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Latest News - January 2014

January 21, 2014
United Church of Canada clergy form their own union
Source: The Star
By: Donovan Vincent

The goal of the newly created professional association, called Unifaith, is to give faith workers, their family members, student ministers and retirees, a common voice. In addition to fighting for job security for clergy and other paid employees, the new union plans to help combat the bullying, and in some cases physical assaults, of clergy by members of congregations or outsiders, says Rev. Jim Evans, the former interim president of the group.

In addition, many United Church clergy have complained about being overworked, another issue the future union plans to address.

“The tools were not available, so they ended up not being able to fulfill their vocation,’’ Evans added.

Electing a new executive, the organization was officially launched as a “community chapter’’ under the umbrella of Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, which was formed last summer after the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP).

A community chapter consists of people who don’t yet have a collective agreement with their employer. It may have some but not all the benefits of a certified union.

The group began with about 50 founding members, and because memberships are continuing to roll in, no one has a precise figure on where enrolment stands at the moment.

The United Church of Canada has about 2,500 actively-serving clergy.

Roxanne Dubois, a community chapters co-ordinator for Unifor, says Unifaith, believed to be one of the first unions of its kind in Canada for any denomination, is being formed at a time when people in so called ‘precarious work’ — full- or part-time work with no benefits, limited or no job security, or temporary, contract or casual positions — is on the rise.

Unifaith is designated as a community chapter of Unifor.

About once a week across Canada one United church closes due to declining numbers of parishioners, which creates a job security issue for ministers and other paid staff, Evans says.

Unifaith also comes at a challenging time for unions. Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has also recently mused about doing away with compulsory membership in unions.

Membership in Unifaith is voluntary. Union dues will not go to Unifor, but rather projects that Unifaith identifies, Dubois said.

Nora Sanders, general secretary of the general council of the United Church of Canada, said the council is taking a wait and see approach to the new union at this time.

“We don’t have a lot of information about it . . . . (We) want to take our time to see what this body of ministers thinks,’’ Sanders said.

“We’re always interested in ways of hearing from ministers or anyone who works from the church,’’ she said, adding “the wish to know what the concerns are and to work on them, is a constant we’re engaged in all the time.’’

There are unionized clergy in Europe. In Scandinavia, where they’re considered employees of the state, some are members of unionized groups for clergy.

And in Great Britain, a group called Unite the Union has a faith workers branch, where union membership for clergy of various denominations is voluntary.



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