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The Labatt Blues


A former Labatt's brewery worker writes:-
I am a 30 year member of the Brewery Workers' Union - Local 300. I recently joined the Members for Democracy open forum web site and was provided with a link to your site -and I am impressed! I think you're right in keeping the focus of the site confined to the issue of multi-tier wage practices -a discriminatory practice that needs to be discredited, absolutely.

However, why limit your criticism to Molson's Vancouver plant? As a member of Local 300, you are undoubtedly aware that multi-tier systems are in place at Labatt as well as B.D.L. Hell, B.D.L has a whole division called the Bottlesort, whose workers are treated more like indentured serfs than valued members of the Union. And that brings me to the matter of what's really lacking in your web-site: there appears to be no real criticism or really even any mention of the Union's role in this business of unequal pay/rights. In your many discourses on the subject you consistently fail to mention one very important fact: that the terms of employment you are so opposed to have been time and again negotiated and agreed to by your very Union and its former Business Agent, Rick Sutherland.

Your failure to point the finger to where the blame for two-tier wage discrimination in our industry rightly belongs, is conspicuous by its very absence. The fact of the matter is the Union plays a crucial role in facilitating the Employer's desires. Never forget, the Union is in business with the Employer. Hence the need for a Business Agent.

Anyway, the site looks good and you are to be commended for bringing to light the need to change a discriminatory practice that compromises the rights of us all.

As Dr. Martin Luther King once said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".

Nick Hughes
N.Delta, B.C.

NoMoreTiers replies:
Thanks for your letter and the compliments Nick

I was glad to hear that you were referred to this site from Members for Democracy [now defunct], I consider it to be amongst the most progressive and helpful labour sites on the web today.

Why is my criticism limited to MOLSON?
Actually its not, but I'm sure it seems that way. I work at MOLSON, so this is the place at which two-tierism, personally and directly, affects me and my fellow workers. Furthermore although I am aware of similar problems elsewhere, I don't have first hand knowledge and experience of these problems, I don't have the details. So when I talk about MOLSON I can speak with some authority, because I have lived the problem there, and have the documentation, I can know absolutely that I am speaking god's honest truth and that's important to me because it means that I can provide a good defense against charges of slander or libel. So when I talk about specific problems, I talk about what I know, but I'm sure the majority of my readers are aware that the problem is pervasive across North America, if not the world.

Which is one of the reasons why I'm excited when I get letters like yours, because if (with your permission) I can publish it, it gives visitors to nomoretiers another first-hand window into the rest of the world, and demonstrates the reality of the problem, and that I'm not just some isolated crank dealing with an isolated irrelevancy.

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Who's to blame for all this two-tierism?
I am. When I look in the mirror every morning I see a union man, a union man who suffered under this crass two-tier system for about three years without raising a peep, and when I started complaining and talking about it and agitating for change, I obviously didn't complain, talk or agitate loud enough or often enough. Because when the next contract was negotiated (under a new business agent, incidentally) nothing substantially changed. Sure there were some minor improvements in terms of benefits for "seasonals" but the recently government mandated pension plan for "seasonals" was substantially reduced, so the new contract was basically an affirmation of the two-tier system.

This whole two-tier thing is really a solidarity issue, it's about unions loosing their way and forgetting that the terms brother and sister are terms synonymous with equality. If unions were meant to be hierarchies and this familial metaphor was expanded, then senior members would be known as father or mother and junior member would be called sons or daughters, this may sound amusing but it's true.

So when I see all the class collaboration that goes on, I have to ask myself: If I want to be an agent of change, if I want to make a difference, is it better to verbally castigate my fellow workers and risk merely alienating them, or try and persuade them with rational argument? My personal choice is the latter one.

Now, I do not mean to imply that this approach is right for everyone or for every circumstance, for example if a worker has suffered personally from the actions and abuse of either their employer or union leadership, arising from carelessness, collusion, maliciousness or incompetence, then one would not have any choice but to meet the problem head on, because in such a case one is not so much seeking to change policy, even though this may be an included factor, but rather seeking redress for personal insult and injury resulting from specific actions.

In Solidarity,
John Barker


Update : Sept. 2007
It is now more than 3 years since Nick Hughes and I exchanged the correspondence that resulted in this brief article. However Nick continues to prove admirably tenacious and, despite set backs, continues with his struggle for justice. Originally the article included links to the (now defunct) Members for Democracy website, in which Nick went into greater detail with regard to his grievances with Labbat brewery, Brewery Workers local 300, and the business agent at the time (Chuck Puchmayr, now an MLA in the B.C. legislature). Although I removed the original (now broken) links, those who are interested in learning more about his fascinating case might do well to check out the following (still current) links.

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May 2004 (footnote Sept 2007)