Letter to our colleagues in Ministry


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Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

By this time, you have likely heard a great deal through the media regarding a union drive for United Church clergy. While the international media coverage has been helpful in spotlighting the issue of clergy abuse and employment rights infractions within the United Church, there have been factual errors and misrepresentations in many reports. We are working as quickly as we can to inform our clergy of the facts, answer questions and receive important input from our clergy colleagues.

Please permit us at this point to share the history of our clergy union initiative with you. We began over a year ago, listening to many ministers as they shared their stories, as well as frustration, pain and anger, relating to their experiences of clergy abuse in the United Church. The more we listened, the more we were convinced that collective representation by clergy was desperately needed. To that end, we formed a research and development group, under the working title of Professional Association of Canadian Clergy.

Our R&D team was comprised of: Rev. Dr. David Galston, United Church minister for 19 years with a PhD in religious philosophy and a former principal of Iona College, Windsor, Ontario; Rev. Delbert Stewart, 25 years in United Church ministry and a former lawyer; Rev. Jim Evans, 8 years in ministry with a solid understanding of the United Church parliament and a former businessperson; and Karen Paton-Evans, Jim's wife with 20 years in journalism, communications and public relations.

As part of our research, we spoke with people who had formed professional associations for Canadian clergy over the past 30 years. Some of these associations are still in existence, in principal. What we learned from each contact was primarily the same things: that United Church clergy are not interested in joining a professional association that is not already firmly established and proven to be effective; that United Church clergy do not trust one another enough to work collegially within a professional association; and that a professional association has not been able to successfully influence the United Church in a meaningful way.

When we asked existing professional associations if we should offer our support and contribute our new energy to the organization, we were told that in effect, we would only be propping up a dead horse.

Faced with the challenge of organizing clergy in an effective manner, we continued to research potential solutions. Last winter, we learned that since 1994, Anglican priests, Church of Scotland ministers and Jewish rabbis in the United Kingdom have become members of Amicus, a large manufacturing and services union in the UK and Europe. We contacted the clergy union under Amicus, asked many questions and received helpful and revealing information. By uniting together under Amicus, UK clergy were achieving much of what we believe our clergy need.

After studying Amicus' profile, we began researching unions in Canada. We sought a union that fit specific criteria: a strong membership and a proven history; organization that was directed by union members in each local; understanding of the unique requirements for each union local; an impressive track record of successful collective bargaining; a solid commitment to social justice, supported by active participation; accountability to membership and to Canadian society; full accessibility to its membership; education programs for members (i.e. grievance handling; workplace abuse; human rights; preventing substance abuse; retirement planning; environmental awareness); respect for the worker and family.

Our check list of requirements quickly eliminated quite a few Canadian unions. After interviewing a number of satisfied CAW union members, we concluded that the best union to support our clergy was the CAW. Last spring, we approached Colette Hooson, CAW national representative located in Windsor, Ontario. Colette, originally from Liverpool, England, had lived in the UK when the clergy there began their union initiative, so to her, a clergy union was not an unusual concept. We had many discussions with Colette over the phone and via email, discussing clergy issues and the logistics of a clergy union. Colette brought our concerns to Buzz Hargrove, CAW national president, and Mike Shields, CAW national director of organizing.

On October 4, our team (David, Del, Jim and Karen) met with Buzz Hargrove, Mike Shields, CAW national secretary-treasurer Jim O'Neil and CAW lawyer Lewis Gottheil at the CAW headquarters in Toronto. We explained to the CAW team why we believed United Church clergy needed a union. By the end of our meeting, Buzz and his team agreed that we needed representation, but there were questions surrounding the legalities of a clergy union that needed answered before the CAW could commit. To this end, Lewis and the CAW legal department worked for the next four weeks on clergy union legalities.

On November 3, Jim, Karen, David and Del, along with Rev. David Maxwell and Rev. Bob Weight, appeared on an episode of 360 Vision on Vision TV. The program examined clergy abuse and what our team was trying to do to address it. Michael Valpy of The Globe and Mail watched the program, called David immediately afterward, and had a story on the front page of The Globe on November 4. Print, television, radio and internet media have been calling us ever since.

On November 5, David, Jim and Karen (Del was ill) met again with Buzz, Mike, Jim and Lewis in Toronto. We were very happy - and relieved - to learn the CAW had determined that a clergy union was legally possible and that, if we consented, the CAW would support our union initiative. We accepted. It was determined that our clergy union would be a national union, with regional representation within each province. As each province has its own labour laws which impact our clergy, it was decided that we would begin our clergy union drive in Ontario, the province which has the largest number of actively serving United Church ministers.

During the meeting, Buzz repeated what he has told us many times since our first meeting: that we are under no obligation to the CAW, that if we choose to end our relationship with the CAW at any time, the CAW will step aside and wish us well.

As so many media people were eager to interview us immediately following the November 5 meeting, we held a press conference. You may be interested to know that to date (December 1), we have done nearly 200 media interviews. The story of clergy abuse and the concerns of our clergy have gone around the world. One of the many results of the media attention is that clergy in other denominations are stepping forward and making it known that they, too, are being abused within their churches and hierarchy. They are also contacting us and the CAW, asking if they can join the union, too. (They are not able to join the United Church clergy union drive, as there must be a common employer for collective bargaining).

Jim and David signed their application to union membership cards on November 5, officially launching our clergy union drive. Since then, we have been talking with our ministers, answering questions and addressing the issues in person, over the phone and via email and regular mail. Along with the many questions and requests for union cards we have received from our ministers across Canada, we are also being entrusted with further stories of abuse suffered by our clergy - many of whom have suffered in isolation and desperation.

It has been exciting to speak with so many ministers who exhibit such a keen understanding of what a clergy union would accomplish for our ministers and the health and future of the United Church. They have given us their well-formed ideas, outlining important issues and very realistic strategies. These people appreciate that a clergy union would be exactly that: a union of our ministers, putting forward their resolutions; voting on bargaining issues as a collegial body; voting in their own bargaining committee from within their membership; and with the expertise of the CAW, bargaining collectively and effectively with General Council to achieve much-needed improvements and advancements within United Church policy and polity. We are building a dossier of ideas brought to us by these forward-thinking clergy.

The most disturbing thing we have experienced during our union drive is the closed-mindedness of some of our clergy. Without speaking with us or reading any of our literature, some clergy have decided that a clergy union is not for them, or indeed, appropriate for their colleagues serving the United Church. We have learned of Presbyteries that have held clergy union information meetings, without inviting us or even asking for our information. These actions sadden us. Our ministers are well-educated, thinking people. Why would some so readily choose to make important decisions when they are not aware of the facts? Why would they condemn a clergy union when they clearly do not understand what a clergy union would be?

We have repeatedly said that our clergy union drive is an opportunity for our ministers to have a voice, to decide what is best for our clergy and the United Church of Canada. This is the time for honest, respectful and reciprocal dialogue. This is not a time for adversarial and alienating argument.

We are working as quickly as we can to assemble and mail out information packages to our clergy in Ontario. David, Del, Jim and Karen are also on the first leg of a provincial tour, meeting with as many clergy as possible throughout Ontario. (Please visit www.caw.ca/unitedclergy to find out when we will be in your area). We realize that we are missing quite a number of communities and hope to travel to those regions in the new year.

We are also letting Ontario presbytery chairpersons know that we are available to attend any future clergy union information sessions they may choose to hold.

In the meantime, please contact us with your questions or opinions. We would appreciate your carefully considered input.

Sincerely,

Karen Paton-Evans
519-425-4546
kpatonevans@hotmail.com

Mike Shields, CAW National Director of Organizing - 1-800-268-5763 Ext. 763. Email: mike.shields@caw.ca.
Rev. Jim Evans, organizing team member - 519-425-4546
Rev. David Galston, organizing team member - 905-577-5726 (david@eternalspring.ca)
Rev. Del Stewart, organizing team member - 519-733-3341 (4del@cogeco.ca)

Several Key Reasons for a United Church Clergy Union

1. The union functions as an independent body that ensures policies pertaining to ministry personnel are implemented fairly, justly, and equitably in a consistent and universal manner.
2. The union can safely raise concerns with the United Church of Canada regarding workplace difficulties or failures of procedure without repercussions falling upon individual ministers.
3. The union can ensure that there is a fair and legal policy of full disclosure and proper rules of evidence when ministry personnel come under accusation or are brought under review according to section 363 of the United Church Manual.
4. The union will provide proper advocacy insurance for ministry personnel so that ministry personnel do not carry the full burden of expense when engaged in the legitimate, legal practice of self-defence.
5. The union will provide legal services to ministry personnel in the event of dispute with the United Church of Canada.
6. The union will provide a body of solidarity for ministry personnel to address feelings of isolation and abandonment both in the regular course of the practice of ministry and if situations of dispute arise.
7. The union is an independent body of research and advocacy that protects ministry personnel from emotional stress and allows ministry personnel to focus more effectively on the duties of pastoral care.
8. The union is a catalyst for change for the United Church of Canada in which persons involved in the court structures will have access to professional training and leadership development that will enhance the effectiveness of presbyteries and the promotion of the United Church.
9. The union will provide personnel expertise that will free United Church courts to focus more appropriately and directly on religious education, social justice initiatives, debate on policy, and issues related to the future of the United Church of Canada.

Questions About Unionization

1. How does unionization relate to my sense of "call" and the sacredness of that sense? A union is not contradictory to the sense of a call to ministry or its sacredness. The call to ministry and its sacredness are determined in the service of humanity and the sacramental practices of the church. The union is related to working conditions and the fair and just process of law. If the worries of ministry personnel do not include just compensation for education, service, and experience; their personal safety or their family's safety; the negotiation of their own salaries or benefits beyond minimum; and defending their sense of call in isolation; then ministry personnel will be empowered to focus primarily on service to humanity and the sacramental nature of their work.

2. How does unionization relate to my congregation? Unionization will help your congregation understand both their responsibility for your working conditions and your responsibility for their pastoral care. A union will ensure that the policies and procedures of the United Church of Canada in relation to working conditions are appropriately defined, accurately understood, openly shared, and consistently applied. Ministry personnel will be free to focus on the vision of the congregation, the teaching of Christian service, the care of individuals, and the performance of sacramental rites. The relationship to the congregation will centre on mutual respect and understanding. Many congregational members of the church belong to unions, professional organizations, or professional schools. People unionize in one form or another to ensure fair treatment and to enable vocational effectiveness. In this way, ministers are not different from other human beings.

3. How does unionization relate to the United Church's sense of covenant? A union ensures that the covenant is an honest covenant. A union will make sure that the covenant includes the recognition of issues important to ministry personnel. These may include, as ministry personnel determine, appropriate revisions of policy that currently leave ministry personnel without legal protection (see numbers 3 to 5 in "Reasons" above) or the establishment of new policy that protect ministry personnel when unfairly accused of misconduct or illegally subjected to accusations or harassment. The Manual and the practices of the United Church can leave ministry personnel outside the covenant. A clergy union will ensure that there is a body of solidarity for ministry personnel to whom the United Church can appeal when developing or revising policy related to its ministry personnel.

Summary

The union is a resource for the United Church. It provides an independent body, directed and managed by the United Church clergy, that holds our courts and our structures accountable to our own policies and procedures. It ensures that ministry personnel are treated fairly and justly in the event of problems in a pastoral relationship. It helps us face the difficult questions of change in relation to contemporary challenges and frees the church courts to deal with matters of religious education, social justice advocacy, and the promotion of the United Church of Canada. The union assures ministry personnel have a body of solidarity to offset experiences of isolation and high levels of stress. The union frees ministry personnel to focus on pastoral concerns in place of personal concerns for safety, fair compensation, fair representation, and the due process of law. The union helps the United Church of Canada address problems early and address them appropriately before such problems become large and unmanageable for ministers, congregations, and church courts. The union, shaped and directed by the wisdom, experience and expertise of United Church clergy, helps the United Church of Canada be a just employer whose theology and practice are consistent and complementary.