First FFA Collective Agreement Restricts Workers Democratic rights

On November 5, 2007 the CAW and Magna International signed their first Collective Agreement under the terms of the Framework of Fairness Agreement (FFA). Most of the anti-democratic features of the FFA have been incorporated into the collective agreement which was ratified overwhelmingly by the workers at Magna’s Windsor Modules plant with one important exception regarding the selection process for the Employee Advocates. Each plant will still only have one union representative, called an Employee Advocate. However, unlike the original FFA, the collective agreement clearly stipulates that only bargaining unit members will be involved in the process by which the short list of applicants is determined.

While management may not have any direct influence on who is chosen to be Employee Advocate it can effectively veto any attempts by CAW members to change the undemocratic system of representation which has been incorporated into the collective agreement. One of the many unique features of the Magna agreement is that it incorporates fundamentally undemocratic practices into the collective agreement. Not only does the collective agreement place significant restrictions on union representation, it also establishes a process that eliminates the right of workers to run for office and elect their representatives. Since these provisions of the collective agreement can only be changed with the permission of management of Magna it means that the employer will be able to veto any future attempts to democratize the process.

The process will work as follows. Each Magna facility will have a union – management consultative committee called The Fairness Committee. The purpose of this committee is to facilitate the resolutions of disputes and build a positive and productive work environment. Fifty percent plus one of the members of this committee are to be “non-managerial” members which are selected by the workers by secret vote. These are the only individuals that Magna workers can elect and the FFA clearly states that these individuals “are not union representatives nor does their role include the representation of employees.”

Like the FFA the collective agreement restricts union representation to one individual called an Employee Advocate. This person is not elected by anyone. Workers that want to “run” for the position of Employee Advocate will submit an application to a sub committee of the plant’s Fairness Committee, comprised of bargaining unit members. These individuals will interview the applicants and forward three names to the Assistant to the President of the CAW who will make the final decision.

Under the FFA it has been agreed that the Employee Advocates will also constitute the executive council of the single amalgamated CAW local which will represent all CAW Magna workers. These Employee Advocates will elect the local executive including the local President. Thus it is the Assistant to the President of the CAW who will ultimately determine the pool of members who will be eligible to stand for office and also elect the local executive.

It is impossible to reconcile this process with the Code of Ethical Practices, included in the Constitution of the Canadian Labour Congress, which states that all union members have the right to take part fully and freely in their union, vote for their officers and stand for and hold office, subject only to fair qualifications uniformly imposed.

The collective agreement also contains some new provisions which do not appear in the original FFA. Not only is there a prohibition of strikes and lockouts. In the collective agreement the union and management have agreed that any employee who participates in any activity that impedes the operation of the business shall be subject to immediate dismissal.

There is also a letter of understanding called “Depoliticization of the Work Environment”. It states that both CAW and Magna recognize and agree that “activities in a division that politicize or polarize the workplace have the potential to disrupt the operations and create a negative work environment.” It commits the union to ensure that no such activities take place.

Although the first collective agreement signed under the FFA has corrected the problem concerning direct employer interference in the selection of union representatives it has also entrenched a very undemocratic process and provides Magna management with the power to veto future attempts to change it. •

Geoff Bickerton is a member of CUPE 1979 and labour columnist for Canadian Dimension.