National Post

Page URL: http://www.nationalpost.com/news.asp?f=990429/2537777

Thursday, April 29, 1999

Union in uproar over the word 'marriage'
PSAC May expel negotiator

Charlie Gillis
National Post

One of Canada's largest public-sector unions has threatened to throw a Nova Scotia man off its negotiating team because he is resisting plans to remove the word "marriage" from the union's contracts.

In a standoff that has pitted the values of family-oriented members against the union's attempts to adapt to social change, Robert Davies has been ordered to abandon his conviction, or leave the bargaining team of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Mr. Davies, a teacher and counsellor who works for the Canadian Forces in Halifax, has objected to PSAC's plan to have the term "spousal union" substituted in articles that provide time off to members who plan to wed.

PSAC represents about 130,000 civil servants, most of whom work for the federal government and its agencies and corporations.

The change was approved after a regional conference of PSAC in late March, and is on a working list of 15 demands the union will submit to the federal Treasury Board in negotiations in May.

"It's important to me that marriage be included in our collective agreements," Mr. Davies said yesterday. "I'm not mad at my fellow unionists for not speaking up about this, or anything. I just think they were ill-prepared for something that has pretty significant social implications."

Union members proposed the substitution in order to reflect the growing number of common-law relationships in Canada. Delegates who supported the change cited a Statistics Canada report charting a 10% rise from1984 to 1994 in the number of children born into common-law relationships.

But Mr. Davies points to findings in the same study that children in common-law families are more likely to see their parents break up than those born into traditional marriages. "I think we ought to discuss whether this is something that is beneficial to families and children," he said.

Mr. Davies tried to raise the issue during the regional meeting in Ottawa, arguing the provision has nothing to do with workers' hopes for higher wages, better benefits, and greater job security. He also wrote a letter to Daryl Bean, union president, outlining his concerns.

Mr. Davies says he was stone-walled by organizers, who felt the issue was settled. And his resistance drew a sharp rebuke from Mr. Bean.

In a tersely worded reply sent last week, the president described Mr. Davies' arguments "disturbing" and told him he had until Friday to change his position. "You may be unfamiliar with the operation of a negotiating team," the letter said. "The team is free to engage in open debate in order to determine which demands are put forward. Once the decision has been made, team members have an obligation to support all of the demands."

Reached yesterday, Mr. Bean said the resolution was included partly because the courts and most provinces have recognized same-sex relationships in their human rights legislation. "I thought most people had accepted common-law relationships years ago."

But Mr. Davies counters that gay and lesbian couples are fighting in court for recognition of same-sex marriages -- basing their arguments on the same human rights codes Mr. Bean cites.





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