- striking CUPE union member, United Church Naramata Centre, Kelowna, September 28, 2014
The place bears what once was a fond memory for me: that sunny May afternoon at the Naramata Centre, back in 1990, when I was ordained into the ranks of complicity as a United Church clergyman. The place is really beautiful, as befits a hang out for comfy and chubby church goers: serene parkland on the shores of lovely Lake Okanagan, far away from aboriginal lawsuits, mass graves of brown kids and bad vibes. But things aren’t especially lovely these days for the union members who work at the Naramata Centre, who’ve been locked out by the officially “justice loving” United Church of Canada because of the latter’s desire to cut costs by contracting out their jobs.
Big surprise, really. Bud Phillips, the Principal of my old alma mater, the United Church-funded Vancouver School of Theology, once did a similar number when he sacked two long-serving secretaries at the school just to free up the bucks needed to renovate his private residence next door. The prerogatives of power, I suppose.
So when a union member at Naramata dropped me an email some weeks ago describing the attacks being made on them by the same United Church, I remember writing back in probably too glib a tone “hell, once a big corporation like them routinely slaughters Indian children and sells them off to rapists to make a buck, the sky’s the limit in their crime department!”
No surprise, indeed. The United Church seems to love unions outside their august body, but not inside it. In opposing a unionizing drive among their clergy during 2006, former United Church Moderator Jim Sinclair said to the press,
“Unions just aren’t a fit with us … Unions in the church would suggest a lack of faith and good will”.
Right, Jim. Like the kind of good will demonstrated by Janet “I’ll do more than threaten you” MacDonald up at Naramata?
In truth, the only thing that surprised me about this latest mask-slipping performance by the United Church is how their usually adept public relations team was not quickly on the scene in Naramata to gloss over their bullshit with their usual P.C. Verbiage and Lying Machine. After all, the church spin doctors were able to brilliantly conceal those thousands of slaughtered residential school kids with such aplomb that the UCC actually came out smelling like a bed of roses. Ergo, one would think that slam dunking a few pesky workers asking for their jobs would be relatively easy.
But here’s the thing: big churches are run by thick-skinned and snobby bureaucrats who aren’t used to being defied, and so overt protest and opposition tends to confuse them, at first. I learned that quickly, not only on my way down the disposal chute within the United Church, but at the head of church occupations and Vatican protests over the years. So the Gnomes of Etobicoke in their plush church offices must have just not got it when their workers out here in Lotus Land told them their jobs were more important than church plans to cut costs.
It doesn’t help the men and women who scrub the pots and tend the yards at the Naramata Centre when the government and courts have allowed the United Church and other “god corporations” to get away with crimes and treat their own employees like garbage. In 1994, it was proven in the Ontario Supreme Court that senior management at the United Church’s Fred Victor Mission in Toronto were firing staff without cause, dealing drugs, laundering money, ignoring the landlord-tenant act and threatening anyone who opened their mouth. But the judge threw out the case and even threatened the plaintiffs for “suing a religious body”. I suppose he was a dues paying church member.
Recent years, fortunately, have brought to light many of the church’s dirty secrets, and so with all that exposure of church wrong doing, the political climate may be shifting. The Labor Relations Board in B.C. recently agreed with CUPE, the union representing the Naramata workers, that the United Church is not bargaining in good faith. But ultimately, even such a ruling won’t guarantee those workers their jobs.
The latter have been making the same mistake I and countless aboriginal torture victims made by appealing to the erstwhile “conscience” and “religious sentiments” of United Church officials. The what? As a street buddy of mine so aptly puts it, “Morality to a bureaucrat is like a stop sign at the Indy 500”. Forget it, people. There’s but one thing the United Church honchos appreciate, and that’s a financial ledger. 50,000 dead children can’t be wrong.
But all that said, all is not lost for the handful of Naramata Centre workers who are dodging the cold, indifference and assaults by church officials to hold on to their livelihoods. The union is hoping to broaden their campaign by asking rank and file United Church members to “pressure” their leaders to put their justice-rhetoric into practice in their own backyard: always a costly and a risky proposition, of course, and no-one hates risk and controversy more than a Canadian christian.
In truth, what will bring the church to the bargaining table is not talk but a blow to their collection plate loot. Trust me, I know. So how about it, people? Why not imitate that original Galillean trouble maker and grab next week’s offerings from your local United Church and withhold them until justice flows down, even in the United Church of Canada?
It is a convicted criminal organization, after all.