United Church Clergy Address to CAW Council

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A message to the CAW December 2005 Conference, Toronto, December 3, 2005 From the United Church Clergy Union Organizing Team

Buzz, Ken, Jim, CAW delegates and guests,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

On behalf of our clergy union organizing team and the many, many ministers who are supporting the formation of our union, we want to thank the CAW publicly for your tremendous support and encouragement over the past 14 months.

When we first began researching various unions for our clergy, the CAW immediately emerged at the top of our list. We were impressed by your track record of caring for your members and their families; your commitment to social justice here and around the world; and the significant gains you have achieved for working people across Canada.

But most of all, we were impressed by your willingness to listen.

The first person to hear us was Colette Hooson, the CAW National Representative in Windsor, Ontario. Unlike other unions we tried to interview, Colette did not laugh out loud at us. She took our concerns seriously and presented them to Buzz and his national team.

When we met with Buzz, Jim O'Neill, Mike Shields and Lewis Gottheil in October 2004, they admitted they were stunned that United Church ministers had come to the CAW, seeking union. Jim said he fell off his chair. Everybody kept an open mind, however. After years of being ignored by the United Church, our abused clergy had finally found people who not only heard our stories, but committed themselves to helping us organize to achieve justice, safety and dignity for our ministers.

Over the past 14 months, our confidence in the CAW has increased on a daily basis. As we have travelled the length and breadth of Ontario, CAW people from the locals, the regional offices and the national headquarters have supported us every step of the way. To come out of a snowstorm and into a CAW local, where the local president has given up his Friday night to host a group of ministers, has been a terrific experience.

We have learned so much from the CAW - about labour law, employment rights, social justice, organizing, and most of all: what it means to let your Brothers and Sisters in Solidarity know - really know - that you have their backs.

These messages we have shared with our clergy colleagues and United Church members. We have met with thousands of people since November 5, 2004. In church sanctuaries and halls, in CAW locals and regional offices, in hotel rooms.Jim Evans even converted a minister to union in a Canadian Tire store.

We have learned some sad truths along the way. Our United Church, with its longstanding heritage of pro-unionism and social justice, no longer understands what unions are, what they stand for, what they achieve.

Before our ministers could understand how our clergy union will enable them to honour their convenants and support their Brothers and Sisters in ministry and in solidarity, we had to educate them about unions. We had to debunk myths and biases. We had to contend with insults and hate mail.

We still encounter these issues. However, an enormous shift in attitude and perception occurred last spring and its momentum continues. Now, when we are addressing large groups of ministers and church members, pro-union ministers speak up. They express their strong views, address questions and challenge attacks. It is an uplifting experience.

One minister and his father, a retired autoworker and CAW member, are proudly standing together in solidarity for our clergy union, formed within the CAW family.

Our pro-union ministers are joining our clergy union network, with the aim of supporting one another and encouraging other ministers to sign their union cards. Their work has made big strides in moving our organizing campaign forward.

These ministers will also be attending clergy union education programs, so that WHEN our union is in place, we can hit the ground running.

We are very grateful to the CAW members who are also spreading the word. Robert McArthur, a CAW member who works in the Brampton DaimlerChrysler Assembly Plant, has stepped forward to voice his support. Robert is also an active member in his United Church and presbytery. He has written a message of support for our upcoming newsletter and he is committed to generating support for our clergy union in his own CAW local. Robert's voice is important as it reminds the United Church and those who are against our clergy union that the United Church is blessed to have many, many devoted and hardworking church members who are also devoted and hardworking union members, who want their ministers to be able to serve without being abused, intimidated, defamed, sexually assaulted, harassed, wrongly accused or threatened with death.

We are so close to achieving the 60 % of signed union cards we have set as our goal in Ontario. Once our union is established in Ontario, we will begin organizing in the next province, and then the next, and the next, until we have a national union in place.

Please help us by supporting our union drive within your own locals. The United Church needs to know that the CAW really cares about its ministers and that you are doing all you can to ensure our ministers will be able to tend to the lonely, the sick, the poor and the marginalized; that our ministers will be able to confidently and safely serve, support and lift up anyone in need - as the CAW has done for us.

You can learn more about our clergy union drive by reading our information on the CAW website. If you get a moment during this conference, please introduce yourself. It is always an honour to meet our CAW Sisters and Brothers.

We know that you, the CAW, as always, are here for us. We cannot thank you enough for what you have done for us, what you have given to us. After listening to so many of our ministers, we can tell you frankly that you have given our clergy the things they have been lacking for too long: Hope and courage, strength and solidarity.

Thank you.