Union dues blues

Published on December 24, 2011
Gus Doyle is the president of the Carpenters' Union Local 579. - Telegram file photo.

Though it may be a common rule for unions across North America, a member of the Carpenters' Union Local 579 believes it is unfair to be taken off a call list for work for being involved with multiple unions.

Keith Carew of Witless Bay completed a scaffolding course at the Carpenters Millwrights College in Paradise in 2009 and joined the union shortly thereafter. The college was established in part by the union in 1996.

Carew, now 24, waited for the union to help him find work, but nothing came immediately, and with a mortgage to pay on his home and a family to help look after, he felt pressure to find employment.

"When you just finish a trade, you always hear about how these guys did it last year, and they're out working now. I expected to get work, but I got nothing from the union. I didn't even get a call. The only time I heard from the union was when they wanted money."

He found a job in Alberta in March 2010 on a site handled by the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). Taking the job resulted in Carew paying dues to that union while also continuing to cover dues owed to Local 579.

"To me, it's food on the table and heat in my home and money for my son to go to school," he said. "For me it's not about supporting the union. It's about getting my bills paid."

In June of this year, a representative from Local 579 contacted Carew to offer him a job in Newfoundland and Labrador. However, he was now on his first day back in Alberta, and could not afford to head straight back home after investing in his trip out west, so he chose to decline the job offer.

"They do have the right to bump me down the list, but I don't think they have the right to take my name off that list," he said. "I paid my union dues for those three years, even though I had no work."

Carew was unexpectedly laid off from work in July, and since then he has remained in Witless Bay looking for opportunities. He would periodically call the office of Local 579 to inquire about the availability of jobs.

In November, Carew learned he was number 28 on the list for work, and he later heard more hirings had been made to build the commercial nickel processing plant in Long Harbour. This gave Carew hope he would soon have a job.

But a phone conversation with a representative from the union two weeks ago informed Carew if he had turned down work in the past, he would get bumped down the list.

Carew thought that would be his slap on the wrist, but 10 minutes later, he received another call from that person, who then told Carew he was off the list altogether and would remain so until he had severed all ties with CLAC.

Carew said he has more than $3,000 in RRSPs through CLAC.

"I was paying two sets of union dues, and all for now - for the boom in Newfoundland (with) the Long Harbour project and all the work that's coming. And now they're denying me, even though I paid all that money."

Local 579 president Gus Doyle said as established by the union constitution, which dates back to 1883, a union member cannot pay dues to more than one union.

"He's in violation of the constitution," said Doyle. "It's the standard practice in all unions right across North America."

Carew contends such an arrangement is not fair. For now, he intends to enjoy the holidays with his family and hope a work opportunity presents itself in 2012.

arobinson@thetelegram.com Twitter: TeleAndrew