By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
Right-to-work laws target the same labour unions that helped fund Obama’s victory
As Republicans try to rebuild after November’s electoral defeat, one of their priorities for 2013 may be going after the sources of the Democrats’ power—and no target is easier, or more inviting, than labour unions. The first post-election salvo against unions came in Michigan, home to thousands of unionized auto workers. By signing a right-to-work law outlawing requirements that workers pay union fees to work, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder may have inspired other Republican-controlled states. Groups like the pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provided the template for Michigan’s law, are already hoping to take the fight to other blue states in 2013.
Weakening unions has been a traditional Republican priority, from 1947’s Taft-Hartley Act that restricted union power, to former president Ronald Reagan’s famous fight with the air-traffic controllers’ union in 1981. But in past decades, there was a countervailing pro-union wing of the party, consisting of moderate northeastern Republicans. Now most are gone, and the party stars tend to align with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who once declared: “I love that we are one of the least unionized states in the country.”
Beyond party ideology, taking on unions has a clear political advantage: right-to-work laws cut off an outside source of funding for the Democratic party—funding that helped drive the get-out-the-vote operations which propelled President Barack Obama to victory in most swing states. But by reducing the amount of money unions can collect by an estimated 20 to 30 per cent, the new Michigan law might make it harder for future Democratic presidential candidates to win the state.
Of course, there are political risks: Mitt Romney’s stance against Obama’s auto bailout may have cost him labour-friendly states like Ohio and Michigan. And while groups like ALEC are already eyeing Republican-controlled Pennsylvania as a possible new right-to-work state, Gov. Tom Corbett says “there is not much of a movement to do it.” Then again, movements can start pretty quickly: Snyder once called such laws “divisive,” and said they were “not on my agenda,” only to change his mind this year. It remains to be seen whether other governors will, too.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 4:33 PM - 0 Comments
Unions face mounting challenges as employers feel the pinch in a tough economy
MONTREAL — After nearly a year of searching for a job close to home, welder Garnet Cooke is preparing to leave family behind and follow the trail blazed by many other unemployed Ontario workers who have headed west in search of a new life.
“I have been in this field for 35 years (and) I don’t wish to take any more steps backwards,” says the 54-year-old laid-off Electro-Motive worker.
Dave Clark said he’s gone through various stages of grief since he too lost his job at the London, Ont. locomotive plant after 18 years.
“There’s some really bad news out there. People are splitting, families are breaking apart, some people are filing for bankruptcy already. It’s tough.” Continue…
By The Associated Press - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 9:56 PM - 0 Comments
LANSING, Mich. – Republicans rushed right-to-work legislation Thursday in the Michigan Legislature, drawing raucous…
LANSING, Mich. – Republicans rushed right-to-work legislation Thursday in the Michigan Legislature, drawing raucous protests from hundreds of union supporters, some of whom were pepper-sprayed by police when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.
The House voted 58-52 to approve a measure prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees. The Senate was debating a similar bill, with Democrats denouncing it as an attack on worker rights and the GOP sponsor insisting it would boost the economy and jobs. Separate legislation dealing with public-sector unions was expected to come later.
Because of rules requiring a five-day delay between votes in the two chambers on the same legislation, final enactment appears unlikely until next week. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who previously had said repeatedly that right-to-work was “not on my agenda,” told reporters Thursday he would sign the measures.
A victory in Michigan would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region, where organized labour already has suffered several body blows. Republicans in Indiana and Wisconsin recently pushed through legislation curbing union rights, sparking massive protests.
Even before the Michigan bills surfaced, protesters streamed inside the Capitol preparing for what appeared inevitable after Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville announced at a news conference they were putting the issue on a fast track.
“This is all about taking care of the hard-working workers in Michigan, being pro-worker and giving them freedom to make choices,” Snyder said.
“The goal isn’t to divide Michigan, it is to bring Michigan together,” Snyder said.
But Democrats said the legislation — and Republicans’ tactics — would poison the state’s political atmosphere.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley repeatedly gaveled for order during the Senate debate as Democrats attacked the legislation to applause from protesters in the galley. At one point, a man shouted, “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That’s what you people are.” He was quickly escorted out. Another later yelled, “We will remember in November.”
Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door, state police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said.
Protesters waved placards and chanted slogans such as “Union buster” and “Right-to-work has got to go.” Adamczyk said the troopers used pepper spray after the people refused to obey orders to stop.
The Capitol, which was temporarily closed because of safety concerns, reopened Thursday afternoon, sending hundreds of protesters streaming back inside with chants of, “Whose house? Our house!” Adamczyk said a judge ordered the building reopened.
The decision to push forward in the waning days of the Legislature’s lame-duck session infuriated outnumbered Democrats, who resorted to parliamentary manoeuvrs to slow action but were powerless to block the bills.
House Democrats did walk out briefly Thursday in protest of the Capitol being closed.
Adamczyk estimated that about 2,500 visitors were inside the Capitol, where their shouts reverberated off stone halls and frequently could be heard inside the ornate chambers.
After repeatedly insisting during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda, Snyder reversed course Thursday, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Snyder said he had kept the issue at arm’s length while pursuing other programs to bolster the state economy. But he said circumstances had pushed the matter to the forefront.
“It is a divisive issue,” he acknowledged. “But it was already being divisive over the past few weeks, so let’s get this resolved. Let’s reach a conclusion that’s in the best interests of all.”
Also influencing his decision, he said, were reports that some 90 companies had decided to locate in Indiana since that state adopted right-to-work legislation. “That’s thousands of jobs, and we want to have that kind of success in Michigan,” he said.
Snyder and the GOP leaders insisted the legislation was not meant to weaken unions or collective bargaining, saying it would make unions more responsive to their members.
Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer said she was “livid.”
“These guys have lied to us all along the way,” she said. “They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with in the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session and then they’re going to hightail it out of town. It’s cowardly.”
Republicans have commanding majorities in both chambers — 64-46 in the House and 26-12 in the Senate. Under their rules, only a simple majority of members elected and serving must be present to have a quorum and conduct business. For that reason, Democrats acknowledged that boycotting sessions and going into hiding, as some lawmakers in neighbouring Indiana and Wisconsin have done in recent years to stall legislation unpopular with unions, would be futile in Michigan.
Throngs of protesters spent weeks outside capitol buildings in those states, clashing over union rights.
“We will not have another Wisconsin in Michigan,” Adamczyk said. “People are allowed to protest, but they need to do in a peaceful manner.”
By John Geddes - Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Private member’s bills typically go nowhere, but one that would force unions to disclose how they spend money appears to have support
When the House finance committee met late last week just off Parliament Hill, the room was filled to overflowing. Staff scurried to haul in extra chairs to accommodate the lobbyists and lawyers, union officials and political staffers who were crammed into back corners. That sort of turnout typically signals hearings into a major government initiative that’s going to cost somebody money or change one of Ottawa’s power balances. What made this crowd remarkable was that a mere private member’s bill—the sort of legislation championed by a backbench MP that almost always gets voted down or dies from parliamentary neglect—was on the agenda. In this case, though, Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s bid to force unions across Canada to publicly disclose nearly everything they spend, including on officials’ salaries and political activities, proved to be a serious draw.
Labelled Bill C-377, Hiebert’s legislation to amend the Income Tax Act has big unions increasingly worried. The Canadian Labour Congress has mounted a full-bore campaign to block it, fearing the proposal is gathering enough high-level Tory support to defy the long odds against a private member’s bill actually becoming law. Having easily passed two votes in the House with solid support from the majority Conservatives, Bill C-377 could come up for a third and final vote before the end of this year. CLC President Ken Georgetti says his union umbrella organization brought about 200 local officials to Ottawa this week to lobby Conservative MPs. Their complaint: Hiebert aims to saddle them with onerous administrative costs for no good reason. “If they are going to use this to make us waste money and time on things that don’t get better wages and working conditions for our members,” Georgetti says, “we’ll take that as a very hostile act.” Continue…
By Tamsin McMahon - Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 6:40 PM - 0 Comments
Their offshore oil industry is gushing with good fortune. So why is everyone unhappy?
Norway, already one of the world’s largest oil producers, scored a coup when it announced it had discovered one of the world’s largest oil finds last year in the North Sea. Elation over the Johan Sverdrup find, estimated to contain nearly 3.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, was short-lived, however. In what could be a cautionary tale for other oil nations, including Canada, Norway is suddenly grappling with a host of labour and cost troubles linked to its rising success.
A persistent shortage of oil workers has pushed Norwegian wages to the highest in the world. Oil workers now earn an average of $180,300 a year, according to a new survey by Hays Oil & Gas, more than double the global average and $56,000 more than workers in the Alberta oil patch. Drilling in Norwegian waters also costs as much as $75,000 per worker more than in neighbouring U.K. waters, an expert panel commissioned by the Norwegian government wrote in a report last month. That’s mostly due to regulations requiring that offshore oil workers get four weeks off for every two weeks of work. Meanwhile, rules requiring workers to speak Norwegian on rigs are hampering efforts to import workers.
Doing away with many of the perks that offshore oil workers have enjoyed could save the country’s energy sector as much as $167 billion, the panel said. Its chair warned that letting costs escalate could put the future development of Norway’s offshore oil industry in “grave danger.”
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Why a small, family-run Quebec restaurant shut down during a bitter fight with its union—for three years
For 1,211 days, Au Roi du Coq Rôti, a decades-old rotisserie chicken shack and veritable institution of downtown Sherbrooke, Que., was embroiled in a bitter labour dispute that broke records for longevity in the region. Grease didn’t boil in the deep fryers. Chicken didn’t sizzle on the flame. And its glass doors—tinted yellow since yellow-tinted windows were in fashion—were shuttered. At the heart of the matter: the restaurant’s decision to cut its delivery service.
Bolstered by the support of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), one of Quebec’s largest and most monied labour union federations, the 43 employees stood on one side of the battle. Managers Alain and Réjain Perreault, sons of the man who founded the restaurant in 1965, stared back from the other. For three long years.
The lockout ofﬁcially began in July 2008, after the Perreault brothers and the union failed to renew their collective agreement, says Denis Beaudin, regional president of the CSN. With the restaurant closed but negotiations still proceeding, the Perreaults announced they would cancel the restaurant’s delivery service, deeply entrenching both sides in the dispute. More than two years later, a provincial mediator stepped in and, on Jan. 16, Au Roi du Coq Rôti ﬁnally reopened. Under the terms that ended the lockout, the Perreaults were able to cancel delivery service, cutting 22 employees. But it came at a steep price. They had to pay $145,000 in indemnities and $50,000 for lost pay. Wages are set to rise an average of 9.75 per cent between now and 2017. Perhaps most remarkably, the Perreaults, who declined to comment, also had to pay for interior renovations and upgrades after workers argued conditions were unsafe and unsanitary.
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 6:08 AM - 0 Comments
“The grievance is denied.” That’s the concluding sentence of arbitrator Richard Bloch’s Monday ruling on the 17-year $102-million contract Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils last month. When the NHL deregistered the contract, whose terms would have seen New Jersey pay Kovalchuk 97% of the total amount in the first 11 years of the deal, the Players’ Association naturally objected.
Sure, the NHLPA argued, there were years tacked onto the far end of the deal that neither Kovalchuk nor New Jersey expect the player to be in the NHL for. Those years are priced below the likely league minimum, and are obviously in the contract for the sole purpose of lowering Kovalchuk’s average salary-cap hit in the present. But what of it? Nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the PA specifically forbids this behaviour, and several similar “backdive” deals, though less extreme in every respect, have already been registered by the NHL and played under.
Bloch rejected this argument, granting a clear outright win to the league. The CBA contains a general “anti-circumvention” provision, but the guidance offered by that provision was less than clear:
No Club or Player shall enter into any Player Contract, Offer Sheet or other agreement that includes any terms which are designed to serve the purpose of defeating or circumventing the intention of the parties as reflected by the provisions of this Agreement, including without limitation, provisions with respect to the Entry Level System or Restricted Free Agency. However, any conduct permitted by this Agreement shall not be considered to be a violation of this provision.
Now that’s an odd paragraph, wouldn’t you say? Because there is no rule in the CBA that would in itself forbid the Kovalchuk deal, the NHLPA leaned on that last sentence, which basically says “anything permitted by this agreement is permitted by this agreement” and seems, in its plainest reading, to deprive the first sentence of all its potential force. Well, hell, no arbitrator’s going to go along with that—i.e., to read a paragraph completely out of a contract prepared and vetted by professionals representing both parties, as if he were physically Liquid Paper-ing it out of the document.
Bloch had little choice but to conclude that there must be some reason for a general anti-circumvention rule—and that reason, he concluded, was to allow the league to block contracts like Kovalchuk’s, which violate the spirit of the CBA rather than its letter. Nothing specific about Kovalchuk’s contract—the amount, the end date, the degree of frontloading—is forbidden by the agreement, Bloch conceded. Perhaps no single factor is even unique to it. But, taken together, the components have a vague tendency to offend the “no circumvention” concept. Supposedly.
Bloch’s decision includes an observation that is, after all, very hard to disagree with: “A contract term covering a Player’s NHL services to age 70…is not expressly prohibited by the CBA. But the parties to that SPC may not reasonably be found to be seriously anticipating its fulfillment.” Bloch would have created a serious problem for the NHL if he had found the anti-circumvention sections of the CBA to be meaningless. If he had ruled in favour of the NHLPA, you can bet your last nickel that someone would have been signing one of those age-70 contracts in July 2011. Or even sooner.
But Bloch has created a serious problem, too: as a consequence of his ruling in defence of the CBA’s spirit, it is no longer clear exactly which frontloaded contracts are kosher and which are treyf. Kovalchuk and the Devils returned to the negotiating table Monday night in an attempt to save the contract by tinkering with the math. What principles ought to guide them? What changes must they make to render the contract acceptable in the eyes of another arbitrator—one who wouldn’t even be Richard Bloch? (The NHL and the Players hire arbitrators for the duration of only one grievance; experience in the sporting world has shown that owners will inevitably and instantly fire any “permanent” arbiter who rules against them.)
Bloch hasn’t really said what kind of deal meets the no-circumvention test. He didn’t even give the parties the reassurance that existing frontloaded contracts are definitely legal and could be safely imitated. In fact, he specifically said the opposite. Which puts the league under no apparent obligation to even treat like contracts equally, or two different teams consistently. All that the Devils and Kovalchuk can really do here is to seek Commissioner Bettman’s advice in advance of signing, or make another deal and cross their fingers that either the Commissioner will like it or the next arbitrator will uphold it.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t appear to offer the team and the player any freedom to sign a contract without some degree of league interference—which raises the question, what good is the CBA at all if we’re going to have a “Bettman decides everything” system? (And, more particularly, how did the Players’ Association get manoeuvred into signing an agreement that doesn’t protect its rights very effectively?)