Labour law proposals getting mixed reviews
Auto industry against making it easier for workers to unionize
Increasing the minimum wage will have little impact on Ontario’s auto industry, but the prospect of making it easier for workplaces to unionize isn’t sitting well with plant owners.
Reports that the Ontario cabinet discussed proposed changes to labour legislation this week was met Friday with mixed emotions.
Labour advocates lauded the two main proposals leaked from the cabinet session, while the spokesman for parts manufacturers was less than enthusiastic.
The province is said to be on the cusp of raising minimum wage to $15 an hour from $11.40.
“Minimum wage is not a problem because we pay more than minimum wage,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association of Canada.
“We pay people well, we treat people well, worker safety is a priority and training is a priority.”
Volpe said raising the minimum wage could affect the pool of available labour for his industry. Workers may eschew automotive jobs for other employment that does not involve assembly lines or shift work, he said.
“It generally tightens the labour pool.”
But the union that represents autoworkers applauds the change.
“People need a livable wage,” said Unifor president Gerry Dias. “If you can’t afford to pay 15 bucks an hour, you have to look at your business model.”
Dias said, in the automotive parts industry, there are some nonunionized shops that pay less than $15 an hour. Some of the owners, meanwhile, are making millions.
“For them to object to people making $15 an hour (ticks) me off — the hypocrisy,” he said.
Auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers said increasing minimum wage will have little effect on the industry.
“I have a hard time connecting the dots on that,” he said. Most plants pay more than minimum wage and those that don’t constitute “a fly speck in our industry — as it should be.”
Autoworkers deserve higher wages because the work is repetitive and physically difficult, he said.
“They deserve the high pay they get.”
In addition to boosting the minimum wage, the province appears poised to allow workplaces to become unionized without a secretballot vote by workers. Instead, all unions will need to be certified in a workplace is having a majority of workers sign union cards.
But Volpe said, while the industry “understands the value of unionization,” the change will make the province less competitive by sending the wrong message to investors.
The province will appear too friendly to unions at a time when some states in the U.S. are passing “right to work” legislation that makes it harder for unions to operate.
DesRosiers said that change is upsetting business owners.
“We have a democracy that’s predicated on a secret ballot,” DesRosiers. Dias disputes that argument. Signing a card shows a worker wants to unionize, Dias said.
The vote is not only unnecessary, it’s an opportunity for employers to intimidate workers after the fact.
Proposed changes to labour legislation may also involve giving temporary workers the same benefits as full-time employees.
That could hurt automotive plants that often “gross up” before product launches or to meet temporary demands.
“They need to be flexible,” Volpe said.
Legislative changes could force plants to “run permanently overstaffed or run permanently understaffed.” Neither situation is good business, Volpe said.
“If you run overstaffed, how do you bid effectively?”
Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Percy Hatfield (NDP) said many of the proposals likely discussed by the Liberal cabinet are things his party has been advocating, but fears it may not go far enough.
He said he’d like to see anti-scab legislation introduced, as well as legislation that allows newly unionized workers to get a first contract through binding arbitration.
“I’m in favour of anything that makes it easier for people to join a union and to get a first contract, and I’m all for a boost in minimum wage.”
DesRosiers said the Wynn government may be trying score points with voters, or they may simply be trying to pass legislation before losing power.
“It’s becoming apparent that the odds of Wynn getting second term are close to nil,” he said. “While they’re in power they’re trying to get stuff done.”