplace level skill requirements become part of the Education and Training Programme.  All members of the Union are then able to see industry trends as they are unfolding and access the training that they will need to work in their chosen industry. 

When we set out to build CUSW we set out to build a 21st Century Union.  Through Education and Training we can participate in the decision making that will ensure that we are included in the operation of the workplace.  That first meeting in Hamilton back in 1999 served us well in setting a vision of worker autonomy and charting the course to becoming a 21st Century Union.   It is up to all of us to take it from here.

– Joe Mulhall   


The 20-20 Knowledge Worker

Participation requires Knowledge ...
Knowledge requires Personal Participation

When CUSW was formed back in 1999 we coined the phrase “Knowledge Worker” to describe the members that would be part of this Union.  This term was appropriate for the direction that we wanted our new Union to head towards.  We understood from the very beginning that only through education and training would workers be able to participate in the 21st Century economy. Building a Union founded in participation was the key.

The idea that participation is only possible with education and knowledge is not a new concept.  Since the time of the Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke, Jean- Jacques Rousseau and more recently Leo Tolstoy all realized that without education there could be no freedom.  These ideas lead us to connect education with the very basic principles of the democratic processes that today have become synonymous with freedom at the level of civil society. On this very point Thomas Jefferson, the Third President of the United States, wrote:  “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free it expects what never was and never will be.”  The connection between education and democracy is the very root of the development of the public education systems that exist in most democratic countries today.  The connection between education and democracy in the workplace is a founding principle of CUSW. 

The approach of combining education with personal experience to create knowledge is also not a new thought. In the book “Emile” written in 1762, Rousseau made this very point.  He said: “we should not substitute books for personal experience because this does not teach us to reason;  it teaches us to use other people’s reasoning;  it teaches us to believe a great deal but never to know anything”.  The concept of the Knowledge Worker is all about the knowing. 

These very basic ideas escaped us in the workplace of the 20th Century.  Workers were told what to know and not provided with the opportunity to build their own knowledge.   Industrial democracy had no place in the mainstream workplaces and union education was limited to arming the workforce to defend against the oppressive employers.

In building the Participation model within CUSW we looked for guidance from both the written word and our personal experience to build a Constitution and structure that would ensure that members would have the ability to be free to build the organization that they want.  Reason, education, democracy, knowledge and personal experiences all contribute to the participation model that guides the direction of our Union at work and in our communities.   

In more modern times, authors such as Nel Noddings (2012) look at public education in the 21st Century “as a multi-aim enterprise in which schools must address needs in all three domains of life: home and family, occupational, and civic.”  At CUSW we extend this same logic beyond schools to a life-long learning approach that sets the stage for building the future in the place where we work, the quality of the life we share with our families, and the civil and social society that surrounds us. 

These three domains are not separate and the structure of our Constitution recognizes that they are linked.  CUSW members in the workplace are the same members that make up the Unit membership and the National Committees and the same people that contribute to the communities in which we live.  Understanding this link is critical to seeing how you can participate in all aspects of your life through your participation in CUSW. 

Many of the employers that operated their business in the 20th Century Industrial Complex still do not see a role for the workers in the development of the modern workplace or the society in which we live.  Workers in that model became a commodity just like any other resource that contributes to the production of the goods and services provided by these companies.  Workers were not asked to contribute their knowledge to the workplace and we didn’t. 

CUSW provides a structure that allows us as members to make the case that with an understanding of the world around us and the necessary skills and knowledge to affect how the next phase of work will unfold, that we can contribute and that we intend to do just that.  Through partnerships with our employers and groups such as the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association we can work with companies to define the needs of industry going forward while at the same time ensuring that our interests are included as part of the solutions. 

In 2012 we coined the phrase 20-20 Worker to describe a worker that is informed and that has a clear vision of the world around them.   To be successful in creating the future we want for ourselves and our families we need every member to be this 20-20 Worker.  With the help of the National Training and Education Committee and our many partners, such as MCI, we can develop and deliver the education, training and knowledge to make this vision come to life.  

– Joe Mulhall


Conflict and contradictions

CUSW was founded in 1999 with the vision of creating a new model of union that workers could rally around as we make our way to the New Economy.  CUSW represents a New Beginning.  It is too simplistic to suggest that this new beginning could take place simply by holding a Convention and implementing a new framework.  It is true that without having a Constitution in place that supports the new direction that there would be no vision to aim for. However it is not the framework that will drive the organizational changes that will make us a 21st Century Union.  It is the members.  There is no place that this is true more than in the workplace. 

For the past century, labour management relations have been built on the idea that the workforce and the employers have competing interests and that the workplace is the battleground where these differences are played out – Management Rights versus Workers’ Rights.  This battleground was not just a perception, it was a reality.  The primary goal of the enterprise was to maximize profits and maintain as much of the profit as possible.  The division of the profits was the end game of the workplace parties on both sides.  The attitudes of the workplace parties were molded by this approach of dividing the scarce resources.    

Still today we see this influence in the workplaces of many of our employers. The employers feel vulnerable to the pressures of the workforce and build management structures to defend against the potential of an assault on their power.  The workers feel that they have no voice and that they are not receiving their share of the spoils of the profits earned through the exploitation of their Human capital.  The workers are constantly looking for ways to extract either more financial benefits or more non-productive paid leisure time. It is in the context of this environment that we ask our workplace representatives to take on the role of implementing the goals of CUSW.

When we structured CUSW we were not naive or ignorant of these challenges as we moved to introduce our model of unionism.  We knew that members that were raised and groomed in the old industry would not change their attitudes overnight.  We expected pushback from some of the members as we introduced cooperation and supported value-added approaches to the way that work was organized. We knew that there would be demands by the workers on our workplace representatives to maintain a stance against the employers. We knew that there would be pressures to maintain the status quo. All of this has come true. Some members see a union that does not fight with the employer, as weak and not doing its job. Some representatives don’t know any other way. 

Employers that are still operating in the old industrial model do not want us involved in their workplace.  Working together is seen as letting the fox into the henhouse, and promoting the fight advances their agenda. They undermine our workplace representatives with their “management rights” style. They believe that if they can keep us in the fight they can continue to call us the enemy and justify not engaging us in the operation of the workplace.   These employers still believe that Unions are a 20th Century Institution that has long passed having any purpose in our society.  They completely miss the value of the union as the structure that provides for the members’ voices coming together to contribute to the success of the workplace. 

With all of these pressures on the day-to-day life in the workplace it is imperative that our members understand that we are united in moving past the barriers and into the future. We have agreed on a new union model. We have clearly defined the roles and have a set of values and beliefs to guide us. The members that step up to take the role as the workplace representative do so in the name of CUSW.  They need to know that they are speaking for all of us when they head off to implement our Constitution and the negotiated collective agreement.  They need the assurance that the membership is functioning in unity as we work towards a common goal.   

– Joe Mulhall

Managing Thought Change in the 21st Century

The Canadian Union of Skilled Workers is by definition a Union.  In 20th Century North America a Union would have been defined as:  An organization of workers formed to promote collective bargaining with employers over wages, hours, fringe benefits, job security, and working conditions. 

Cohesion amongst Union members was defined as Unity or Solidarity.  Connections between workers were directly related to the work that they performed.  Unions defined themselves as Steelworkers or Auto Workers or Electrical Workers.   Cohesion within the membership was connected to the common interests of workers that shared a workplace experience with each other.  The purpose of the Union  was to counterbalance the Power of  the Employer. Unions challenged Employers and the better they were at doing this, the more members  rallied around them.  The concept of the "big dog" was a defining role of these 20th Century Institutions. 

All of this changed with Globalization, technology change and the flight of Capital.  By the 1980's we began to be impacted by Free Trade Agreements.  Employers and the money that supported them began the migration to low cost alternatives. The era of Labour Relations strategies of Fight, Flight or Foster arrived in the workplace.

Cohesion within Union membership began to erode as workers realized that the concept of the "big dog" was no longer effective.  Many questioned the very need to have Unions.  If the Employers could avoid the Power of the Union then why have them at all?  Throughout North America workers abandoned Traditional Unions.   

This shift in thinking opened the opportunity for a broader discussion.  In his famous Best Seller book "What Do Unions Do", Richard Freeman (Harvard University) made a compelling argument that Unions are much more than Institutions that fight with employers.

Through extensive research, Freeman was able to show that Unions play a beneficial role in improving the workplace, increasing productivity, reducing economic inequality and stabilizing the work force.  Through this research Freeman showed that Unions have a far greater purpose than even most Unions realized. 

Building on this thinking CUSW has been able to build a Union that responds to the needs of members in the 21st Century.  A more modern definition of Union has emerged: A group of workers joined together in a specific type of organization for the purpose of improving their working conditions as well as to help in promoting the common interests of the group. The CUSW Constitution looks far beyond the workplace. This shift in thinking has provided the opportunity to build a role for workers to participate both in the workplace and in the community as we move forward into the 21st Century.

The shift to the 21st Century Union brings with it opportunity and with all opportunity comes challenge. As a group we are struggling to define Cohesion. We can no longer define Cohesion through the lens of a common front in the fight against employers. We can no longer define Cohesion around the type of work we do. Instead we look to define Cohesion around the needs of the Members and our families. We design our own Benefit Plans. We design our own Retirement Plans. We have implemented programs that let members choose how they want to participate in the operation of the Union and to work in the type of workplace that suits their interests and skills.

Although opportunities abound in this new reality there is a risk that Interests will consume the minds of the workers. This thinking could undermine Cohesion within CUSW.   Cohesion can be more specifically defined as the tendency for a group to be in unity while working towards a goal.

We are in a time of transition in the Economy, in the way that work is organized and in the way that we manage our relationships with the world of work. 

We are also in transition in the way that we define cohesion within the group.  To be successful in reaching our goal of becoming a 21st Century Union we must have a clear vision and understanding of Cohesion.

Our members are very creative and innovative in our approaches to Building for Tomorrow.  As we move towards this goal we will need to find unity within our group and move forward with that sense of cohesion.

We know who we are, we know where we want to get to and if we work together as a group there is no limit to what we can achieve.

– Joe Mulhall


Democratization – Democracy and Participation

The 21st Century in Canada brings with it a new era in the way that people interact with each other and with the world around them.  This phenomenon is seen in all aspects of our lives.  The Internet is a good example.  Before the Internet there was very little easily accessible access to information.  Today we have E-Health, on-line encyclopedia such as Wikipedia and access to the News and Weather with the touch of a few keystrokes.  We no longer need to rely on visits to the Doctor or the voice of a Professor to get the information we need to make good decisions about the world around us.  Life has changed.  We can consume information in a way and at a speed that could not have been imagined only 100 years ago.

This access to information has changed the way that we live.  Smart phones are everywhere.  People do their banking, watch movies, play games and even do their shopping on line.  The interface and reliance that we had on experts has been dramatically reduced.    As the methods of living our lives changes so does the dynamic between people.

People by definition are social beings.   We have a natural urge to interact with the community around us.  As our exposure and reliance on professionals and other experts has declined, our use of Internet tools such as Facebook and Twitter have grown in leaps and bounds.  Instead of getting the opinion of one Expert face to face, we can now connect with thousands instantaneously.   Groups such as LinkedIn allow people of like mind to meet and exchange ideas online.  Innovation Hubs where people come together are everywhere.  Crowd sourcing for development of new products is recognized as a legitimate method of engaging people to invest.  We are turning information into knowledge by doing what comes naturally - connecting with each other!!

People in the broader community have learned to participate in the New Economy in ways that improve their control over the choices that they make and the outcomes that they experience.  CUSW was formed for the purpose of providing an alternative 21st Century Union for workers.  We understood that the need to come together in the workplace to bargain collectively with employers had not changed, but that the methods for doing so needed to.

The CUSW Constitution embraces democratization of the Union through Participation as the key to changing the dynamics in the modern Union.   When we introduce Participation we ask members who have traditionally functioned in follower roles to adopt participatory roles.  Appointed Stewards that reported to the Union hierarchy now become elected Stewards that collaborate with other Stewards and members when seeking resolution to issues.  Elected representatives at all levels of the Union become, to one degree or another, partners or coaches or facilitators.

The results of such a transformation leads to the development of more dynamic communication networks and a shared sense of the "big picture" by members of the organization.   According to the research, an essential element of organizationally sponsored programs of Participation (CUSW Constitution) is a change in organizational member roles and corresponding changes in patterns of communication.   Instead of looking to the Head of the Union for answers and direction, we look to each other.    Role changes set the basis for a wide variety of other changes in micro processes that are associated with the move from a traditional to a participatory organization.

In making the transition to a Participatory Union we embrace the concept that, first and foremost, each of us has a role as a Member.  All of the other roles within the Union, at the Workplace or in the Community are an extension of the role of Member.   Each Member takes ownership of their role and adopts the perspective of an owner.   Information is made readily available and accessible.  Interactive discussions about values and end-goals occur on a frequent basis.These concepts are built into the CUSW structure.  We have clearly identified roles.  We have opened the doors to accessible information through the website.  We have provided the Units and Committees with the supports that they need to have in order to have interactive discussions that set end-goals and direction. We have communication tools such as the Innovation Station to replace the Union Experts.  Webpages and Portals are in place to encourage dialogue and assist in the definition of roles.   What next? – Connect with each other.

– Joe Mulhall

Union Security: Who benefits?

The Constitution of CUSW is built to provide for the direct involvement of the Members in the operation of the organization. 

When we built this structure it was with the understanding that we needed to bridge the gap between the “Union” as an Institution and the “Union” that is the members. 

The Laws that emerged from the struggle of Workers in the 20th Century – to gain recognition for the right to bargain collectively – were built to fit into the legal framework of Common Law and eventually Labour Law.

Unions are legal entities that can be held accountable under the Laws of Canada and the Provinces.  When members of a Union violate provisions of the Labour Law such as the “no strike” provision in the Labour Relations Act, the Employers and Government can take legal action against the Union as an “Institution” to correct this violation.

The very nature of the Laws that emerged to allow for the recognition of the right to bargain collectively also set the stage for a real or at least perceived division between the interests of the legal entity called the “Union” and the interests of the “Members” of the Union. 

The Constitution of CUSW is designed to overcome this divide.  The CUSW Constitution recognizes our legal obligations and the fact that these responsibilities must be serviced.  At the same time the Constitution recognizes that the members carry out these responsibilities.

Employers and other political interests have been successful in exploiting the divide between the interests of Members and the interests of Unions.

Members often make reference to the “Union” as something other than themselves.  A third party, out there somewhere.

We often hear voices saying “the Union did this or the Union did not do that”.  These voices are usually connected with people who do not believe that their interests are being represented in the activities of the Union and that they are powerless to cause change. 

At CUSW we have responded to this sense of division by providing members with the opportunity to engage directly in our Union at every level. Participation provides members the opportunity to directly influence the future of all of us.
In the workplace we have experienced this same type of divisive behaviour. The classic argument of Employers that dominated 20th Century labour-management relations centered on the battle for the “Hearts and Minds” of the workforce. 

Workers had won the right to bargain collectively, however Employers continued the fight to preserve their absolute Common Law Rights to manage the workplace. With the right to bargain enshrined in the Law, the battle line for Workers shifted to ensuring that Employers recognized member rights to participate in the Union at the workplace level.

Through legal challenges and collective bargaining, Workers expanded their involvement from activities outside the workplace to include recognition of employee’s rights at work.  Workers were eventually able to negotiate language in their collective agreements to guarantee members the right to join a Union without fear of repercussions from the Employers.  These clauses are called Union Security Clauses. 

A union security clause is a provision where employees must join the Union and remain as a member in good standing for the duration of the agreement. These clauses protect the member right to participate in the Union.  Employer coercion used to influence employees not to join Unions is neutralized by the mandatory provision.

The campaign of those that support the demise of the “trade union” and the right to bargain collectively has had some success in using the hard fought right to Union Security Clauses and compulsory dues deduction in driving a wedge between the members and the “unions” that represent them. 

They tap into the separation of interests between the Union and the members: “Why pay them?  They do nothing for you.”

The structure of CUSW is designed to counter this divisive strategy.  Union Representatives elected by their peers at the workplace level are in the position to bring forward the issues that respond to the needs of the members.

Employer efforts to play one off against the other fail as the interests of the members and their elected representatives are aligned. 

We have the right to participate and the support needed to do so. 

Make it work!!

– Joe Mulhall

Dues or Investment – Contributing to Building for Tomorrow

In 1999 a group of workers came together to form a “trade union” under the definition of the Labour Relations Act 1995 in the Province of Ontario.  The result of this meeting was the formation of CUSW as a trade union.

“Trade union” (Ontario LRA 1995) means an organization of employees formed for purposes that include the regulation of relations between employees and employers and includes a provincial, national, or international trade union, a certified council of trade unions and a designated or certified employee bargaining agency.

The founding meeting was only the first step in becoming a recognized “trade union” for the purpose representing members.  In 2002 CUSW made an application for a Certification to represent the workers at Langley Utilities. This application required that we prove to the Labour Relations Board that we had a Constitution in place that conformed to the requirements of the Law, that we had an elected Executive Board to oversee the operation of the union and that we had the financial ability to carry out the responsibilities that come with taking on the representation of members. 

We very seldom discuss the test of “financial ability” to carry out the duties required by the Law. We simply take it for granted. 

In the early days of union development in Canada the struggle was over the right to bargain collectively.  The Employers had the luxury of using profits earned from the labour of the workforce in their employ to finance the fight against those same Workers being granted the right to bargain collectively.  The Workers had little food and no savings so the only tool that they had to balance the financial power of the Employers was to withdraw their labour.  The right to bargain collectively was eventually gained through the use of these illegal, sometimes violent Recognition Strikes.  

Over time the right to bargain collectively was legally recognized.  The Law that emerged was based on the concept that there must be an organization in place to manage these rights.  In Canada the Law clearly states that there must be a “trade union” structure in place before workers can gain the legal right to bargain collectively.  The effectiveness of these organizations is directly connected to their “financial ability” to carry out the role granted by the “certification.”

Employers lost the battle over the workers legal right to bargain collectively, but the war against organized labour continued.  The Employers recognized that, if these “trade unions” had no access to funding, they would be ineffective and that workers would abandon them.  The strategy worked.  Many of the early unions failed during their first strike. There was no money to support the organization and in effect they went bankrupt.  The Workers response was to demand that a portion of their salary be sent to the “trade union” to fund the operating cost. 

It took until 1946 before Canadian Supreme Court Judge Ivan Rand settled a strike over this issue with a decision that introduced for the first time the right to have a portion of salary sent to the “trade union” that represented them. This became known as the “Rand Formula”

In summary he concluded: “I consider it entirely equitable,” wrote Rand, “that all employees should be required to shoulder their portion of the burden of expense for administering the law of their employment, the union contract [the collective agreement].”  (Ivan Rand 1946)

The result of this Arbitration decision has provided Workers with the “financial ability” that they need to represent themselves through the “trade union” as required by the Law. Over time, Legislation in Canada and the Provinces has evolved to include language that supports the principle set out by Ivan Rand.  
In Ontario, the Labour Relations Act reads:   “Deduction and remittance of union dues –  47.  (1) Except in the construction industry and subject to section 52, where a trade union that is the bargaining agent for employees in a bargaining unit so requests, there shall be included in the collective agreement between the trade union and the employer of the employees a provision requiring the employer to deduct from the wages of each employee in the unit affected by the collective agreement, whether or not the employee is a member of the union, the amount of the regular union dues and to remit the amount to the trade union, forthwith.”

When we founded CUSW it was with the view that we would have to balance the interests of CUSW members against this legal institution called CUSW the “trade union”.  We understood that the Employers had not abandoned their fight to restrict Workers from having a say in collective bargaining.  We knew that there would be a continued attack on the concept called the “trade union”. We knew that there would be a day when “Right to Work” or the threat to eliminate the “Rand Formula” would arrive on our doorstep.   
The participation model that is contained in the CUSW Constitution was built to ensure that every member can see themselves as the Union. 

The right to make financial contributions from our salary to support our “trade union” was a hard fought battle.  When Employers and other political interests attempt to undermine CUSW by trying to cut off the funding needed to maintain our “financial ability” to meet our obligations we can look at what we have built together and not allow ourselves to be duped by those that would benefit from our demise.

When we were challenged to prove “financial ability” in the application for status for CUSW-BC, we were able to use the Audited Financial Statement of CUSW to win the case. 

Our Union, our Money, our Future.

– Joe Mulhall 

Structure to Form or Form to Structure?

Who cares? At CUSW we just make it work

The structure of the CUSW Constitution has been built piece by piece by members over a number of Conventions.  We have aligned the way that CUSW is structured with the Laws of Canada and the Provinces while at the same time taking into consideration the advancement of Civil and Social Society.  We have designed CUSW to be “open” to the changes in the Economic, Civil and Social environment around us while at the same time setting clear expectations about how we respond to these influences.  The Constitution, in Article 2, sets out the objectives that we are committed to.

The “Objects” of CUSW include:

Legal requirements such as – regulate the relations between employers and employees; enter into collective agreements; refer members to employment; promote gender and ethnic equity in the workplace and in the Union. 

Civil Society requirements such as – encourage progressive legislation; build, maintain and protect democratic trade unions and employers; maintain CUSW as a free and democratic Union; maintain Canada as a free and democratic country.

Social Society requirements such as – provide health, safety, social, economic and political benefits to members and retirees; improve political, social, economic conditions of CUSW members and the people of Canada; assist any persons or organizations with demonstrated need; organize unorganized workers; provide an opportunity for every worker to join a free and democratic union.


The structure of our Union is designed based on the lessons learned by the struggles of the “Workers” who came before us, as well as by insight into the local and global environment that is moulding the future ahead of us.

As members we have taken the time to understand that being a worker is not just about going to work and we have designed our Union to respond to this broader responsibility.  

We have also taken the time to ensure that as we move forward in implementing our objectives that we will maintain our connection to our purpose by having membership participation in all parts of the organization.

The decision to move from a top down, command control service provider union model to the participation model was discussed and debated at the CUSW Convention in 2012.  The Delegates confirmed this direction was the right approach for realizing our goals and committed to taking the Participation Model message back to their workplaces.

The implementation of the Participation Model has caused a healthy discussion within the membership as we implement the roles outlined in the Constitution.  Some of the current CUSW members moved to CUSW from an American Style of unionism and are struggling to understand the roles and responsibilities of the CUSW Model.  They have a predetermined definition of “union” and CUSW does not fit with their expectation. Many others of our members have come to us through apprenticeship or through recruiting and are not familiar with the operation of unions at all.

The debate can be confusing, however if we focus our attention on the defined objectives of our union, it all fits nicely into place.
When we are electing representatives we first have to look at the purpose of the position and the role they are taking on. 

From a Legal perspective CUSW must fulfill the requirements outlined by the Legislation and the Charter. The President and First Vice President must oversee the legal obligations of the Union at the same time as being responsible to participate as part of the NEB in implementing the Civil and Social requirements of the Constitution. 

The NEB must provide oversight and Governance of the Legal operation of CUSW at the same time as they oversee the implementation of the Objects of the Constitution outlined above.  
The Units provide the opportunity for members to come together outside the workplace. The elected Unit representatives oversee this mandate while at the same time providing the coordination of organizing, training, grievance committees and other supports that contribute to the success of members and CUSW as a whole.

National Committees contribute to policy development on behalf of members while at the same time promoting Civil and Social policy that will benefit our members. 

In the workplace, members are responsible for day-to-day life at the workplace.  These members elect their workplace representatives to fulfill the Legal responsibilities required by rules and Legislation.  
Going full circle the members on the NEB are responsible to ensure that all of the parts are working together to advance the interests of the members and their families.
We are all in this together and when we all pull together there is no confusion.  As workers we have centuries of experience on which to plan our future.  We just need to Participate.

– Joe Mulhall
“Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.”
– Immanuel Kant

CUSW at Work in the Workplace, Pt. 2

The CUSW Constitution is built to provide a forum where like-minded people can come together in an open and democratic environment for the purpose of advancing the interests of workers and society as a whole. We built CUSW this way by design. This very same approach can be used when it comes to working with our Employers.

The early years of workers gaining recognition by employers were not easy for the workforce that came before us. In a recent Supreme Court of Canada case (BC Health Services) the Supreme Court Judges took the opportunity to write a very good history of the struggle that workers had to endure to gain the right to bar- gain collectively in Canada.

Quote from Supreme Court Decision:

“In summary, workers in Canada began forming collectives to bargain over working conditions with their employers as early as the 18th century. However, the common law cast a shadow over the rights of workers to act collectively. When Parliament first began recogniz- ing workers’ rights, trade unions had no express statutory right to negotiate collectively with employers. Employers could simply ignore them. However, workers used the powerful economic weapon of strikes to gradually force employers to recognize unions and to bargain collectively with them. By adopting the Wagner Act model, governments across Canada recognized the fundamental need for workers to participate in the regulation of their work environment. This legislation confirmed what the labour movement had been fighting for over centuries and what it had access to in the laissez-faire era through the use of strikes – the right to collective bargaining with employers.”

In addition to the right to bargain collectively, the Law that confirmed worker’s rights in Canada called PC 1003 introduced a way to bring harmony to the workplace that could not be at- tained naturally through worker/ employer relationships. The Law had to be put in place to force the employers to recognize the rights of the workers.

Quote from Supreme Court Decision:

“P.C. 1003 was a compromise adopted to promote peaceful labour relations. On the one hand, it granted major protections to workers to organize without fear of unfair interference from the employers and guaranteed workers the right to bargain collectively in good faith with their employers without having to rely on strikes and other economic weapons. On the other hand, it provided employers with a measure of stability in their relations with their organized workers, without the spectre of intensive state intervention in the economy (Fudgeand Glasbeek, at p. 370). These elements of P.C. 1003 continue to guide our system of labour relations to this day (Adams, at pp. 2-98 et seq.).”

In addition to the right to bargain collectively the Law also recognized the right to come together and form unions for the purpose of collective bar- gaining with their employers. This was a major breakthrough and one that has continued to be recognized in our Society and in fact was strengthened by The Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was adopted by the Government of Canada in 1982.

Quote from Supreme Court Decision:

“Collective bargaining, despite early discouragement from the common law, has long been recognized in Canada. Indeed, historically, it emerges as the most significant collective activity through which freedom of association is expressed in the labour context. In our opinion, the concept of freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Char- ter [page433] includes this notion of a procedural right to collective bargaining.”

The right to join a union, the right to participate in the regulation of the work environment and the right to bargain collectively are all a fundamental part of the Canadian Society. The members
in every one of our bargaining units has the legally recognized right to sit down with their employer in “good faith” to set the workplace conditions that affect them. This is a right that was won through centuries of hard fought battles. Every one of you as members has a right to participate in your workplace. Exercising
this right is a responsibility that we owe to ourselves and to our families.

Members take on a new role as they add value to the employer. Collective Bargaining joins the individual members together through “bargaining rights” and provides the mechanism to ensure that the value created is shared to the benefit of the workforce. The ability to negotiate is contained in the skills of the workers and not from the monopoly power of the union. This approach allows our mem- bers to transcend the economic restructuring of the economy as it evolves around us. Please read your collective agreement and when the time comes add your voice to the future.

– Joe Mulhall



CUSW at Work in the Workplace

Over the last couple of months we have been electing the Workplace Stewards and H&S Representatives in all of the bargaining units that we represent within CUSW, for the next 3-year term.  In keeping with our desire to promote participation in the governance model within CUSW, the process of managing these elections was carried out by the workplace participants.

Each workplace selected an Election Judge and the National H&S Committee and National Executive Board set out some clear expectations of the duties for those who decided to take on the role as elected representatives.  There was confusion at some of the workplaces.  There were some demands from members to implement a centralized process managed by the National Executive Board or the geographic Units, however for the most part, the Members jumped in and made the election process a success.  We are making Progress. 

“Progress” is a word that conjures up many possible visions and interpretations. The dictionary definitions of progress are very broad and varied. In general terms the word progress means “Movement, as toward a goal.” Another way to express the concept of progress is simply “to advance.” From our start point back in 1999 we have been slowly moving towards the implementation of the CUSW Constitution that we set in place to guide our direction. The Constitution sets the values and beliefs that we rely on every day as we move towards our goal of being a 21st Century union.

It is in the workplace that our vision of member participation connects with our legal rights to redefine how we contribute to the relationship with our employers. In our 21st Century Union model, the elected representatives at the workplace are the legal face of the “union” as defined by the Labour legislation and Charter Rights implemented in the 20th Century. At the same time these same elected representatives are responsible for implementing the values, beliefs and principles outlined in our Constitution. These two concepts are directly connected.  As we move forward to exercise our goal of increased voice in the day-to-day operation of the workplace, we must do so with our beliefs and values clearly at the forefront.
This approach is very different than the “service provider” unions of the 20th Century. 

The “Institution” called the Union would come to the workplace with the role of defining the relationship between the employer and the workers. Workers would pay dues and Unions would provide “union representatives” to manage the relationship with the employers.  This created an “us and “them” environment. This “model” was useful as workers moved from the Master and Servant rules flowing out of Common Law to the Industrial Democracy relationship that Employment Law provides us with today.  The “Institutional’ model was a response to the circumstance of the day but it is not the answer for the modern workplace. 

Moving forward with implementing the Legislative purpose of providing workers in industry with the sense of worth, of freedom and of participation that Employment law was meant to provide is the work that we as members of CUSW have set out to bring to life.  The first step in this process is in mobilizing the workforce behind the concept of managing their own destiny. 

Asking the workplace to manage the election of the workplace representatives is a real example of this process in action.  The workers selected the Election Judge themselves from the people in their workplace. The Election Judge set the rules for the election based on the size of the workplace and access to voting opportunities. 

The elections were conducted in a completely open process for all to see and participate in.  There was no external union influence or interference in the selection process. The workers were able to participate in all aspects of this democratic process. 

The key for the workers in the implementation of workplace democratic principles is to recognize that they have the right to a voice in the operation of the workplace and that they have much to contribute to the success of the workplace.

A review of the written literature on workplace level responses towards 20th Century employer Labour Relations strategies reveals that an “informal work culture” emerged in almost all workplaces that ran parallel to the employer management system. Through this “informal work culture”, workers built the opposition and drove the change that resulted in recognition of a formal voice through the recognition of “unions”.

The 21st Century workforce needs to embrace the idea that they no longer have to participate through informal means and that they can come together in the workplace and contribute to the operation of the workplace out in the open.  

CUSW will be moving forward with initiatives to have this level of participation included in the day-to-day operation of the workplace relationship with the employers. We know that this process will take time to implement and that there will be some resistance both from employer’s middle managers and from those of our members who have benefitted from the employer’s Common Law Governance style. 

The members will need to overcome an entrenched workplace culture that uses rewards and punishment to mold behaviours that we have no voice in setting. In the future we will have a voice in setting the behaviour and expectations of the workplace as it impacts on the members and the success of the employers.

– Joe Mulhall

CUSW in the Workplace

When we set out to build CUSW back in 1999, we established some very clear goals.  We wanted to create a union where the members would set the direction of the organization; we wanted to create a path to jobs; and we wanted to have a voice in the day to day operation of the workplace. To accomplish these goals we would need to build a new kind of union. We would need to define what a union could become in the 21st Century.

When we started on this path 15 years ago we looked very much like any other union in the construction industry. Most of the members who joined CUSW in the early years did not join because they wanted to participate in building a new modern Union in Canada. In fact most of the members joined CUSW to gain access to the jobs that flowed out of our closed shop collective agreement language. New applicants saw CUSW as a way to get to a job with good wages. Joining CUSW provided the door to a paycheque. The "business union" mentality of the American Parent unions prevailed in the industry and it was all that we had to measure against.  

In the Old Economy workers conceded control of the workplace to the employers. We accepted the thinking that "management has the right to manage" as the gospel of the workplace. The focus of workers, union or non-union, was on the fight over wages and conditions. Workplace energy was spent trying to force the employer to provide a safe and healthy workplace where the profits earned through our labour were shared with the workers. The employer's energy was spent maintaining control over the bargaining power of the workforce.  The result was a battle for the "hearts and minds of the workforce".  Employers would try to convince workers that there was no need for a union.  Unions would try to convince the workers that the "Union" was the path to better wages and conditions. In the end, workers were being pulled in opposite directions and the workplace culture broke down into an "us and them" struggle. 

The conflicts that arose from 20th Century Labour Relations set the ground for the move in a new direction.  With the Legislated recognition that workers had the right to bargain collectively, also came the concept of worker voice and a new legal framework called "Employment Law".  When workers recognize a union to represent them in their employment relationship, a transition in legal rights takes place for those workers that does not exist in a non-union workplace. 

The distinction between Common Law and Employment Law are concepts that are not well understood in our society. Where there is no recognized union, the employment relationship between a worker and an employer is governed by Common Law and specifically the "Master and Servant Act".  In this relationship the worker takes direction from the employer and the employer retains the uncontested right to define the employment relationship.  This includes the right to hire and fire, to set conditions for health and safety and to set employee compensation in accordance with legal standards. Individuals do have Common Law rights to challenge the actions of the employer but the right to challenge is limited to court action.

Employment Law redefines the employment relationship.  The uncontested rights of the employers found under Common Law are "fettered" or tempered.  When employees join together to form a union they are given a legal voice in the employment relationship.  This legal right to voice does not exist in Common Law. By joining together through the union, the workers gain the right to have a voice in the terms and conditions that impact them in the workplace.  This can be accomplished through collective bargaining or other workplace committees as agreed to by the parties. By joining a union employees gain the right to negotiate over the policies that govern their workplace including Health and Safety, skills upgrading, harassment and Code of Conduct. This legal right to voice also allows workers to have the right to negotiate about the work activities that they participate in and contribute to every day in the workplace.

It is in this area that 20th Century Unions failed to make any significant progress.  Back in 1999 we understood that it was time for unions to move past the "fight" and to exercise the rights that were won during the struggle. CUSW set this as one of our goals.  With our emphasis on participation and the democratization at the Union level we have made great progress in implementing our goals of internal governance at the Committee and Unit levels. It is now time to move forward with the same approach in the Workplace. With the emergence of the New Economy there is now more opportunity than ever for participation in determining the way that work is organized. With our "voice" we can overcome the "us and them" mentality, contribute to the success of the employers and enrich the satisfaction of our members.

It is time to embrace the sense of worth and freedom that comes with joining a union.  We have the Knowledge and we have the right to voice, we are no longer Servants.  It is time to step up and accept our responsibility.   

Definition:  The master and servant relationship only arises when the tasks are performed by the servant under the direction and control of the master and are subject to the master's knowledge and consent.

– Joe Mulhall

“Union Members” in an Information Economy

The idea of having a legal structure called a “Union” or a “Trade Union” is a relatively new concept. The idea of people coming together to share their skills and to contribute those skills to creating successful communities is not new.

This practice goes back to Medieval Times and the Guilds. In the micro economies of those times people found ways of working together to leverage on success. This is what we do as people. We build Civil and Social Society. The concept of a “Union” or a “trade union” is an evolution of building a Civil (legal) Society around Social Values.

The History of workers in Canada is filled with labour unrest and violence.  The British writer and economist Adam Smith introduced the concept of the “Invisible Hand of the Market” in the late 1700’s.  His idea was that economic development is driven by the Law of Supply and Demand. Only the “Market” could determine what was being produced and the price that we would be willing to pay for it.  In his perfect world there would be no need for laws or rules to regulate these so called “naturally occurring” controls over the allocation of “scarce resources”.  This concept of supply and demand applied in the same way to the people that were involved in the production of the goods and services.  The “Market” determined what skills were in demand at any given time. In this economic model there would be no need for laws or rules to balance out the relationship between work and those who performed it.  In theory, workplace issues come into balance as market pressures bear down on the demand for Labour. 

Economic development in Canada in the late 1800’s showed the flaws in this theory.  Mining and other high risk industries emerged in Canada in response to demands from Europe and Britain. Corporations controlled the market for labour as the immigrating population looked to feed themselves and their families. Corporations used their economic power to impose long hours, low wages and unsafe workplaces. Workers had no recourse to counter these conditions.  A review of Labour history between 1880 and late 1930’s reveals decades of violent clashes as workers fought with both public and private police forces to bring balance to the workplace relationship. Over time, Civil Society began to take hold in Canada and to implement the rules and regulations that we have come to take for granted today.

The theory of the “Invisible Hand of the Market” prevails as we move forward into the 21st Century. On this front nothing has changed.  Unions that emerged in response to the behaviour of the unscrupulous employers of the 19th and 20th Centuries are considered by some as a restriction on the ability to stimulate the “Market” and create growth. Federal and Provincial governments are calling for the removal of the rules and regulations that created the workplace balance during the 20th Century.  We are being told that “free market capitalism” is the answer to creating growth and jobs and that workers need to support these policies and not interfere.  The mantra of “Right to Work” has emerged as a cry from the Corporations that are seeking to satisfy their quest for profit.  As workers and union members we know better than this.    

The battles of the 20th Century have been fought and we need to learn from our experience. As recently as 1969 we were still forced to resort to “wildcat strikes” to resolve workplace issues. This is not a part of History that needs to be repeated. There is however a part of History that needs to be continued.  As we move forward into the New Economy we will need to continue the quest of building a Civil and Social Society.  As workers we can make a meaningful contribution to this quest by coming together to share our knowledge and skills with each other and by contributing those skills to creating safe and productive workplaces within successful communities.

Unions in the 21st Century will need to change. It is time to move forward to the next phase in our evolution. The concept of the Knowledge worker participating in a Knowledge economy includes a role for a 21st Century Union. Embrace it.

Quote from Charles Darwin:
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”

– Joe Mulhall

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