Ottawa Citizen

‘Right to work’ would lead to chaos: ex­perts

Warn­ing goes out that On­tario headed for crip­pling labour dis­con­tent

- MO­HAMMED ADAM Society · Canada News · Discrimination · Politics · Human Rights · Social Issues · Ontario · Tim Hudak · Conservative Party of Canada · Mike Harris · Toronto · U.S. Supreme Court · Conservative Party (UK) · United States of America · Union · Alabama · Mississippi · South Carolina · China · India · Brazil · University of Toronto · Labor Rights · Carleton University · Carleton University · Sid Ryan · Sprott School of Business

The bit­ter teach­ers’ dis­pute that has caused chaos in schools across the province is set­ting the stage for a new wave of labour un­rest On­tario has not seen in decades, ex­perts warn.

With Tory leader Tim Hu­dak, the favourite to win the next pro­vin­cial elec­tion, talk­ing tough against unions and pro­mot­ing a so-called rightto-work agenda, they warn that On­tario is head­ing for labour dis­con­tent that could crip­ple the province.

The ex­perts say if teach­ers’ unions to­day are up in arms be­cause the Lib­eral government is curb­ing their right to ne­go­ti­ate con­tracts or go on strike, On­tar­i­ans can only imag­ine what would hap­pen if the Tories en­act a right to­law that could strip unions of their abil­ity to func­tion and has­ten their demise.

“Right-to-work is too loaded and in­cen­di­ary, and if a ma­jor­ity Con­ser­va­tive government passes such a law, it would pro­duce huge anger and blow-back,” says Car­leton Univer­sity busi­ness pro­fes­sor Ian Lee.

“It is a bridge too far to take away the Rand for­mula … If Hu­dak was elected and it went through, the union move­ment would pull out all the stops and de­clare war against the government.”

At its core, right-to-work will deny em­ploy­ers the power to col­lect dues on be­half of unions in the work­place. The pres­i­dent of the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Labour says that, over time, this pol­icy would dry up union fund­ing and kill them.

Sid Ryan says even as teach­ers are bat­tling the Lib­eral government to­day, the union move­ment knows that a Con­ser­va­tive government would be worse, and Hu­dak’s rightto-work pro­posal — an “Or­wellian slo­gan” that will “de­stroy” unions — says it all. He warns any government con­tem­plat­ing such leg­is­la­tion bet­ter buckle up for a pro­tracted labour war.

“This fight we see right now with school teach­ers is about just the right to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. Imag­ine if this is a fight over the right to join a union or for free­loaders to hold their money and de­stroy the labour move­ment. It will be an in­cred­i­ble fight,” Ryan says.

“The days of protest un­der Mike Har­ris when we had 200,000 protest­ing on the streets of Toronto will be like a Sun­day pic­nic com­pared to the fight that will go on if they try to take away the Rand for­mula.”

The Rand for­mula is named af­ter the au­thor and former Supreme Court Jus­tice Ivan Rand. More than 60 years ago, he es­tab­lished the prin­ci­ple that an em­ployer must col­lect dues from all em­ploy­ees in a bar­gain­ing unit — and not only from those who are union mem­bers. Rand’s de­ci­sion, handed down in 1946 when he was asked to ar­bi­trate a strike in Wind­sor, has been up­held by the Supreme Court as a rea­son­able limit on in­di­vid­ual free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion. It has re­mained the bedrock of union ac­tiv­ity in Canada ever since, and it is this fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple that Hu­dak wants to elim­i­nate.

A se­ries of White Pa­pers is­sued this fall out­lined the ini­tia­tives the Con­ser­va­tives would pur­sue to re­gen­er­ate the econ­omy if elected. Th­ese in­clude freez­ing pub­lic sec­tor wages, re­form­ing pub­lic pen­sions, end­ing closed ten­der­ing for con­tracts and pri­va­tiz­ing work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion by al­low­ing the pri­vate sec­tor to com­pete with the Work­place Safety and In­surance Board. But the one that has hit a raw nerve (and baf­fled some ex­perts) is Hu­dak’s “worker choice” re­forms, un­der which em­ploy­ers will no longer deduct union dues from work­ers’ pay che­ques.

Hu­dak doesn’t use the term right-to-work. But he points out in pol­icy doc­u­ments that U.S. states that have adopted “worker choice” poli­cies un­der which work­ers are free not to join unions are thriv­ing and cre­at­ing jobs. Hu­dak says the U.S. “man­u­fac­tur­ing re­nais­sance is ex­pected to take place pri­mar­ily in states with worker choice re­forms,” and On­tario should fol­low a sim­i­lar path to pros­per­ity. But since unions al­ready ex­ist in work­places across the province, Hu­dak wants to weaken them by hit­ting them in the pocket.

“It’s time the law is mod­ern­ized to give On­tario em­ploy­ees more choice and con­trol, and to en­cour­age the kind of flex­i­ble work­force On­tario busi­nesses need to be com­pet­i­tive. It’s es­sen­tial to cre­at­ing jobs,” he says.

And his pol­icy doc­u­ment spells it out clearly: “No clauses in any pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion, reg­u­la­tion or col­lec­tive agree­ment should re­quire a worker to be­come a mem­ber of a union or pay union dues as a con­di­tion of em­ploy­ment. Union lead­ers, not em­ploy­ers should col­lect dues from the work­ers they rep­re­sent.”

Lee, who teaches strate­gic man­age­ment at Car­leton’s Sprott School of Busi­ness and once ran for the fed­eral Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, is mys­ti­fied by Hu­dak’s en­dorse­ment of right-to-work. He says the Tory leader was on a win­ning path talk­ing about deficit re­duc­tion, pen­sion re­form, a pub­lic sec­tor wage freeze and cut­ting spend­ing, which many On­tar­i­ans read­ily iden­tify with. But veer­ing into an area like right-towork, which is largely iden­ti­fied with South­ern U.S. states such as Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi, South Carolina, is baf­fling.

Right-to-work was used by south­ern states starved of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs to at­tract plants that com­pa­nies had been re­luc­tant to lo­cate in the south. Lee says the pol­icy has suc­ceeded in at­tract­ing new jobs even though “you work for less money.”

Lee points out, how­ever, that unions have been on the de­cline in Canada and the U.S. since glob­al­iza­tion took hold and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries such as China, In­dia and Brazil be­came man­u­fac­tur­ing hubs. He notes that to­day only 31 per cent of the Cana­dian work­force is union­ized. In the pri­vate sec­tor, the fig­ure is 17 per cent while the num­ber in the pub­lic sec­tor is about 75 per cent. In On­tario, about 28 per cent of the work­ers are union­ized, and Lee says with mem­ber­ship de­clin­ing or flat, there is not much to be gained in tak­ing on such an emo­tion­ally-charged is­sue as right-to-work.

Even in the pub­lic sec­tor, where unions are strong, their power has been wan­ing with gov­ern­ments chip­ping away at wages and ben­e­fits. Pub­lic sec­tor pay freezes or one-per-cent in­creases and smaller pen­sions are go­ing to be the norm, he says.

The Tory base may wel­come tough right-to-work poli­cies, but Lee says Cana­di­ans and On­tar­i­ans “are more cen­trist than Amer­i­cans” and rightto-work could back­fire. Cen­trist and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers Hu­dak might need for a ma­jor­ity could be re­pelled by what they may see as a mean-spir­ited at­tempt to kill unions.

“For that po­lit­i­cal strate­gic rea­son, and be­cause it is sim­ply un­nec­es­sary, it would be a waste of valu­able po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal, sim­i­lar to chal­leng­ing gay rights or abor­tion,” Lee says.

Nel­son Wise­man, a Univer­sity of Toronto po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, says po­lit­i­cal par­ties don’t adopt poli­cies out of the blue. The only ex­pla­na­tion that makes sense is that Tories may have talked to fo­cus groups and come away be­liev­ing that such a pol­icy would be pop­u­lar. But he doubts right-to-work would go far un­less Hu­dak wins a ma­jor­ity.

“Right now I don’t see the Con­ser­va­tives win­ning a ma­jor­ity. I see a mi­nor­ity, and I don’t know if Hu­dak will bring right-to-work in a mi­nor­ity,” he says.

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