No union dues? No problem.
Enter Unifaith, Unifor’s latest community chapter and unofficial union. Unifaith launched in mid-January and is comprised of clergy and faith workers belonging to the United Church of Canada, which currently employs about 2,500 workers.
Robin Wardlaw, president of Unifaith and a Toronto-based reverend, said United Church members have considered organizing for years now, but saw the community chapter as a means to validate that process and inch closer toward eventual certification.
"The union can come to my aid if I’m in difficulty at my church and feeling that there is no one there for me. I can call on the union and someone can be with me through the difficult, sometimes lengthy, sometimes expensive process," Wardlaw said, adding he hopes the new chapter will break down isolation between clergy members.
As part of its organization efforts, Unifaith intends to put an end to what it says is a culture of harassment and bullying throughout the church, improve communication between current and incoming members, deal with job security concerns and eventually beef up the vocation itself through a universal certification process akin to those for doctors and engineers.
Though a community chapter still falls under Unifor’s constitution, it is a separate entity. For instance, its members do not pay traditional union dues, but rather a stagnated amount ($5 per month for wage earners, $10 per month for salary earners). Though Unifor collects, it does not allocate the money — where the funds go is decided by the chapter itself. Nor do members in a community chapter all fall under one blanket employer — it can be made up of workers in a specific employment condition, such as cashiers or farmers.
While the community chapter concept is hardly a novel one, it leaves plenty of room for interpretation and flexibility. The United Steelworkers union, for instance, introduced an associate member program back in the early 2000s in an attempt to foster community action.
Back in Canada, Unifor’s only other national community chapter is the Canadian Freelance Union, a former Communications, Energy and Paperworkers local which became a community chapter after Unifor was created.
Roxanne Dubois, Unifor’s community chapter co-ordinator, said this is one method by which non-traditional and precarious workers can organize and perhaps eventually inject much-needed workers into its shrinking membership base.
"It is a very flexible model," she said. "It is meant to assist and involve people who want to join the union to be able to do it, and to work on their collective goals — whether that is to improve safety in their workplace, whether that is to get respect from their employer, or whether that is to even just be recognized as a collective voice within their sector or within their workplace."