Public service union members speak out against $50K Gaza donation

‘Over the past eight years, our union has really lost its focus,’ one member said

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A decision by Canada’s largest government workers’ union to donate $50,000 to two Gaza-based charities is raising the ire of some members, who say they’re fed up with funding politically-charged causes while concerns among their membership go unaddressed.

Late last month, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced two $25,000 donations supporting two Gaza-based charities: The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA.)

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“More than half of Gaza’s population has been forced to flee their homes, and reports say more than 14,000 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began following the October 7 Hamas attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis,” read a statement posted on PSAC’s website announcing the donation.

“Limited humanitarian aid has been permitted to enter Gaza, and with the health system facing potential collapse due to lack of basic necessities and fuel to keep the hospitals operating, it’s imperative to move as much relief, water, and medical supplies into Gaza as quickly as possible.”

That move angered many PSAC members, who tell the National Post they’re concerned over the increasing use of PSAC money and resources for activism that serves no benefit to membership — and particularly on such a divisive issue as Israel and Palestine.

Gerald Steinberg, the president of Jerusalem-based think tank NGO Monitor, told the National Post that PSAC’s choice of recipients is problematic.

“Aid for any people who need help is important, but in Gaza — as long as Hamas is in control — the likelihood of diversion for terror needs to be considered,” he said.

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UNRWA, Steinberg said, has a “disastrous track record,” and benefits from a close and overt association with Hamas that has lasted years.

“The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which is part of the International Red Cross framework, is also problematic, as shown in the use of their ambulances as taxis for terrorists,” Steinberg said. “Given these factors, the objections of union members is entirely justified.”

Anthony, a PSAC member who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation by his union, said this isn’t a new phenomenon.

“Over the past eight years, our union has really lost its focus,” he said. “We have radical activists in executive positions that are driving the union in a direction that the members don’t agree with.”

Fellow PSAC member Jerry, who says he’d previously served on local union boards, says there’s real concern among members that their dues money could eventually wind up funding Hamas.

“The issue to me is Gaza, which implies Hamas,” he said. “To say (donated money) doesn’t go to them in any form — if it’s going to Gaza, it goes through Hamas. That’s their government, that’s who controls things.”

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Sam, another concerned PSAC member, said he and his co-workers have watched the union’s shift with alarm.

“They’re not focusing on the issues that I feel are necessary for a trade union,” he said. “Workers have been left out in the cold.”

Those who do speak up, they say, are often dismissed as bigots — leading to what they describe as a toxic environment, particularly for Jewish members.

“They always say we could face consequences (for speaking out,) we could face suspension from the union,” Anthony said. “There are a lot of people who want to opt out of the union, but we’re not allowed.”

Sam said members who’ve dared raise concerns were ostracized.

“You’re diminished, you’re put in the margins,” he said. “You’re called names, people will literally make it so you cannot speak, or communicate to you that your opinion has no worth, and that your questions are stupid.”

While those who spoke with the National Post say they have few issues with their locals’ leadership, they blame PSAC’s regional and national leadership, whom they accuse of putting activism at the forefront, particularly after Oct. 7.

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Jerry said there are far more important issues being ignored by union leaders that mean more to the membership than supporting activism — including ongoing Phoenix pay issues, remote work and the ongoing debacle with Canada Life and public servants’ benefits.

While social activism on a local level is important, Jerry said the union needs to re-examine its priorities.

“Social justice and LGBT issues are important, our members need to feel safe, they need to feel appreciated, they don’t need to worry about losing their job because of their sexual identity or their politics,” he said.

In a statement, PSAC National President Chris Aylward said that the union regularly supports humanitarian causes both around the world and here in Canada.

“The unrelenting bombardment of civilians in Gaza along with the lack of water, electricity, medicine and food has created an urgent humanitarian crisis,” the statement read.

“PSAC’s donation joins that of many other organizations and Canadians who have supported humanitarian efforts throughout the ongoing conflict.”

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The statement added that despite most union resources being devoted to core work like negotiations and representation, Aylward said their membership has mandated support for the “humanitarian needs of workers and social justice struggles everywhere.”

Since 2003, PSAC has operated a Social Justice Fund supporting anti-poverty, social justice and labour development programs both within Canada and around the world.

Past causes supported by the fund included last year’s flooding in Pakistan, a 2021 call for Canada to curtail relations with the Philippines over counterterrorism campaigns conducted by former president Rodrigo Duterte, and a June 2023 donation supporting LGBTQ communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

The causes supported by PSAC — UNRWA and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society — have been criticized by observers and Jewish groups with having overt links to Hamas.

NGO Monitor also took exception with the Government of Canada’s October donation-matching program  benefitting Humanitarian Coalition’s Gaza Humanitarian Emergency Appeal, and the inclusion of four charities with alleged links to organizations listed by Canada as proscribed terror organizations.

• Email: [email protected] | X: @bryanpassifiume

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