By The Canadian Press - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 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 Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 14, 2012 at 2:38 PM - 0 Comments
I sat down with NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in the leader of the opposition’s office yesterday. Here is a transcript of our conversation, slightly abridged and edited.
How do you see the last year for you and the NDP? Do you feel you’re winning? Do you feel you’re getting somewhere?
We’re doing well. And the Abacus poll was confirmation of that … I dare say that we’ve been through a rough 18-month cycle. I mean, we started off in 2011 with a huge high, May 2. We realized then … It was interesting. I don’t think I’ve told too many people this story. I sat down with Jack shortly after, like two, three days after the election and when we became official opposition, he was asking me to become opposition House leader, it was a great feather in my cap. And then he said something to me that was quite interesting, he said, you know, this is a huge challenge. And I was just expecting him to be so effusive with the breakthrough and everything and he said, no, no, this is going to be a huge challenge. So then the huge challenge became all the bigger with his loss. And then we had to really work hard through a long, seven-month leadership where we were missing a lot of our frontbenchers who were in the campaign and then we had to rebuild.
When I held the little press conference up in Toronto after the leadership, the next day, I used an expression that came to spontaneously, I said, we’re going to have a cascading transition under the sign of continuity. So I was so lucky, like somebody like [chief of staff to Jack Layton] Anne [McGrath] stayed with me long enough to hand off to [current chief of staff] Raoul [Gebert], overlapped with Raoul … So a couple of the other changes that took place were like that. We brought in a few people, the core team you still recognize when you see them around us. And so it’s been a huge challenge in terms of the structure and the organization, but some of the good points for me after becoming leader: in August I was doing my parish visit in Quebec, I would be in places like Vercheres—Les Patriotes, where Sana Hassainia is our MP, and be in a community hall on a Sunday morning with several hundred people who had all paid as part of a fundraiser, but she had municipal officials there, you know the mayors and the councillors, she had community groups, she had the schools and stuff like that. They’re getting settled in, they’re putting down roots. The same day I was at a corn roast for Helene LeBlanc and she had about 600 people and a lot of the cultural communities, so they’re setting down roots, they’re doing their fundraising, they’re getting well known in their communities, they’re in their local papers, so that part’s coming together.
Come this spring, we’re pivoting, right? We’re going to be entering the third year. And so the consolidation phase has to be finished. We’ve got to start the preparatory phase for the next campaign. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 3:35 PM - 0 Comments
After two proposed amendments were passed and one defeated, C-377 passed the House last night by a vote of 147-135. Five Conservatives voted against: Brent Rathgeber, Mike Allen, Patricia Davidson, Ben Lobb and Rodney Weston.
Russ Hiebert, the bill’s sponsor, insists the bill is constitutional, but the privacy commissioner still has concerns.
We believe that the amendments to the bill are a step in the right direction for privacy. However, we continue to have privacy concerns about the proposed legislation. For example, even with the amendments, the names and exact salaries of union officials earning more than $100,000 a year would be publicly disclosed. This is less privacy protective than the public disclosure requirements for registered charities in Canada, which Commissioner Stoddart has highlighted as model for balancing transparency objectives with protection of privacy.
The commissioner’s office also passes along her statement to the finance committee and a follow-up letter to the committee from the commissioner. The full transcript of the commissioner’s appearance is here.
The NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice, meanwhile, is generally unimpressed. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 10:19 AM - 0 Comments
Bill C-377, the union disclosure bill which John Geddes wrote about last month, will come to a vote in the House this evening. Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, who expressed concerns about the bill in October, is planning to vote against it.
Some Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the bill. Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber said the amendments would improve it, but he plans to oppose it because it is based on a “fallacious” premise that receiving a tax deduction is the same as getting federal tax dollars. Mr. Rathgeber, a former labour lawyer who represented management, said he expects other Conservative MPs to join him in voting against the bill.
“As a legislator, I’m just having a difficult time determining exactly what the public interest is in this type of legislation,” he said. Mr. Rathgeber said unions are essentially private clubs like law societies or industry associations that benefit from tax deductions. “So I just cannot accept the premise that tax-deducted union dues is somehow akin to public dollars and therefore creating a public interest,” he said.
At second reading, the vote split along party lines: Conservatives in favour, New Democrats and Liberals against. With full attendance, the Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois, Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer number 142. The Conservatives (and Peter Goldring) number 165. So another 11 Conservatives—depending on total turnout—would have to join Mr. Rathgeber to defeat the bill.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 9, 2012 at 4:29 PM - 0 Comments
Earlier this week, John Geddes looked closer at Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s bill on union disclosure.
The bill’s union opponents protest that if the tax deductibility of dues means their finances must be fully transparent, the same should go for professional and business organizations—from lawyers’ and doctors’ groups to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business—whose membership fees are also deductible. In any case, labour law is largely a provincial jurisdiction, and labour codes in most provinces already require unions to disclose financial information to their members. The Canada Labour Code does the same for unions under federal jurisdiction. Hiebert argues, though, that the public, not just the union rank and file, deserve access to that information. As well, he points out that U.S. law requires detailed disclosure, which means the best source of fine-grained financial data on any Canadian unions affiliated with American unions is often the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
Still, while Hiebert professes to be for transparency, and not against unions, his allies are hardly friends of organized labour. Merit Canada, the national lobby group for the “open shop,” or non-unionized, construction industry, has thrown its support behind Bill C-377. Merit has mounted a campaign under the slogan, “Why is big labour afraid of the light?” According to a publicly disclosed report filed with the federal lobbyists’ registry, Merit’s representatives met on Oct. 23 with Hiebert and Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s powerful chief of staff. Also attending that top-level lobbying session were Alykhan Velshi, Harper’s director of planning, and two senior officials from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s department.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 29, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Unions are private clubs; they are not public institutions. They serve only the interests of their members arguably counter to the public interest by bidding up wages. The public has very limited access to expenditures and salaries at public institutions (Privacy Legislation prevented my quest to obtain the salaries of Peter Mansbridge, Rick Mercer and George Stroumboulopoulos). So exactly why does the public have a legitimate interest in knowing the salary of a union President or the aforementioned Sally the Receptionist?? A very good but not easily answered question. The proponents of C-377 argue that the tax deductibility of union dues somehow creates a public interest in what the collector of those dues does with them. According to the theory, tax deductibility equals forgone revenue to the treasury, which makes it akin to public money and thereby creating a public right to know how the forgone tax dollars are spent.
A dubious proposition because tax deducted dollars are not public dollars; they are private dollars that the state has chosen not to tax. Moreover if tax deductibility truly created a public interest, it would have to be more consistently applied. As a lawyer, my law society fees are tax deductible. Does that mean that the public has a right to know what the Law Society pays its staff?? I would argue no and certainly there is no existing obligation for the Law Society to disclose. As a member of the club, I believe I have a right to know but do not see a similar right for non-members of the club.
For other concerns, see this op-ed by two business professors.
Mr. Rathgeber, along with seemingly every other Conservative present, voted in favour of the bill at second reading
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 4:40 PM - 0 Comments
Poilievre said he plans to initiate a debate on how to give Canada’s public servants the right to decide whether they want to join a union and pay union dues. It’s unclear how he plans to go about this, since it would require legislative changes. As a parliamentary secretary, he is unable to introduce a private member’s bill to make such changes …
Poilievre’s proposal could be the most radical policy change embarked by the Conservative government and is reminiscent of right-to-work legislation that has been introduced in some U.S. states. “You can call it that,” said Poilievre. “I consider it enhancement of workers rights and freedoms.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 27, 2012 at 4:31 PM - 0 Comments
The big unions who participated in this scheme include the United Steelworkers, the Canadian Labour Congress, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Machinists Political League, the International Association of Firefighters, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. This last union represents many members of the media.
The Maclean’s newsroom is unionized through the CEP, which obviously explains everything I’ve written over the last six years.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 27, 2012 at 9:53 AM - 0 Comments
Joanna Smith reports that the NDP returned $344,468 after the Conservatives complained about union sponsorships at the NDP’s 2011 convention in Vancouver.
An NDP insider familiar with the issue said that in 2003, when the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien moved to limit donations from unions and corporations, the party sought an opinion from Elections Canada as to whether money obtained through selling advertising would be considered a political contribution. “Where a person or entity purchases goods or services from a registered party with the intention of economically benefitting the party, the payment for goods and services will not constitute contributions to the extent that the payment reflects the fair market value of the goods and services purchased. Any amount of the payment above the fair market value will constitute a contribution if the person purchasing the good and service intended to benefit the party,” says a document obtained by the Star outlining Election Canada’s response to the NDP’s question on the matter.
Three years later, the Conservative government banned donations from unions and corporations altogether. The party insider said the NDP also sought legal opinion and hired a third-party company to assess what fair market value for advertising would be in advance of each of the three policy conventions in question and followed those recommendations.
Alice Funke explains what happened here and laments for the current pursuit of gotchas.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 4:53 PM - 0 Comments
There’s no real political price to be paid for anti-union reforms
Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election will be analyzed a lot for what it means for him—does this make him a potential Romney running mate, even if he’s said he doesn’t want it?—and for President Obama’s re-election prospects. But there doesn’t need to be much analysis of what it means for unions in the U.S.: whatever your opinion of unions, losing the Wisconsin fight is bad news for them.
Walker was one of a number of newly elected governors in the Republican sweep of 2010 who set out to pick fights with public employee unions. Though Chris Christie in New Jersey has a Democratic legislature and can’t make as many laws to restrict the unions’ power, he’s made attacks on government unions into a major part of his persona.
One of the reasons this strategy works is that it plays on what Walker himself, in a famous interview from last year, called a “divide and conquer” strategy. Even people who support private-sector unions are sometimes suspicious of the concept of government unions; up until Wisconsin established public-sector collective bargaining in 1959, many labour leaders were against the idea, and Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called it “unthinkable and intolerable” that government employees could strike against the government. And during the run-up to the Wisconsin recall, many reporters talked to working Wisconsonites who felt that the teachers’ and other unions were, as one person put it, “sucking off my teat.” Walker and Christie and others have demonstrated that there’s a certain bipartisan security in talking about overpaid teachers (but not firefighters and cops, who were deliberately omitted from the ban on public-sector collective bargaining).
But the difference between Republicans and anti-public-union liberals is that conservative Republicans have traditionally been suspicious of all unions, not just public unions. When Republicans took control of Congress after World War II, their most important act was to pass the Taft-Hartley act which made it easier for businesses to keep unions out, and this paved the way for “Right-to-Work” legislation and other laws that tend to discourage unionization. The South, in particular, is known for discouraging unions both as a matter of law and a matter of culture, and one of Walker’s big supporters among governors was South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, who has said that her state attracts business “because we’re a union buster.”
The big question now is whether traditionally union-friendly states will – when they get Republican governors and legislatures – act to dampen union membership in the private sector as well as the public sector. Though Walker has been careful not to support right-to-work legislation directly, he responded enthusiastically to a questioner who wanted him to make Wisconsin into a right-to-work state, saying that the crackdown on public unions was “the first step… that opens the door once we do that.” And in Indiana earlier this year, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a law making the state “the only one in the Midwestern manufacturing belt to have such a law.” Whether you support or oppose such laws, they definitely seem likely to become more common even in traditional bastions of unionization like the Midwest.
One of the reasons these laws will become more common is that they really do work in the goal of reducing union membership. Walker’s reforms of public unions, and particularly the removal of automatic collection of union dues, caused union membership to fall by more than half. For conservatives, this is a sign that the unions were coercive and that when people are given a choice, they choose not to participate; for liberals, it’s a sign that unions are being smothered in a sea of bureaucratic red tape. But whichever way you look at it, the law has succeeded in breaking the unions, and since Walker’s re-election demonstrates that there’s no real political price to be paid for it, his example is bound to be followed by others.
One of the political effects of this weakening of union power could be to make it harder for Democrats to win elections – or at least, for them to win elections without the support of the business community. To some extent, it’s already happened. President Obama got a lot of his funding from Wall Street the first time around (and is struggling more now that Wall Street has turned against him), and when he got into office, he didn’t expend much political energy on trying to pass a law that would have made it easier to unionize. When unions were much larger and more powerful in the U.S., they wielded a great deal of power over the Democrats and even some Republicans. Liberals saw this as a necessary counterweight to the power of big business; conservatives saw “big labour,” rather than “big business,” as the entity with too much power.
But today, labour unions simply don’t have much power. The Wisconsin election was another demonstration that when it comes to money and political influence, they no longer have what it takes to swing elections. Labour leaders are considered so insignificant that they don’t even appear on Sunday news shows the way George Meany once did. Liberals in the U.S. are already arguing, perhaps belatedly, about how to rebuild the labour movement or whether something else needs to replace it as the liberal counterpart of business. You can view it as a good thing or a bad thing, but the days of union power may be over – even if the Democrats win in 2012.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt is threatening back-to-work legislation if Canadian Pacific and its workers can’t come to some agreement by next week when the House reconvenes.
If such legislation makes it to the floor of the House, it would be the sixth such bill—and fourth in the last two years—that the Conservatives have introduced since forming government in 2006. For the sake of comparison, the House saw nine back-to-work bills in the 1990s, six in the 80s, 10 in the 70s, four in the 60s and two in the 50s.
Here is what I wrote about the Harper government, the NDP opposition and labour unrest last October.
By Tamsin McMahon - Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 12:02 PM - 0 Comments
Automakers are flooding to the Deep South for cheap, union-free labour
When German executives from Volkswagen descended on Chattanooga, Tenn., last May for the grand opening of their $1-billion plant, they pointed to the warm Southern hospitality and the cultural amenities of life on the banks of the Tennessee River as key reasons for deciding to build their first North American auto assembly shop in 20 years on the site of a former wartime-era munitions factory in the Deep South.
Auto industry analysts pointed to other reasons the automaker chose Chattanooga: the region’s high unemployment and strong anti-union sentiment, which promised both a massive labour pool willing to work for cheap and more than half a billion dollars in government incentives—nearly $200,000 per worker. Luring Volkswagen, which promised to hire nearly 2,000 workers for as little as $14.50 an hour, was deemed a huge coup for the city of 170,000. Since the plant opened, the city’s unemployment rate has dropped from nine per cent to 7.3 per cent. Volkswagen-branded shirts became the city’s most coveted fashion item.
Volkswagen is merely the latest foreign automaker to target the southern U.S. for expansion into the North American market. It’s a trend that is profoundly reshaping the American manufacturing landscape, pushing the country’s auto belt south from Michigan and Ohio into the cotton fields and cow pastures of Alabama and Mississippi in search of cheaper labour and fewer costly union battles. It’s not the first time the industry has seen a shift to the South, as automakers decamped for places like Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri in the 1980s in search of cheap labour. But the present-day move appears both more profound and more lasting. For every job created by foreign automakers, mostly in the South, the Detroit Three have shed six jobs, nearly half in Michigan, according to the Center for Automotive Research. It’s a push that now threatens the future of high-paying manufacturing jobs in Canada, and maybe even the future of unionized workplaces.
By From the editors - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 11:43 AM - 0 Comments
This government has been very aggressive about announcing free trade deals–not so much about closing them
Listen to his critics and you’d think a blinding “neo-conservative ideology” is what motivates Prime Minister Stephen Harper these days. Yet in sifting through his six years in power it’s much easier to find evidence of opportunistic pragmatism than any specific ideology.
Regardless of this week’s budget, the Harper government has already proven itself to be the biggest spending government in Canadian history. And while it talks a lot about taxes, Ottawa is actually creating a more complicated and less efficient tax system through its creation of myriad tax credits aimed at tiny slices of the population for such things as children’s dance lessons, team sports, work tools or public transit.
The federal government has also been quick to remove the right to strike from unionized workers—the widespread animosity of the current Air Canada labour dispute is directly attributable to this instinct for control over letting negotiations take their course. It has, as well, interposed itself into deals between interested buyers and sellers, such as with the Potash Corp. decision. None of this is the stuff of standard economics textbooks.
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, April 2, 2012 at 10:59 AM - 0 Comments
The minister is surprisingly fond of legislative sledgehammers
The Dos and Don’ts of Labour Relations, if there is such a volume, would surely recommend against it. By dogging Lisa Raitt through the corridors of Pearson Airport last week, slow-clapping the federal labour minister as they went, three Air Canada groundworkers cost their union dearly in the court of public opinion. So did those who staged a wildcat strike to protest the trio’s suspension: Within 24 hours, more than 80 flights had been cancelled due to the job action. Passengers—already cranky from long lineups—began venting their frustration on employees trying to manage the mayhem.
Raitt’s office denied claims she had escalated the confrontation (“Arrest these animals,” a union official claimed she told police officers). But the incident illustrated how Air Canada’s parlous negotiations with its workers have been eclipsed by union antagonism toward the minister, whose fondness for legislative sledgehammers has caught many by surprise. In the last seven months, Raitt has moved four times to head off labour disruptions at the airline, using either the threat of back-to-work legislation or referrals to the federal labour board, to the outrage of union leaders. “Every time Air Canada sneezes,” grumbles Bill Trbovich, who speaks for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, “this government gets out the Kleenex and tries to correct the cough.”
Raitt, 43, has never been known for delicacy. She developed a taste for full-contact politics in the early 2000s when, as head of the federally appointed Toronto Port Authority, she waged a battle to expand the city’s island airport over the objections of then-mayor David Miller. At one memorable event in May 2003, she stood on a chair and shouted back at anti-expansion protesters who had crashed a Port Authority open house—the beginning of a campaign that saw her savaged in the local media. But ultimately she prevailed. The island has since become a business travel hub, with more than 1.5 million people using the airport each year.
By From the editors - Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 12:03 PM - 0 Comments
Final offer arbitration may be the best option to deal with this year’s strife
As many as 200,000 college and university students in Quebec claim to be “on strike.” Rather than attending classes, writing papers or preparing labs, on select days the students have been cutting classes, blocking traffic and getting tear-gassed.
At issue is a provincial plan to raise university tuition from what is the lowest in Canada to a rate that will be . . . the second-lowest in the country (assuming other provinces maintain their current tuition fee policies). Quebec students currently pay an average of $2,400 per year according to Statistics Canada. The national average is more than double that—$5,400. Quebec’s plan will gradually raise tuition fees until they hit $3,800. Quebec student groups argue tuition should be free, and they’re prepared to walk to make their point.
Unlike strikes in the real world, however, university students lack the sort of leverage enjoyed by actual employees. Students pay for the privilege of going to school, not the other way around. So when they withhold their services, it’s not the provincial government that finds itself inconvenienced, it’s the students themselves. Keep in mind also that the vast bulk of benefits from post-secondary education go directly to students—an undergraduate degree provides an estimated 10 per cent annual return over a student’s entire lifetime. (Not all students have divorced themselves from looming adulthood. Most students at McGill, for example, voted against a strike.)
As absurd, overreaching and self-defeating as the Quebec student strike appears, it is simply the most outrageous example of what promises to be a year filled with overreaching and self-defeating labour strife.
Austerity has become the watchword at all levels of government. As municipalities, provinces and Ottawa struggle to cut deficits and contain costs, it seems increasingly likely public sector unions—used to healthy regular increases in wages and benefits—will find themselves mightily disappointed. Like their confreres at school in Quebec, we may thus expect public sector unions to take to the streets to express their displeasure.
Halifax bus drivers, Toronto librarians, teachers in British Columbia. Across the country, Canadians are already feeling the effects as public sector labour unions push back against the necessity of balanced budgets.
The current dispute in B.C. over teacher pay is instructive. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s initial contract demand, released last summer, called for B.C. educators to be the best paid in the land—which would have meant a 22 per cent wage increase for some teachers. They also wanted 10 days paid bereavement leave—activated upon the death of not just a close relative, but of a friend, too, plus another 26 weeks of compassionate care leave to allow a teacher to look after “any person,” on full pay, rather than teach. Further, there were to be eight paid discretionary days to be taken whenever and for whatever reason, and sizable increases in paid preparation (i.e., non-teaching) time. The only thing missing was free unicorn rides to school.
None of this would be reasonable in times of plenty. With the B.C. government committed to balancing its budget by 2014, such demands can only be described as off-the-charts wacky. (The teachers have since lowered their demands to a 15 per cent wage increase plus assorted benefit goodies.)
The province has offered the same net-zero wage it’s negotiated in 130 other public sector labour agreements. And Premier Christy Clark’s government recently passed legislation temporarily removing teachers’ right to strike. But there is still no contract, and the teachers are considering escalating job actions this week.
It is no longer possible to expect taxpayers to fund perpetual increases in wages and benefits for the public sector, particularly as private sector workers see their pensions disappear and salaries stagnate. There exists a massive gap between public sector union expectations and taxpayers’ ability to pay. How best to close this gap?
Strikes are a time-honoured way for two sides to hammer out their differences. Unfortunately, public sector strikes create widespread pain for the entire community. And because of this, governments often lose their nerve for toughing it out. When things get uncomfortable, politicians tend to opt for back-to-work legislation, followed by binding mediation. And mediators are famous for splitting deals down the middle, a process that encourages unions to make outrageous opening demands in the first place. In the B.C. teachers’ dispute, both government and union are playing these all too familiar roles.
An alternate solution, one proposed for B.C. in a 2004 provincial report, is final offer arbitration. Both sides present their best final offer and an impartial arbitrator picks between the two options, rather than splitting any differences. Such a system pushes each side to negotiate in good faith and present reasonable offers; it’s used successfully in professional sports. If there is a downside, it’s that arbitrators play the role that should properly be filled by taxpayers’ elected representatives.
But where governments are unwilling or unable to see public sector strikes through to a successful conclusion, final offer arbitration may be the best option for all taxpayers—particularly in a year that promises plenty of labour unrest.
By Jen Cutts - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 1:06 AM - 0 Comments
Japanese workers working for Goldman Sachs have defied norms, and established a union.
Bank workers in Japan have done the near impossible, and formed what’s assumed to be Goldman Sachs’s first-ever union, according to the Japan Times. The Goldman Sachs Japan Employee Union—a banking rarity—was launched on Feb. 23, in response to the Wall Street titan’s handling of layoffs last year.
Many large banks have cut staff in Japan due to its shaky economy, but employees objected to Goldman’s methods, saying it tried to force them to voluntarily step down as a way to work around Japan’s strict labour laws. In a culture where job loss or failure of any kind is viewed as disgraceful, employers are expected to try cost-saving measures, such as reducing overtime or executive salaries, before resorting to layoffs. Employees weren’t convinced Goldman Sachs, whose outsized bonuses routinely make headlines, had taken steps to avert widespread dismissals.
When a group of workers refused to sign the voluntary layoff agreements, Goldman began playing rough. It began claiming dismissals were for poor performance, said one employee, and denying non-Japanese workers documents they needed to stay in the country. “If Goldman Sachs had just treated us with respect,” he said, “there would have been no reason to join forces to protect ourselves.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
Paul Dewar details his labour policy, including a ban on replacement workers and a promise to reinstate the federal minimum wage and gradually raise it to a living wage.
A government led by Paul Dewar will legislate, at the federal level, Manitoba’s innovative “60 day rule,” to enable either party involved in an impasse to ask the Canada Industrial Relations Board to impose binding arbitration and end the strike or lockout. Since this rule was implemented in 2000, it has brought several protracted disputes to a fair and neutral resolution while creating a strong incentive for employers and workers to negotiate in good faith. Since its implementation, the number of days lost to strikes and lockouts in Manitoba has fallen by more than 2/3 compared to the previous decade.
This morning, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada announced its endorsement of Brian Topp. I confess I’m not well-versed in union politics, but this is apparently significant. Mr. Topp has also been endorsed by the United Steelworkers. (Though the Toronto Area Council of the United Steelworkers went with Peggy Nash.)
By Colby Cosh - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
With contracts for half a million public sector workers to be negotiated this year, things could get very ugly
The Occupy movement, globally ubiquitous and proudly obtrusive, is remembered as one of the top news stories of 2011. In reality, the effort by various species of crank to take over public parks probably wasn’t even the most important “people occupying stuff” news item of the year, at least in North America. That honour rightly belongs to the February swarming of the Wisconsin legislature by up to 100,000 protesters dedicated to stopping Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget repair bill.” The new Republican governor, hoping to balance the state budget without reversing tax cuts of the past decade, struck at the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers, taking away their right to negotiate benefits and capping pay increases at the inﬂation rate.
The result was a ferocious multi-theatre battle over the value of public sector unions. It raged all year from the steps of the Capitol building in Madison to the state Supreme Court, the schools and universities, and even Wisconsin’s prisons, where guards threatened a wildcat strike and Walker countered by contemplating the use of the National Guard for replacement manpower. In August the state set a record for the largest number of recall elections held simultaneously in the U.S., as six Republicans and three Democrats in the state Senate were caught in the crossfire. (All but two Republicans survived.)
One wonders why this sort of massive fundamental confrontation over public sector unions—a type of confrontation that is all but perpetual in the United Kingdom—has been absent from Canada. It is not as though Canadian governments have failed to present pretexts for warfare. For 30 years the federal government has intervened in labour disputes only occasionally, but in 2011 Labour Minister Lisa Raitt went on a tear, threatening Air Canada customer-service staff with back-to-work legislation in June, pushing a Canada Post lockout of CUPW workers to binding arbitration by statute, and pre-empting Air Canada-CUPE negotiations in October.
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 10:32 AM - 1 Comment
Attempts to reform the construction industry have exposed a deep rift between its unions
By appearances alone, Bernard Gauthier makes for a great villain. His nickname is Rambo, and though he came by it honestly enough—he served eight years in the Canadian military—it is fitting for 200-plus-pound man with a mohawk, an earring and a mouth that would mightily challenge even the most adept broadcast censor.
A construction worker practically since he could pick up a hammer, Gauthier is arguably the most notorious and divisive union figure in Quebec today. He is a hero to the men he oversees as a representative with the FTQ-Construction, the largest construction labour union federation in Quebec; his critics, and there are many, see him as a thuggish throwback who rules jealously and fist-first over his territory.“We are against violence, but honestly, telling a goddamn bastard that he’s a goddamn bastard feels good,” Gauthier told Maclean’s from his office in Sept-Îles recently. “It’s liberating. It takes out 50 per cent of the rage in your heart. And now you can’t do it. If you do, you’re accused of intimidation, tabarnac.”
Gauthier sees many bastards in his life these days, chief among them the members of Jean Charest’s Liberal government, whose proposed law, Bill C-33, would remove the union movement’s power to dictate which union members get to work on which job site in the province. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 8:30 AM - 1 Comment
Thomas Mulcair touts his willingness to stand up to unions.
In an interview with The Globe, Mr. Mulcair recounted how he informed the Canadian national director of the Steelworkers, Ken Neumann, that he opposed a reserved voting block for unions at the NDP leadership convention in March. “It was quite clear he wasn’t used to being told ‘no’ by anyone in the NDP. And I said ‘no.’ I said, ‘Why not let the membership decide?’” Mr. Mulcair said of the “cordial” conversation that occurred last month…
“So that is a defining difference because I want to work with the unions, but I’m never going to be beholden to anybody other than the people who voted me there, which will be the membership of the party,” Mr. Mulcair said.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 21, 2011 at 3:38 PM - 2 Comments
From this week’s print edition, a thousand words on the new majority government, the new official opposition and the general notion of organized labour.
In that piece I note Lisa Raitt’s public musing about amending the Canada Labour Code. Speaking with reporters after QP today, in reaction to news of a settlement between Air Canada and its flight attendants, Raitt seemed to walk those musings back.
Well, you know, we were just talking in general about whether or not there was a difficulty in ratification this time. We referred it to the CIRB. But I don’t expect we’re going to get anything from the CIRB on the matter because they settled their differences and they found a process that worked so I’m very content with the Labour Code that it’s working as the way it should so it’s not priority for me at all … You know we went through a process of taking a look at the Code in general and I met with both labour and we met with employers and the Minister before me did the same thing. It’s working in today’s situation. It worked in this case and I’m very happy with the way that it worked out. I think what I was referencing is just we were going to use the Code in a different way by having Section 107 reference to the CIRB and that’s what I was indicating we were thinking of and that’s what we did. And it worked very well so we’re happy with it.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 21, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 57 Comments
The differences between the new opposition and the new majority government are in stark relief on labour
In the midst of June’s 47-hour filibuster over back-to-work legislation for Canada Post, New Democrat MP Wayne Marston was moved to recall the events of 1946, when “workers and veterans fought side by side in the streets” of Hamilton for better working conditions, thus launching the modern labour movement and paving the way for what would become the NDP. When it was her turn to speak, Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner apparently felt compelled to respond. “Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to many nostalgic comments across the way about the old labour movement and the unions back in 1946. I am wondering if the members opposite recognize that we are in 2011 and that we have just come through a great recession that has damaged so many countries and from which we are just recovering,” she said. “When will they realize that we are not in the old socialist days of the good old union? We are in 2011.”
Here the differences between the new Opposition and the new majority government seemed in stark relief. But that filibuster may have only been the beginning. Months later, the issue of organized labour is a source of conﬂict—or the potential thereof—on numerous fronts.
Last month, for instance, after party strategist Brian Topp—an official with ACTRA, the union that represents 22,000 members of the performing arts—confirmed his bid for the NDP leadership, Conservatives deemed him a “union boss” with “deep union ties.” “How,” they asked, “could Brian Topp speak on behalf of all Canadians when he is so tied to big union special interests?” Conservative MPs have compelled committee hearings into union sponsorships of events at the NDP convention in Vancouver this past spring, while Conservative backbencher Russ Hiebert, who won the draw to table the first private member’s bill, is proposing legislation that would require unions to release public financial statements. And last week, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt both moved to refer a dispute between Air Canada and the company’s flight attendants to the Canada Industrial Relations Board—thus blocking a potential strike—and mused vaguely of perhaps amending the Canadian Labour Code.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 10:55 AM - 43 Comments
Labour Minister Lisa Raitt is promising back-to-work legislation if Air Canada and the union representing flight attendants are unable to reach a deal before Wednesday. This would be the fourth time the Harper government has introduced such legislation. Yvon Godin, the NDP labour critic, is unimpressed.
I know she said that she will vote to protect the Canadian economy. At the same time she is voting against the union’s right to have a strike. In this country we still have the right to have free bargaining and have the right to have a strike. The strike is even not started yet and she`s already telling Canadians in this country under the Conservative government there’s no strike. They’ve done it in the spring. They’re doing it again and I think it takes away the freedom of the negotiations, free negotiations by doing it.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 2, 2011 at 8:21 PM - 2 Comments
Romeo Saganash is leaving open the possibility of a run for the NDP leadership and Karl Belanger, Jack Layton’s press secretary, is being urged to consider entering the race, but Thomas Mulcair says he’ll stay out if a vote is set for January.
“If what some people seemed to be angling for, which was January, if that ever came to pass, you know, I’d just continue working very hard to do the best we could, but I would never be part of something where there wouldn’t be a level playing field,” he said Friday…
“I have some very strong support for an eventual shot at it from my Quebec colleagues, and I’m honoured and thrilled at that but I’ve also got to build in the rest of Canada,” Mulcair said in an interview Friday. “We’ve got to have time to meet with people, to connect with them, to say who we are, what we do, and that can only be done with a campaign that would be similar to the ’02-03 campaign, which was a 7 1/2-month campaign.”
Mr. Mulcair, along with Pat Martin and Peter Stoffer, also quibbles with setting aside votes for labour unions.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 3:43 PM - 108 Comments
I have regard and sympathy for postal workers. Their mission was once critical to the world, and they have a sense of duty and a code of professional ethics that reflects this. They also have enjoyed all of the security and privilege that comes with performing such a crucial task.
Today, the ideals (and the comforts) remain, but something has changed. The mail just isn’t critical to society anymore. In most cases, it’s an anachronism—overdue for obsolescence, economically and environmentally indefensible. The Canada Post lock-out will help nudge the obsolescence along
I still check my mailbox with great anticipation every day. Not for personal correspondence or periodicals—I get those online. Not for parcels—private couriers handle those. But as a freelancer and contractor, I still get paid through the mail, and that keeps me interested.
But why am I still paid by mail? Why is it taking so long for companies to put in place a direct-deposit system for non-employees? Why is it still so difficult for me to email payment to the people I hire? And why does the government still spend millions mailing out cheques for pension, social security, welfare and unemployment?
Everyone who deposits these cheques has a bank account, so their finances are already part of a digital network. The paper slip is just a note from one computer that tells another computer to change some data. The postal workers and the Canadians who cart these objects around are redundant, fleshy bottlenecks in the process. Why are we still locked into such a wildly expensive and inefficient system?
Entropy, I suspect, and a bizarre sense that removing the last physical artifact of money will somehow melt the brains of anyone over 45.
The Canada Post lock-out will help with the entropy. Organizations have trouble innovating from within, but can become surprisingly nimble when pressured externally. Nothing will force an overdue move to digital transfers like necessity. Then, once the sky fails to fall, what will remain is a much quicker and much cheaper system.
At that point, why will anyone go back to snail mail?