By Marco Procaccini
Most people believe that laws are synonymous with justice.
Sadly, in our global corporate capitalist economy, that often isn’t the case. That’s what you’ll learn when you talk to Casey McCabe,
director of the Teamsters Local 213 Legal Affairs Department.
After 10 years as a Teamsters Local 213 lawyer and 30 years with a career in labour law, McCabe is retiring in June. Advocating
for employees under current laws hasn’t been easy – especially with anti-labour governments in power.
“After the BC Liberals were elected, the government made numerous revisions of the B.C. Labour Code in 2002 that really
slanted the rules in favour of employers,” he said. “It’s been a pretty difficult 15 years.”
In addition to bad regulatory and legal changes, the cumbersome and biased decision-making process and interpretation of the code by employer-friendly staff was another hurdle to advancing workers’ rights.
McCabe and his associate Brian Savage used to jointly run a labour law firm until they joined the Teamsters Union in 2007 and went to work as legal counsels for Local 213. They recently added Andrew Mercier (a labour law articling student and one-time NDP candidate for Langley in the 2013 provincial election) to apprentice under McCabe until the senior lawyer retires. Then Savage will take over as the director and Mercier will become in-house counsel.
McCabe is confident his colleagues can handle the challenges of the diversity of issues and cases.
“Local 213 has bargaining unit certifications in federal and provincial jurisdictions, so under both federal and provincial labour
codes,” he said, so the bulk of the work is addressing certification applications by workers, contract interpretation, unfair labour
practices, and successorship rights to allow workers to keep their bargaining units when their firms are sold or merged. “We have to
deal with quite a diverse set of practices. That’s been quite difficult under the (BC Liberal government) Labour Code revisions.”
McCabe said that while there are many serious challenges, the most difficult by far was providing legal support for the 350 Local 213 members working at the Richmond outlet of the international IKEA chain in 2013. The company locked out the workers after they protested the employer’s unilateral concessionary changes to the existing collective agreement. The terms of that agreement were won when the
workers went on strike in 2006 to gain recognition as a union.
“That dispute lasted almost two years (including the 18-month lockout),” he said. The Richmond store is currently the only unionized IKEA
outlet in Western Canada, with only a few organized stores in Quebec and Ontario – all of them with the Teamsters. McCabe agreed that the Richmond store lockout was done largely to intimidate employees at other locations from organizing. “In the end, everyone got to
keep their jobs and we got some minor improvements in working conditions. But none of the concessions the employer was looking
for were accepted. So in that way, it’s a victory, especially with such an unfavourable labour code.”
McCabe is hopeful that last year’s defeat of the BC Liberals and the election of the NDP-Green coalition government will see
positive changes to the code.
“I’m optimistic about the future with the (upcoming) review of the labour code,” he said. “I think unions can expect fairer decisions and process from the revisions, as well as better interpretation of the code. Workers will likely find it easier to join and stay in unions and better process, which is all we can really ask for. This is something our kids will benefit from too in the future workforce.”
McCabe has plans for his retirement. “I intend to take a long rest,” he said, “do some gardening and projects around the house
(in Delta). My wife Katie and I also want to do some traveling.”