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Manitoba History: “The Roughest Time the Board Ever Saw”: CUPE Local 1063 and the Crisis at the Manitoba Workers Compensation Board, 1981-1982

by Christopher Kshyk
History Department, University of Manitoba

Number 85, Fall 2017

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The management when I first got involved at the WCB was very much an old boys’ club ... It was management by intimidation throughout the organization and until there was a thorough investigation done into the organization, that continued for some time until changes were made. [1]

In 1981, the Manitoba Workers Compensation Board (WCB) experienced, in the words of one former employee, “the roughest time the Board ever saw.” [2] Responding to public allegations by employees of the WCB in the Winnipeg Free Press, the NDP government of Howard Pawley launched an investigation into the operations of the Board. The investigation, led by a former RCMP officer, D. Cleve Cooper, produced several recommendations for administrative reform. While this investigation and the Cooper Report did not fundamentally transform the nature of the workers’ compensation system in the province, the event proved to be a formative period in the collective memory of labour activists at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1063, which represents workers at the Manitoba WCB, and at the WCB itself. This collective memory is important, not because CUPE 1063 has had any major impact upon the Canadian labour movement or even on CUPE itself, but because it is an example of how collective memory is utilized to unify labour organizations through the construction of common identities and ideologies. It is also important to note the differences in the narratives surrounding this event; for the WCB it was a “tumultuous time...that helped strengthen the organization for its next chapter,” while for CUPE 1063 it was part of a larger narrative whereby the union gradually asserted its independence, arrested a toxic “culture of intimidation,” and became a respected partner in the labour relations process.

The “Historic Compromise”: The Origins of Workers’ Compensation

Workers’ compensation arose out of a “historic compromise” between labour and capital at the turn of the 20th century. [3] A response to the accelerating industrialization of Europe and North America, workers’ compensation sought to provide financial relief to the growing number of workers injured on the job site, as well as to shield their employers from the potentially ruinous costs of litigation settlements. [4] Prior to the passage of workers’ compensation legislation, the only recourse for injured workers was to sue their employers for financial compensation in the common law courts, a costly and slow process. [5] By the early 1900s, workers’ compensation was an increasingly popular idea amongst both labour and employers, which in no small part contributed to its rapid spread throughout both Canada and the United States in the first decades of the 20th century. [6] For labour, workers’ compensation held out the promise of a redistribution of income between employers and capital through increased benefits. [7] Employers also supported workers’ compensation in the belief that they would be able to offset the costs of an employer-funded system through the wage deductions of their employees. [8] This support was in part prompted by the increasing success of injured workers in the courts. For instance, in Ontario, by the end of the 1890s workers and their advocates were winning more than half of their cases in litigation, significantly raising the costs of injury payments for employers. [9]

In Canada, workers’ compensation is administered by the provinces. Thus, there is enormous variation in the types of benefits and the structure of workers’ compensation programs throughout Canada. Nevertheless, there is a degree of uniformity across the provincial workers’ compensation programs since they all generally follow the principles outlined in the Meredith Report (1913). [10] Commissioned by the Ontario government in 1910, William Meredith’s report recommended the creation of a no-fault system of compensation, in which workers gave up their right to sue their employers in return for automatic benefits for injuries on the job. [11] Meredith also recommended that the system be funded by employers and administered by an independent Workers Compensation Board (WCB). The WCB was vested with quasi-judicial authority over matters pertaining to workers’ compensation law and exercised a monopoly over the administration and allocation of work-related injury benefits. [12]

In Manitoba, the earliest workers’ compensation legislation dates to 1893, with further legislation being adopted by the Conservative Roblin government in 1910–1911. [13] However, it was not until the rise of the Liberal Party under T. C. Norris in Manitoba that the current system of workers’ compensation was established with the passage of the Workmen’s Compensation Act (1916). [14] The Act, which closely mirrored the recommendations of the Meredith Report, also established the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba, which began operating the following year. John W. Wilton, also known as “Fighting Jack”, was instrumental in getting the act passed. Often referred to as the “father” of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, he was an outspoken critic of the previous Roblin legislation, which he thought favoured employers at the expense of injured workers. [15]

Oral History, Collective Memory, and Labour History

Oral history, in the words of Valerie Yow, is “the recording of personal testimony delivered in oral form.” [16] Lynn Abrams defines oral history as both a “research methodology and the result of the research process; in other words, it is both the act of recording and the record that is produced.” [17] Oral history involves the interpretation of four interconnected but distinct forms: oral interview, recorded version of the interview, written transcript, and interpretation of the interview material. [18] It is also important to note that oral history is a dialogue between the interviewer and interviewee. According to Portelli, “oral sources are always the result of a relationship, a common project in which both the informant and the researcher are involved, together.” [19] The distinction of autobiographical (personal) and collective or public memory bears further discussion. Collective memory can be understood as “the combined memory of a population that has experienced a common past.” [20] Maurice Halbwachs argued that the individual remembered by “placing himself in the perspective of the group ... [while] the memory of the group realizes and manifests itself in individual memories.” [21] From this perspective, personal and collective recollections are not mutually exclusive but rather inherently interconnected. Halbwachs’ theories, however, were constructed on research based on “small, stable and more homogenous communities,” particularly in the context of early 20th-century trade unions. [22] While certainly still a useful framework, new technologies (such as the Internet) and the increasing globalization and interconnectedness of the world call for a more nuanced understanding of autobiographical recollections and their relationship to large and increasingly diverse communities. As Anna Green argues, historians must be alert to the “capacity of individuals to reflect critically upon both their own experience and practice, and those of others.” [23]

Joan Sangster argues that “Since the 1960s, if not before, oral history and working-class history have been a dynamic duo, complementing and overlapping, but also challenging and questioning each other.” [24] The willingness of labour historians to utilize oral sources was heavily influenced by the “new social history” movement and the politics of social and economic transformation that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Feminist labour historians played a crucial role in this development, as oral history was seen as an effective source to counterbalance “text-based archives, which tended to reinforce the prevailing inattention to women’s lives.” [25] More generally, labour historians were attracted to oral history interviews as a “data-recovery” tool, whereby the stories of working-class people could be preserved alongside traditional archives. Oral history was also seen as a tool to reinvigorate the labour movement by connecting the current generation of activists with stories of previous struggles. For instance, Alvin Finkel noted that the Alberta Labour History Institute was founded for the purpose of “recording the history of working people in the province ... [in order to] use the[se] reminiscences to spark an interest in reviving radicalism among the current generation of Alberta workers.” [26] Labour historians have also become increasingly sensitive to debates concerning memory, which has shaped the focus of recent scholarship on the power dynamics within the interview itself as well as “why and how working-class people remembered the way they did.” [27]

The Cooper Report

On 28 October 1981 over 30 employees of the WCB went public in a press conference hosted by the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) with accusations concerning the internal operations of the WCB and to voice their outrage at the recent firing of Ken Carrol, who was an assistant claims director at the Board. [28] Carrol had been fired after he publicly accused the Board of actively encouraging its staff to suppress injured workers’ claims, restrict the amount of assistance they provided them, limiting the amount of financial compensation, and for being chronically under-staffed in an effort to minimize its operating costs. [29] Other accusations included that management at the WCB exercised a “culture of intimidation” towards their employees, resulting in poisoned labour-management relations. [30] In response, the Conservative Minister of Labour and Manpower, Ken MacMaster, ordered a public inquiry to investigate the allegations, to be headed by Israel Nitikman. [31] However, as the Conservatives lost the provincial election a scant three weeks later on 19 November 1981, it would be the new NDP government of Howard Pawley who would be responsible for resolving the crisis at the WCB. The NDP opted to decommission the Nitikman Inquiry and appoint a private investigator, RCMP Inspector D. Cleve Cooper, to report on the accusations. Jay M. Cowan, the newly appointed minister responsible for the WCB, justified this decision by arguing that a public inquiry “would have taken too long, would not necessarily have produced useful results and would have focused too narrowly on the dismissed WCB employee, Ken Carrol.” [32]

Cooper report. In 1982, RCMP Inspector D. Cleve Cooper, Acting Officer in Charge of the Commercial Crime Section of D Division, submitted a report to Attorney-General Roland Penner. In it, Cooper addressed a series of public allegations made against the Workers Compensation Board by employees.
Source: Legislative Library of Manitoba

Cooper interviewed 57 individuals (48 of whom were employees of the WCB), on the condition that their statements remain anonymous. A summary of this investigation, known as the Cooper Report, was submitted to Jay Cowan on 15 March 1982. The report was finally tabled before the Manitoba Legislature on 11 June 1982. [33] The report recommended a number of reforms to the WCB, foremost of which was the creation of full-time Board Chairperson and two full-time Board Commissioners to ensure “a more consistent approach in the implementation of the WCB Act.” [34] It went on to recommend the hiring of additional staff, that an external managing consulting firm be tasked with reviewing WCB operations, policies, and training procedures, the creation of a rehabilitation advisor committee, and that an independent worker advisor program be created to assist injured workers in filing and reviewing their claims. [35] The Pawley government largely followed Cooper’s recommendations, although they went further and fired the existing Chair and Commissioners of the WCB prior to the publication of the report. The government also stated its intention to conduct a formal inquiry (to be headed by Brian King) to review the entire system of workers’ compensation in Manitoba. Finally, the WCB launched its own public campaign to educate workers, employers, and the public on how the workers’ compensation and the WCB functioned in an effort to restore its battered public image. [36]

These reforms addressed many of the concerns of some of the NDP’s supporters, including the MFL. The Injured Workers Association, which had long advocated for the implementation of a workers’ advisor program, were particularly impressed since, in the opinion of its President, John Huta, “there has to be somebody to act as a watchdog over the Compensation Board system because we wouldn’t want it to go back into the rot that is has been up until now.” [37] Dick Martin, President of the MFL, also supported these changes, noting that the staff at the WCB were, in his opinion, overstretched and that a system of worker advocates would go a long way in redressing this situation. [38] However, not everyone was impressed. In March, the provincial Ombudsman, George Maltby, criticized the NDP in his annual report for ordering a private review of the WCB and disbanding the Nitikman inquiry, arguing that, “If senior board members have been publicly maligned even if only by implication, it follows that if they are to be exonerated that should also be public.” [39] Referring to the sacking of the WCB Chairman and Board, the Conservative labour critic, Gerald Mercier, claimed that these “Employees of the Workers’ Compensation Board were fired in a political purge ordered by organized labour.” [40] Another article in the Winnipeg Free Press argued that the government’s response was haphazard at best, given that, “Having served its purpose to the NDP in opposition, as a club with which to belabor the Tories, the WCB file [had become] an embarrassment to the NDP in power. A lid was applied with the termination of the Nitikman Inquiry...” [41]

Despite the efforts of the Pawley government, the Cooper Report and the subsequent government hearings into the operations of the WCB, did not end the public relations crisis of the WCB. Within a few years, the nature of the debate over workers’ compensation changed drastically. Whereas, in 1981–1982 the emphasis was on the poor quality of service to injured workers, which was exacerbated by the internal chaos of the WCB’s operations; by the end of the decade the focus was on the worsening financial situation at the Board. The Pawley government was subjected to a ferocious press campaign, which held the NDP responsible for the WCB’s growing deficit. It should be noted that the financial crisis that the Manitoba WCB experienced during the 1980s was not isolated. For example, at the end of 1994 all but two workers’ compensation programs in Canada (in Alberta and Saskatchewan) had reserves, which were less than fully funded. [42] Between 1982 and 1988, the Manitoba WCB’s unfounded liability rose by over $200 million. [43] The situation in Ontario was even worse; by 1994 the Ontario WCB had an accumulated deficit of $11.5 billion. [44]

However, the extent to which these liabilities pose a serious threat to the sustainability of workers’ compensation programs in Canada is greatly exaggerated. Unfunded liabilities apply more appropriately to private insurance programs, which must maintain a surplus to cover all their claims in the event of a bankruptcy. A report on the Ontario WCB conducted by Injured Workers Online noted, however, that no such danger exists for the province’s compensation program given that “Ontario’s economy is in no danger of closing down or going bankrupt ... [A]s long as there is business in Ontario, our workers’ compensation program can continue to be funded.” [45] Instead, the alarmist rhetoric about unfunded liabilities has been used to justify “eliminating full cost of living adjustments of injured worker benefits and for reducing benefit levels ... in order to keep low rates for employers.” [46] As such, they should be seen as part of a larger movement whereby capital and the neoliberal state have sought to defund public welfare and social insurance programs.

Finally, it is interesting to note how this period has been remembered by the WCB, or at least its contemporary leadership. In 2016, the Manitoba WCB celebrated the centenary of the workers’ compensation system in Manitoba. This milestone provided the organization the opportunity to publicly reflect upon and commemorate its history and achievements. Throughout the fall of 2016, the WCB sponsored several initiatives to educate the public on some of the major developments of the workers’ compensation system and of the WCB itself. These included a youth social media contest, a redesigned website with an entire section devoted to the history of the WCB, and a special issue in the Winnipeg Free Press. [47] The latter is particularly interesting as it focused on only a few major developments, one of which was the 1982 investigation and Cooper Report. Published on 3 September 2016, the article, titled “Crisis at the Board,” summarized the importance of the event as follows:

In 1982, RCMP Inspector D. C. Cooper released a report on the entire field of workers’ compensation in Manitoba in response to a WCB employee’s public allegations of mismanagement and unfair treatment of claimants. Extensive changes followed the release of this report, including replacing the commissioners and senior management of the WCB and undergoing an in-depth review of WCB management and procedures. It was a tumultuous time at the WCB that helped strengthen the organization for its next chapter. [48]

While this summary exaggerates the overall significance of the Cooper Report to the history of the Workers’ Compensation system, as it resulted in only minor administrative changes, it is nevertheless striking that the WCB administration has collectively remembered this period as a formative event in the organization’s history. While light on details, the organization has come to remember this period as essential to its later evolution, and puts a positive spin on the investigation by concluding that it “helped strengthen the organization for its next chapter.” Significantly, no mention is made of the ongoing financial crisis at the WCB throughout the 1980s and 1990s, which arguably garnered more press coverage during that period.

The flow of claims. A diagram in the Cooper report describes the process by which worker claims were reviewed by the Workers Compensation Board.

Canadian Union of Public Employees

CUPE was founded in Winnipeg in1963 from a merger of two public-sector unions, the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Union of Public Service Employees (NUPSE). Currently, it is Canada’s largest union with more than 600,000 members across the country. [49] There are roughly 25,000 CUPE members in Manitoba, making it the second largest union in the province after the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU), which represents workers in the Manitoba Civil Service. [50]

CUPE has a highly decentralized organizational structure, which is rooted in the principle of local autonomy. As Stephanie Ross notes, “From its inception, CUPE’s structure has been based on the principle that locals have ultimate control over their own affairs, and that the power of more central levels of the unions should be limited to an absolute minimum.” [51] This institutional decentralism was a product of the merger negotiations between NUPE and NUPSE. Despite servicing similar areas in the public sector (such as hospital and municipal workers), each union had very different organizational structures and approaches to union activism. [52]

The principle of local autonomy is jealously defended by many locals, including CUPE 1063. One consequence of local autonomy is that locals act virtually independently of the national union. Therefore, most of the activism within CUPE occurs at the local level. It is therefore necessary to understand the struggles of local activists within CUPE to properly appreciate the history and the nature of the organization, and by extension the wider labour movement within Manitoba and Canada. Additionally, institutional decentralism has created deep, almost personal attachments on the part of local activists to their locals. Referring to Dave Cutler, President of CUPE 1063 from 1988–2009, Sandra Oakley observed that “Dave tend[ed] to be almost paternalist. You know, my members.” [53] Nor was this phenomenon limited to the local’s executive. In another round of bargaining (date unspecified), Cutler recalled a phone conversation between Oakley and the then-president of the Manitoba Government Employees Association (predecessor of the current MGEU) and later Premier, Gary Doer.

And I remember on the phone with Gary Doer, screaming at him to not recommend acceptance on a 13-13 [percent wage increase] over two years because she had 14 and 14 and was going to reject it. 'Cause she said, if you accept that we’re stuck and I’ve got more on the table than that and we’re gonna reject it. And I think we ended up with 16 and 17. [54]

CUPE 1063 was chartered on 10 May 1967. [55] The local’s earliest collective agreement (and likely its first) was signed on 25 March 1968. [56] As of 2017, CUPE 1063 represents approximately 550 public-sector workers at the WCB. [57] During the 1980s, however, the local’s membership was roughly 200, less than half of its current strength. [58] In 1986, for instance, 201 out of the 255 employees at the WCB were members of CUPE 1063, a unionization rate of 78.8%. [59] This figure appears to have remained consistent throughout the period in question, as the 1989 WCB Annual report stated that CUPE 1063 represented approximately 85% of the employees at the Board. [60] The late 1980s and early 1990s were also a period of major organizational restructuring at the WCB, which necessitated the hiring of additional staff. For instance, between 1986 and 1997 the number of employees at the WCB increased from 255 to 404 (Table 1). Finally, it is important to note that the workforce at the WCB has historically been female-dominated. The Report on the Implementation of Pay Equity noted that in 1986 there were 167 women and 88 men employed at the WCB, with women representing 65.5% of a total workforce of 255. [61]

Table 1: Number of Employees at the Manitoba WCB

The early history of the local is difficult to reconstruct given the absence of surviving records (such as executive minutes) or of executive members from the era who could be interviewed. The earliest president interviewed was Craig Cormack, who served from roughly 1979 to 1981. George Schamber and Dave Cutler, while hired in the early 1970s, both acknowledged that they did not get involved in the local immediately, and as a result have few memories of this period. [63] A few general observations will have to suffice. Prior to 1981, CUPE 1063 went through five different presidents, most of whom served only one term. The only exception was Bob Kinnear, who served possibly two terms. However, this observation must be tempered with the knowledge that at least some of the individuals who were on the executive during this period served for prolonged periods of time, despite changes in the local’s presidency roughly every two years. [64]

For two reasons 1981 was remembered as a seminal moment in the history of the local. First, the year marked a transition in the local’s leadership, at least according to many of the individuals interviewed. For instance, Sandra Oakley became the local’s national servicing representative and was instrumental in the evolution the local’s collective agreements during her 20-year tenure. Schamber, mentioned already, became the local’s president in 1981. Dave Cutler, Schamber’s successor and the local’s longest-serving president, summed up the significance of this transition: “[B]efore George was president, I would say every other president that we had, that at least that I knew, used it as a stepping stone into management or they were seen eventually as being too close to management.” [65] For example, Schamber’s predecessor Craig Cormack took a management position shortly after his term as president ended and was on the employer’s bargaining committee in the 1988 negotiations.

“Culture of Intimidation”

The year was also significant for the Cooper investigation and the internal crisis at the WCB, which the local had to navigate. For CUPE 1063, the most important aspect of the Cooper investigation was not the allegations of claims suppression, but rather the “culture of intimidation” that the union believed existed within the organization. In their analysis, this was one of the primary reasons for the poisoned labour relations at the WCB during this period. Regarding the charges of intimidation at the WCB, the Cooper Report concluded that “there is some substance to the charge.” The report acknowledged that certain individuals “did feel intimidated by management” and concluded that this was probably due to a “breakdown in communications” rather than the result of any ill-intent on the part of management. It went further in noting the difficulty in attributing motive, as “the very word ‘intimidation’ is emotionally charged...consequently that term meant something different to everyone.” [66] George Schamber, president of CUPE Local 1063 from 1981 to 1988, asserted that the culture of intimidation at the WCB was far more systemic and long-standing than the Cooper Report acknowledged:

When I first started [at the WCB] ... I could see that there was a hell of a lot of intimidation going on. If you did tell somebody why do you put up with that, they’d say, oh shit if I don’t they’ll get me. There was always a bit of a fear, you can’t do this, can’t do that, don’t complain. [67]

In Schamber’s analysis, the culture of intimation at the WCB was an institutionalized practice, or at least was perceived to be by the employees of the Board. Dave Cutler, CUPE 1063’s President from 1988 to 2009, also remarked on this culture of “management by intimidation,” recalling how

The management when I first got involved at the WCB was very much an old boys’ club and they ran the place in a totally inappropriate management manner. It was management by intimidation throughout the organization and until there was a thorough investigation done into the organization [i.e., the Cooper Report] that continued for some time until changes were made. [68]

The exact nature of this culture of intimidation is difficult to describe in any great detail given the lack of documentation or oral testimony about it. However, during a follow-up interview with Dave Cutler, he elaborated on some of the practices of the WCB management during the 1970s and early 1980s.

Oh I mean it wasn’t even subtle. I saw them throw files at people, I saw them yell at people, they embarrassed people, they threatened people ... And that’s the way they dealt with people. And I can tell you that intimidation wasn’t just with regards to unionized staff. The one I saw the file get thrown from a director it went at an assistant director. And he scrambled to pick it off the floor just like a good little boy. It was unbelievable. [69]

It should also be noted that George Schamber was one of the WCB employees who was called to give testimony during the RCMP investigation. Evidently though, his perspective (and, more generally, that of the locals), was not deemed representative of the state of labour relations at the WCB, since the official verdict was much more soft-spoken in its analysis of the alleged “culture of intimidation.”

The culture of intimidation at the WCB was also exacerbated by another development not mentioned in the Cooper Report, namely the attempt by certain elements of the WCB’s middle management to reform the WCB from within. This so-called “Rump Group,” as Schamber called them, and their actions to reform the “ultra-conservative” culture of the WCB’s leadership contributed to “the roughest time the board ever saw.” [70] While light on details, the internal chaos of the WCB’s internal operations was also noted by the Winnipeg Free Press. One article described how:

The WCB staff is polarized into hostile camps: one group, which has spoken up publicly, using every opportunity to help claimants get the best possible service and results from the board; the other, which has not yet been heard from, working in some other direction and arousing resentment among the first group. [71]

According to Schamber, this polarization was partially the result of the tactics of intimidation that the Rump Group employed to advance their agenda, culminating in a campaign of mass “misinformation.” Indeed, his characterization of them was less rosy than the Free Presscoverage. Schamber recalled one such instance:

The second-in-command at the Board died inside the building of a heart attack. [The Rump Group] floated the information that he was shot, there was a bit of a demonstration going on by the Injured Workers Association, that somebody picked him off. [72]

The exact timeline of these developments, however, is difficult to establish. What is clear is that these attempts to reform the WCB from within were at least contemporaneous with the public allegations made against the WCB in the fall and winter of 1981–1982. For example, the above episode recounted by George Schamber is referring to the heart attack (and subsequent death) of the executive director of the WCB, Ralph Boyes. [73]

Under the leadership of George Schamber, the local opted to work with the existing senior management during the period of transition at the WCB, rather than join the Rump Group in seeking more radical changes at the Board. One likely reason for this was the union leadership’s disgust at the tactics of intimidation perpetrated by members of the Rump Group, which circumvented established patterns of labour relations. As Schamber noted, “they didn’t at all try and go through the union, they just set up this fifth column and floated a lot of misinformation.” [74] When negotiations came up later the Rump Group, eager to undermine the administration of the WCB, offered to negotiate directly with the union. The local rebuffed the offer, again on practical grounds. Schamber recalled that:

One night the ring leader of the underground people phoned ... and he says all you have to do is slip me a note if you want 30% or 35% [wage increase], you got it. Well it dawned on me then how dumb can a person be, that we are a semi-government agency ... the government will tell you to go to hell! [75]

Schamber also noted that the Rump Group attempted to gain allies outside of the WCB, stating that “[they] had some connection with the government and they went through the Manitoba Federation of Labour and also the Injured Workers Association.” [76] To what extent they were successful is impossible to say. However, from the local’s perspective this was entirely inappropriate. This position is more understandable when one considers that CUPE 1063, which is affiliated to the Manitoba Federation of Labour, has not always had the friendliest of relationships with the MFL. Chris Rerick, the current treasurer of the local, explained that “the MFL does have a tendency to ... attack the WCB. And the WCB employees are members of CUPE 1063. ... in the past there have been what people have perceived as attacks against or insults against our employees.” [77] It is certainly true that many of the public statements of the MFL during this period walked a fine line between criticizing the WCB while acknowledging the work of the employees of the WCB. [78] This relationship has become even more complicated in recent years, as the current MFL president, Kevin Rebeck, is a current member of CUPE 1063. [79]

These narratives of success, of a union able to assert its independence and authority, are important to consider in relation to how individual activists have remembered their own individual and collective struggles, and the relative importance that was assigned to specific events. The clearest articulation of this narrative was given by Dave Cutler. In two separate interviews, he repeated almost identical narratives of one specific event, which for him summarized the transition of a union that was perceived as merely a “flea on a dog” to a respected partner in the labour relations process. The first excerpt, taken from an interview conducted in 2016, describes his encounter as a union representative with an unnamed director at the Board.

Oh, I mean it wasn’t even subtle. I saw them throw files at people, I saw them yell at people, they embarrassed people, they threatened people. I know personally I was in a meeting, there was two of us, where yeah we’d made a mistake but the director of the department at that time looked at us quite nonplussed. He looked across the table and said ‘union or no fucking union, you guys make a mistake like this again I’m firing your ass out the door. Now get out of my office.’ [80]

The second (and first iteration of this story), is taken from an interview conducted in 2014. In it, Cutler explicitly talks about the notion of respect. While he does not go into details as to how the union became respected, his comments are part of a larger narrative about CUPE 1063 which articulates a story of success won not only at the bargaining table, but in the local’s gradual independence in the labour relations process, as noted earlier.

I remember what it was like before the union was respected, and I believe it is respected. Like I got called in to a meeting once where, I mean a guy made a mistake on a file and basically this guy, the boss, yelled at us, called us incompetent and said, union or no union you make a mistake like this again and you’re fired. There’s no way in the world there’s a manager in the organization today that would dare do that. And they certainly wouldn’t do it with a union rep there. [81]

While this quotation is not specifically about the 1981–1982 Cooper investigation or report, or even the Rump Group reference by George Schamber, it neatly summarizes the accomplishments of the local in this period as remembered by the activists who participated in these struggles. The local established itself as a respected partner at the bargaining table and at the labour relations process more generally. It reasserted its independence insofar as its leadership was seen as no longer being “too close to management.” Additionally, the local helped manage the internal crisis at the Board by dealing directly with the existing leadership rather than the disaffected Rump Group.

Modernist masterpiece. The present home of the Workers Compensation Board, at 333 Broadway in Winnipeg, was constructed in 1961 as headquarters for the Monarch Life Assurance Company. The WCB moved in 1999.
Source: G. Goldsborough

Although largely forgotten today, the 1981–1982 investigation and Cooper Report were perceived to be formative events in the institutional development of both the Manitoba WCB and CUPE Local 1063. For the WCB, the investigation and report have collectively been remembered as a “tumultuous time” that ushered in “sweeping changes” at the Board, which “helped strengthen the organization for its next chapter.” While it was an exaggeration, the report did result in the creation of a worker advisor program, a full-time Chair and Board, along with several other administrative reforms. For CUPE 1063, the Cooper Report was collectively remembered as it was part of a larger narrative of success, whereby the union gradually asserted its independence, arrested a “toxic climate of intimidation,” and became a respected partner in the labour relations process at the WCB.


1. Dave Cutler, interview by author, Winnipeg, 16 April 2016.

2. George Schamber, interview by author, Winnipeg, 24 April 2014.

3. It was also a very uncertain process, as employers could argue that the worker assumed the risk or that a co-worker was responsible for the accident. Robert Storey, “From Invisibility to Equality? Women Workers and the Gendering of Workers’ Compensation in Ontario, 1900–2005,” Labour/Le Travail 64 (Fall 2009): pp. 79–80; James Struthers, No Fault of Their Own: Unemployment and the Canadian Welfare State, 1914–1941. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983, p. 22.

4. Morley Gunderson and Doug Hyatt, Workers’ Compensation: Foundations for Reform, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000, p. 3.

5. Ibid., p. 6.

6. Struthers argues that the perceived success of workers’ compensation programs in “preventing, [and] merely relieving joblessness” made the program especially popular to provincial governments. It also provided the federal government with a model for its own (short-lived) national unemployment insurance scheme after the First World War. Struthers (1983), p. 22.

7. Price V. Fishback and Shawn Everett Kantor, “Did Workers Pay for the Passage of Workers’ Compensation Laws?,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 110, no. 3, 1993, p. 714.

8. Fishback and Kantor, 1993, pp. 713–714.

9. R. C. B. Risk, “‘This Nuisance of Litigation’: The Origins of Workers’ Compensation in Ontario”. In Flaherty, David H. (ed.), Essays in the History of Canadian Law. Vol. 2., Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012, p. 432.

10. Marsha A. Chandler and William M. Chandler, Public Policy and Provincial Politics, Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1979, p. 192; Bob Barnetson, The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada, Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2010, p. 109.

11. Barnetson, 2010, pp. 107–109; Storey, 2009, p. 80.

12. David Scott, “The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba: Environment, Structure and Process.” MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1993, pp. 29–30.

13. James Blanchard, “Rodmond P. Roblin: 1900–1915,” In Barry Fergusonand Robert Wardhaugh (eds.), Manitoba Premiers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Regina: CPRC Press, University of Regina, 2010, p. 132; Logan, p. 501.

14. Morris Mott, “Tobias C. Norris: 1915–1922,” In Ferguson and Wardhaugh, 2010, p. 146.

15. Ibid.

16. Valerie Raleigh Yow, Recording Oral History: A Guide for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2nd ed., Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2005, p. 3.

17. Lynn Abrams, Oral History Theory, London: Routledge, 2010, p. 2.

18. Ibid., p. 9.

19. Alessandro Portelli, “The Peculiarities of Oral History,” History Workshop, No. 12, Autumn, 1981, p. 103.

20. Smita A. Rahman, “The presence of the past: Negotiating the politics of collective memory,” Contemporary Political Theory 9, No. 1, 2010, pp. 60–61.

21. Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, ed. and trans. by Lewis A. Coser, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992, p. 40.

22. Anna Green, “Can Memory Be Collective?,” in Donald A. Ritchie (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Oral History, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 106.

23. Ibid., p. 108.

24. Joan Sangster, “Oral History and Working Class History: A Rewarding Alliance,” in “Working Lives: Special Issue on Oral and Working-Class History,” Oral History Forum d’historieorale 33, 2013, p. 1.

25. Joan Sangster, “Reflections on the Politics and Praxis of Working-Class Oral Histories”, in Reilly, Nolan, Alexander Freund, and Kristina R. Llewellyn (eds.), The Canadian Oral History Reader, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015, p. 120.

26. Alvin Finkel, “Reconstructing Working-Class History via Oral History: A Challenge for a Politically Engaged Academic,” in “Working Lives: Special Issue on Oral History and Working-Class History”, Oral History Forum d’historeorale 33, 2013, pp. 1–2.

27. Sangster, 2015, p. 128.

28. Cooper, D. C., A Report on the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba: Compensation Challenges for the 80’s. Attorney General’s Office of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1982; Sheila Bean, “Compensation board probe sought,” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 October 1981, p. 1; “Fired official denies rules were violated,” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 October 1981, p. 4.

29. Cooper, A Report on the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba; Andy Blicq and Sheila Bean, “Allegations force probe into WCB,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1981, p. 1.

30. Cooper, A Report on the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba; Andy Blicq and Sheila Bean, “WCB employees claim some personnel unfair,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1981, p. 4.

31. Andy Blicq and Sheila Bean, “Allegations force probe into WCB,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1981: p. 1; “Ombudsman scolds government,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 March 1982, p. 3.

32. “Clearing WCB air,” Winnipeg Free Press, 7 December 1981.

33. Manitoba, Legislative Assembly Hansard, 11 June 1982, p. 3259.

34. The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba, 1982 Annual Report, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1983, p. 3.

35. Cooper, A Report on the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba.

36. The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba, 1982 Annual Report, Winnipeg/Manitoba, 1983, p. 3.

37. Manitoba, Legislative Assembly, Standing Committee on Industrial Relations, vol. 30, no. 3, 26 June 1982, p. 34.

38. Ibid., p. 33.

39. “Ombudsman scolds government,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 March 1982, p. 3.

40. Ingeborg Boyens, “Mercier Claims Labour Dictating Policy. Workers Compensation Board Employees Fired in Political Purge—Conservative,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 August 1982.

41. “Under the Carpet,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 June 1982.

42. Terry Thompson and Douglas Hyatt, “Workers’ Compensation Costs in Canada, 1961–1993,” in Michael G. Abbott, Charles M. Beach, and Richard P. Chaykowski, (eds.), Transition and Structural Change in the North American Labour Market, Kingston, Ontario: IRC Press, 1997, p. 235.

43. The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba, 1991 Annual Report, Winnipeg/Manitoba, 1992, p. 12.

44. Thompson and Hyatt, 1997, p. 235.

45. Injured Workers Online, Workers Compensation Finances – Crisis or Smokescreen?, p. 3.

46. Ibid., p. 1.

47. “WCB 100: More Info”

48. Supplement to the Winnipeg Free Press, 3 September 2016 - “100 Years: Here to Help Since 1916”.

49. Jane Stinson and Morna Ballantyne, “Union Renewal and CUPE”, in Pradeep Kumar and Christopher Schenk, (eds.), Paths to Union Renewal: Canadian Experiences, Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2006, p. 146.

50. The MGEU has approximately 40,000 members. Canadian Union of Public Employees. CUPE Celebrates: Year in Review 2014, Ottawa, 2015, pp. 16–17; MGEU Website,

51. Stephanie Ross,“The Making of CUPE: Structure, Democracy and Class Formation,” PhD Thesis, York University, 2005, p. 6.

52. NUPSE was highly centralized, with a high per capita levy supporting a large national office, and encouraged its locals to depend on the advice of its staff officers. A reference to the reference? NUPE, by contrast, had a much smaller national office and a tradition of local autonomy, which its membership was loath to abandon in any prospective merger. The final agreement was a compromise between NUPSE’s bureaucratic structure and NUPE’s activist culture. Local autonomy was written into CUPE’s constitution while a network of national servicing representatives supported by national and regional offices provided legal advice and guidance in bargaining. Susan Crean, Grace Hartman: A Woman for Her Time, Vancouver: New Star Books, 1995, pp. 94–95.

53. Sandra Oakley, interview by author, Winnipeg, 12 December 2013.

54. Dave Cutler, interview by author, Winnipeg, 2 January 2014.

55. CUPE Local 1063, Members’ Handbook, p. 11.

56. Collective Agreement between the Manitoba WCB and CUPE Local 1063, 1968–1969, p. 1.

57. Dave Ferguson, interview by author, Winnipeg, 30 January 2014.

58. Ibid.

59. Manitoba Pay Equity Bureau, Pay Equity Implementation in Manitoba Crown Corporations. Winnipeg, Manitoba, May 1991, p. 4.

60. The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba, 1989 Annual Report, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1990, p. 7.

61. Pay Equity Implementation in Manitoba Crown Corporations, p. 5.

62. Pay Equity Implementation in Manitoba Crown Corporations, p. 4; The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba, Annual Reports, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1988, p. 43; 1991, p. 41; 1994, p. 9; 1996, p. 27; 1997, p. 41.

63. George Schamber, interview by author, Winnipeg, Canada, 24 April 2014; Dave Cutler, interview by author, Winnipeg, 2 January 2014.

64. This can be inferred from the local’s collective agreements, in which certain individuals participated in multiple rounds of bargaining. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate the local’s minutes from this period in order to verify who was on the executive at any given moment.

65. Dave Cutler was president of CUPE 1063 for roughly 20 years between 1988 until his retirement in 2009. Dave Cutler, interview by author, (Winnipeg, Canada), 2 January 2014.

66. Cooper, 1982, A Report on the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba.

67. George Schamber, interview by author, Winnipeg, 24 April 2014.

68. Dave Cutler, interview by author, Winnipeg, 16 April 2016.

69. Ibid.

70. George Schamber, interview by author, Winnipeg, 24 April 2014.

71. “Swift kick indicated,” Winnipeg Free Press, 2 November 1981.

72. George Schamber, interview by author, Winnipeg, 24 April 2014.

73. “WCB protest, director’s heart attack coincide,” Winnipeg Free Press, 22 December 1981.

74. George Schamber, interview by author, Winnipeg, Canada, 24 April 2014.

75. Ibid.

76. Ibid.

77. Chris Rerick, interview by author, Winnipeg, 3 January 2014.

78. For example, at a session of the Standing Committee on Industrial Relations on 26 June 1982, Dick Martin stated that, “We found in the past a lot of the employees, we believe, of the Compensation Board were doing their jobs and thought they were perceived to be doing their jobs, but in terms of an administrative way, it was an adversarial system.” Manitoba, Legislative Assembly, Standing Committee on Industrial Relations, vol. 30, no. 3, 26 June 1982, p. 33.

79. Kevin Rebeck is currently on an indefinite leave of absence from the WCB, and as such is still a dues-paying member of CUPE Local 1063. Chris Rerick, interview by author, Winnipeg, 3 January 2014.

80. Dave Cutler, interview by author, Winnipeg, 16 April 2016.

81. Dave Cutler, interview by author, Winnipeg, 2 January 2014.

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 31 January 2022

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