Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.
Nov
2012
9

Canadian Building Trades Fighting Similar Fights to Their U.S. Counterparts



A policy paper from the Saskatchewan Provincial Building & Construction Trades Council finds that corporate suggestions submitted to the province’s controversial review of labour legislation would create a “Low Road to Growth” for the province’s workers.

Among the submitted policies were “Right-to-Work” legislation, a ban on political action campaigns and waiving the rights of workers to refuse overtime. The paper states that together these concepts are “clearly harmful to workers.”

Taken together, the suggestions of Saskatchewan business and business organizations form a ‘Low Road to Growth’ through reduced wages, fewer worker rights and benefits, and greater freedom to allow employers to dictate the terms of employment.

Particularly damaging would be “Right-to-Work” which has decimated union density and workers’ wages in 23 American states. “Right-to-Work” would dismantle Canada’s “Rand Formula” — union dues in exchange for workplace representation regardless of union status — which has been the guiding light for Canadian labour since 1946. At that time, a court judgement stated that “a worker getting the advantages of a union contract must help pay for them through union dues.” Now anti-union businesses want to shred the policy.

Another proposal the council found to be hazardous to workers is the desire of some organizations to prevent unions from using dues for anything unrelated to collective bargaining (*cough, Prop 32, cough*). Via to the Regina Leader Post:

The council saw a double standard in this, commenting that employers want to muzzle unions on political issues, “while employers and organizations representing employers are free to dedicate their resources in any way that they deem in the interest of their members.”

Also of (dis)interest is a proposal to weaken the rules on abandonment of a contract. Two separate contracting groups submitted this proposal which would allow businesses that did not have employees for three years to be unleashed from their previous certification order. The council believes this would create a scenario in which employers would classify employees as “labour brokers” who would then have to agree to lower pay after three years.

Meanwhile, Robert Blakely, director of Canadian Affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD), is lamenting the fact that, despite dwindling union density, measures are being heaped upon unions that distract from their stated goal: to represent more workers and do more work.

He is referring specifically to his organization’s opposition to Bill C-377 which would add significant bureaucratic burdens under the guise of transparency. Said Blakely,

“If our challenge is getting people to fill the jobs, we’ve got another challenge, which is getting people into the local unions. We used to be 80 per cent of our industry; we’re now 40 per cent even across the board.”

Much like American unions, Canadian Labour has to deal with the never ending attack from the “Merit Shop” movement which is akin to the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC, or “the ALEC of the construction indutrsy”). Bill C-377 is being lobbied hard by these types of anti-union outlets.

“When you stack up a bunch of these things, Bill C-377, the end of federal fair wage, right to work, all of these things fit together as a plan, a coordinated, integrated, interlocking plan made by smart people who see us as being too disjointed to ever come up with an effective response.”

He notes that the battles the U.S. construction industry is mired in are extending north of the border:

“They are using a plan out of the United States. That plan is tested, tried and true and has driven the construction industry in the United States to rack and ruin.”

Rack and ruin may be a stretch, but the sentiment is understood. Bill C-377, which tackles a non-existent problem, would likely add 20 percent to union operational costs. It would cause a slow bleed of funds that will diminish a unions’ power to collectively bargain and pursue the political well-being of its workers. Many conservative members of parliament are turning in favor of the bill based on pressure from the merit shop movement (sound familiar?), which is why Blakely urges members to respond with equal or greater pressure.

“If it passes, we’re going to continue our campaign in the senate and if it passes in the senate, we’re going to court. We’ve got a couple of legal opinions that say we have a really good case if it comes to that, we’ve got nothing to lose then.”

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