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Pickets stir union spat

By Roxanne Beaubien, London Free Press, Tuesday 21 March 2000

Accusations of intimidation flew yesterday at a London union office that's the centre of pitched battle between the Service Employees International Union and some of its members.

London police were called to the SEIU Local 220 office on Adelaide Street about 8:30 a.m. when about two dozen members who support a move to the Canadian Auto Workers, began picketing outside.

London police Sgt. David Sparks said the demonstrators didn't appear to be violating any trespassing laws. "We're here to mediate and negotiate," he said.

Jo-Dee Phoenix, a former executive of the London area local that represents about 12,000 workers, was one of those carrying placards yesterday.

"A union has called the police on its members who are having a democratic demonstration in front of their union office," she said with disbelief.

David Eales, the local's former president who faces a disciplinary hearing today, said the last-minute rally is a way for members to express their frustration with the SEIU.

"They're trying to bully and intimidate members," he said of the call to police.

But inside the office, the same accusations were tossed at those outside.

During an interview with The Free Press, a worker's cell phone rang. The worker relayed the message from the caller as "scab go home."

"That just shows intimidation tactics," said Shelley O'Neill, deputy trustee under a court-ordered injunction.

"We have a court order . . . that says former members are not to interfere with the work of the trustees," O'Neill said, defending her decision to call police.

Sparks said the force's legal department will look at the order to determine if the pickets were in violation.

Today's hearing will examine the conduct of former union officers who were suspended for making the breakaway bid. The executives of eight Canadian-based SEIU locals voted last month to break away from the U.S.-based international to join the CAW.

Eales called the hearing before a union-appointed arbitrator a joke.

But O'Neill said the hearing follows the union's constitution.

"I'm not surprised David Eales considers it a kangaroo court. He's made a mockery of the SEIU constitution to date, so what would be the difference?" she asked.

The hearing at the Four Points Hotel Sheraton London is closed to the public but open to all SEIU members and former officers of Local 220. The results will be sent to the SEIU executive board.