UFCW Forced To Publish Constitution on the Web
On March 1, a Canadian court ordered the United Food and Commercial Workers to place a copy of the union’s constitution on the UFCW Canada web site.
In February, the UFCW International had joined with UFCW Canada and Local 777 (now re-organized as Local 247) in an earlier lawsuit charging a UFCW shipping clerk with defamation and with copyright infringement for posting the union’s constitution on his web site.
The defendant, William Gammert, says he published the constitution because he was denied a copy when he tried to run for local president. An affidavit by a former UFCW International official, Hugh Finnamore, supported Gammert’s allegations:
“As a UFCW official, I worked with others to prevent members from obtaining copies of either the UFCW International Constitution or Local Union By-laws. As UFCW officials, we were suspicious of any member who asked for either document.”
On the site, Gammert referred to the UFCW as “the United Fraud and Corruption Workers.” The suit initially tried to hold Gammert responsible for comments posted to his site’s guest book.
In a pre-trial ruling, the judge ordered the UFCW to publish the constitution on the UFCW Canada site within four months, and for Gammert to remove it from his site.
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On February 27, the UFCW served a writ of summons against Members for Democracy, the Vancouver-based reform web site created by UFCW members and others, for alleged defamatory statements and for ownership of the web domain ufcw.net. The summons names a UFCW Local 1518 member who works as a part-time grocery clerk as a defendant.
MFD is an informal group of over 200 workers, union members, and union officials who meet at the web site to discuss democratic unionism and workplace issues. MFD was started by UFCW members in Canada who were fed up with bad contracts, secrecy, and corruption.
The writ of summons does not identify any particular defamatory statements, but accuses the site of being “critical” of the union movement in general.
The writ also alleges that the site tries to “pass off” as an official union publication -- a charge apparently at odds with the allegation of anti-unionism -- by its use of the domain ufcw.net and the occurrence of the term “UFCW” in the site’s “keyword metatags,” which are indexed by search engines. A trial date had not been set at press time.
Kevin LaPalme is a web developer and activist who has been involved, as a retail employee, in UFCW organizing drives in the U.S.