The United Steelworkers will end its support of a fledging taxi union unless the group's president quits the organization.
In a bluntly worded letter, a senior USW official told Ontario Taxi Workers Union (OTWU) president Ejaz Butt there's no future for the alliance after Butt alleged USW leaders made "secret" payments to members of the taxi union board of directors.
"The false and misleading statements you have now made … confirm for us that you have completely abandoned any claim to represent and defend the interests of taxi drivers in Hamilton," wrote Mark Rowlinson, assistant to USW national director Ken Neuman. "Clearly the OTWU will have to resolve its internal issues. However, I wish to make it very clear that … the Steelworkers will have no future relationship with OTWU if you continue to be involved with the organization."
Formed in 2011, the taxi union is governed by a 12-member board, including four directors from each of Hamilton's two taxi companies plus a four-member executive. United Steelworkers provide legal and bargaining support under a service agreement. The OTWU has more than 1,000 members in Hamilton.
Butt's future with the taxi union he helped form in 2009 could be decided Tuesday night in a pair of union meetings. In the first, he will be asked to defend against charges he repeatedly breached the union constitution, including by unilaterally dissolving the board of directors and calling new elections. In the second meeting, the union's membership will be asked to endorse his leadership or a motion removing him from office.
Under the United Steelworkers' deal, the senior union offers its experience in bargaining and enforcing collective agreements, union-building through training and education, consulting around harassment and discrimination, and health and safety issues such as workers' compensation consultation, training and appeals.
Losing the support of the Steelworkers could be a crippling blow for OTWU and comes at a time when taxi drivers are desperate for a body to represent their concerns on safety issues and the precarious financial state of their industry.
The agreement includes ensuring OTWU leaders are paid wages they lose while on union business such as negotiating a collective agreement. Those cheques are processed through the USW system. Under that system, four directors of the union, who are also members of the team negotiating a collective agreement with Hamilton Cab, were paid $1,260 in lost wages.
"While we do not wish to get directly involved in the internal politics of the OTWU, we cannot watch idly by while you attempt to mischaracterize compensation for lost income made by the USW as a means to dismiss these democratically elected bargaining committee members.," Rowlinson wrote.
"(Y) ou are now using the existence of this compensation for lost time as a pretext for launching a vendetta against these individuals in an attempt to exclude them from OTWU. We simply … cannot tolerate the misuse of our mechanisms as a pretext for such an attack."
Rowlinson said Butt knew about that practice since 2011, but only started claiming dark motives for it in March of this year when disputes about his leadership style erupted. In an interview last week, Butt said he was so shocked to discover those payments he had to dissolve the union board and call new elections.
In a reply to Rowlinson, Butt said the money should have been paid to the union first and then distributed to members. He also dismissed the USW threat as simply another move in a campaign of "continuous and constant undue pressure" to force the taxi drivers to accept changes to the service agreement by "secretly distributing" money to some directors.
905-526-3496 | @arnoldatTheSpec