CUPE 23, representing workers for the CIty of Burnaby, is being forced by the national union to hold a re-election for the position of president. (Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon)

CUPE 23 holding re-election for president ‘under duress’ after threats of action by national

The union had originally voted not to hold the re-election process—but CUPE national threatened to put the local under administration.



October 17, 2022 | 5:00 am

CUPE’s national president threatened to put the union representing City of Burnaby employees under national administration if it didn’t hold a re-election for president, Burnaby Beacon has learned.

And the union’s national office has sent a representative to oversee the re-election process, which is ongoing.

CUPE Local 23 held its elections for its executive in the spring, but the Beacon reported in late August that the process was being redone for the position of president.

The union local, and CUPE national, declined to offer further information at the time.

Errors in membership list

But records obtained by the Beacon show CUPE 23 had, for months, resisted holding a re-election for president.

On May 18, national president Mark Hancock wrote to CUPE 23 in response to a request for guidance from the local’s returning officer, John Neilson, after errors were identified in the membership list.

Specifically, one member who voted “should not have received a ballot,” while five ballots that were issued assigned members to the wrong division of the union

And 18 members never received a ballot, according to the letter.

The local had also found that one of the successful candidates for the position of “precarious worker at large” was not eligible for nomination because they had not attended enough meetings.

However, Hancock shot those concerns down, saying his “office has been clear that this type of restrictive requirement on participation in the work of a local union are concerning.”

“They are especially problematic for a position representing precarious workers,” Hancock wrote.

“But more importantly, the membership had ample time to challenge the eligibility between the nomination date and the election, and no such concern was raised.”

With respect to the balloting issues, however, CUPE national found that the errors were greater than the margin of victory for president, ordering that a re-election should be held for that position.

In the spring vote, Bruce Campbell had won re-election as CUPE 23’s president.

Resistance from CUPE 23

According to a Sept. 9 notice to CUPE 23 membership, Neilson wrote that Local 23’s elections committee “agreed that a thorough review of the membership list must be conducted before taking additional steps.”

“In its lengthy process of examining the membership list to address identified errors, the elections committee found logical explanations that resolved most issues and concluded this would not have impacted the outcome of the election,” Neilson wrote.

“As such, the elections committee unanimously voted to uphold the April 2022 election results.”

The local communicated the decision to CUPE national, also sending a “detailed report” from its membership list review.

The national union, however, disagreed and told the elections committee that if a re-election was not held, the local would be put under administration.

According to section 7.8 of CUPE’s constitution, the national president can appoint a representative to take over operations of the union, overriding, or even ousting, the existing executives.

It’s not entirely unheard of. In June 2017, CUPE national put Local 786, which is based in Hamilton, Ont. and represents healthcare workers, under administration for “serious governance, bylaw, and financial irregularities,” relieving the local’s executive of their positions.

An election ‘under duress’

According to the September notice to CUPE 23 members, the national office repeated the mandate to hold the re-election “several times to both the Local 23 elections committee and the Local 23 executive board.”

In response to the threat, Local 23’s elections committee met and voted unanimously to hold the re-election.

“The elections committee is taking this action under duress,” reads the notice.

“We reiterate to our membership that the elections committee’s findings are that a re-election is not warranted nor in the best interest of the local.”

In an Oct. 5 letter to CUPE 23 membership, Hancock acknowledged that the lengthy process “has been a frustrating and confusing matter for some members.”

Hancock said it was “not an uncommon ruling” to order a re-election.

“What is unusual is that the direction provided was not acted upon,” Hancock said.

“I regret that the local’s election committee was not able to comply with my directions in a timely manner, and that their actions have led to more questions about the fairness and transparency of the new election finally being held this month.”

To that end, Hancock said he was sending a senior member of the national office’s staff to “ensure the integrity of this election.”

CUPE national told the Beacon it does not have any further comments “beyond what was communicated in the letter.”

CUPE 23 officials referred a request for comment to the national office, which reiterated that the election is occurring and that results will be available on Oct. 19.

Voting began on Oct. 12 and will end on Oct. 18.

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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