Bill C-317, which had become a symbol within the labour movement of a perceived government escalation of attacks on unions, was stopped by Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, who decided the bill should have been preceded by a ways and means motion — required for spending and tax measures — because of the possible tax implications on unionized workers.
About 55 per cent of delegates at PIPSC annual meeting in Ottawa on Saturday voted for the contentious proposal after a polarized debate over the cost and benefits of joining the broader labour movement. The decision will cost about at least $462,000 a year — about 70 cents a month in dues for the more than 55,000 members.
I just love newspapers. You learn such interesting things in them - things you might never have known otherwise. Take the front page article in Thursday's Citizen about how the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), representing professionals in the federal public service, is considering joining the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The CLC is the big union central that brings together under one umbrella most of the trade unions in Canada today.
The biggest player when it comes to giving money to political parties in Ontario is the union representing carpenters, a distinction that surprised even them.
On two days last week, some 200 construction sites - including those of the two new hospitals being built in Montreal - were shut down by walkouts. The headquarters of the Quebec Construction Commission was besieged by a mob that broke windows, threw eggs and menaced commission employees, who fled the building in fear for their safety.
"The No. 1 issue facing our union and the labour movement as a whole . . . is the all-out attack on unionized employees in this country, particularly those of us working in Canada's public service," said PIPSC President Gary Corbett. "We have a majority Conservative government that is using every opportunity to demonstrate its anti-union bias."
When Maclean's magazine published an issue on Sept. 24, 2010, pronouncing Quebec "the most corrupt province in Canada", it provoked outrage among the province's governing elites. Premier Jean Charest denounced the piece as a "twisted form of journalism and ignorance." Opposition members accused the magazine of engaging in English Canada's favourite sport: "Quebec bashing."
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.”
A Conservative private member's bill to force unions to open up their financial records could turn into a grudge match between two of the region's members of Parliament. It's already clear the NDP and the country's big unions are going to devote considerable resources to fighting Conservative plans to force unions to reveal the inner workings of their finances in public.
The list of exemptions from tax - so-called tax expenditures - rolls on and on. Dozens and dozens of them pockmark the tax code. Many have been there for decades, yet remain without scrutiny. Client groups have come to expect them. Remove or dilute any, and listen to the howls. And yet, at a time of large deficits, what better time to review their utility? And what better time than after a blue-ribbon panel under Open Text CEO Tom Jenkins ripped apart a range of failed corporate tax credits designed to aid research and development.
“Workers in the unionized workplaces of Canada have no say when it comes to paying their dues. If they want the job, they hand over the money,” said Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. president Philip Hochstein. “If their workplace is being organized, they have a right to know just where their money would be spent. The transparency and accountability this bill would bring to union spending is long overdue.”
Canada should adopt the French model and force unions to be more transparent when it comes to how they spend workers' mandatory dues, according to experts at the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI). Unions in Canada can effectively tax workers through the Rand formula, which makes union dues compulsory even for those who don't wish to be represented by the organization.
So maybe the bright light of a freshly charged forensic accountant's flashlight would be just the thing to shine on the books of private corporations who benefit from tax breaks and subsidies. This goes double for "think tanks" like the Fraser Institute and the Frontier Centre (neither of which are anything more than market-fundamentalist PR agencies) and AstroTurf groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (which does not represent the interests of taxpayers) and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (which does not represent the interests of independent businesses).
The Labour Watch site provides detailed information and advice to individual workers and employers on how to fight unionization drives and how to decertify existing unions, including by providing a list of legal firms. It strongly opposes compulsory union dues and use of union dues for political purposes. The site promotes legal provisions which make it more difficult for unions to organize.
Jinny Sims, NDP MP for Newton-North Delta - “I think that whenever any of our institutions have this kind of intrusion and oversight it hurts all Canadians, because if you’re going to do that with unions, what’s the next step? If you’re going to do it with the unions, let’s do it with the private corporations as well.”
“With public disclosure, Canadians will be able to gauge the effectiveness, financial integrity and health of their unions,” he [Russ Hiebert] says. “The principle is, just like charities, labour organizations receive a public benefit and the public should be informed how that public benefit is being used.”
Yet with the Rand formula, and given the other tax privileges they enjoy, unions wield an indirect power to tax the employees they represent, a power that is granted to them by the Labour Code, and hence by government. Other than governments, unions are among the rare organizations that can count on such compulsory financing. Private businesses and charitable organizations must always depend on voluntary financing. It makes sense, then, for the unusual financial privilege of the Rand formula to be coupled with at least as much financial transparency as is required of public organizations.
“The basic premise of the bill is that every labour union in Canada would file a standard set of financials, which would then be publicly posted on the CRA website, much like charities already are required to do,” said Hiebert during parliamentary proceedings. “The public would be empowered to gauge the effectiveness, financial integrity and the health of any union. Using electronic filing, the expense incurred by unions and by the federal government should be negligible.”
Back in April, Essex MP and former CAW member Jeff Watson made waves by suggesting that unions, by law, should have to tell members how their dues are spent. If you remember, the backlash from union leaders was ferocious in its intensity. So were the personal attacks and name-calling against Watson.
The actual issue contemplated by the bill (requiring unions to publicize their financial statements) is an invented non-problem. The CAW, like other unions, discloses its audited financial statements regularly to its elected board of directors, to all union locals, and to delegates to its conventions. Annual audited statements must be filed with government labour boards, both provincially and federally. Individual members can request the statements from their local, from the national union, or (if they are "frightened" by the big bad union bosses) directly from the labour boards. The whole process of auditing and disclosure, and even the pay received by the union's president and staff, is specified right there online in the CAW's constitution.
As early as November 2010, the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario had "decided to start priming the pumps to support the Working Families Coalition (WFC) in order to combat Ontario's 'Regressive Conservatives'." The millions of dollars the coalition will pour into attack ads will come at the expense of workers in unionized settings who are required to pay dues to he means in order to keep their jobs. It's time the Canadian legislators change this.
“Blowing a whistle that only the dogs can hear (i.e. the Conservatives’ red-meat base) while allowing the leadership to stand back and look statesmanlike,” the Canadian Autoworkers Union told The Globe in an email, explaining what he thinks is really behind the bill.
“It’s time for Canadian unions to move into the 21st century with regard to transparency and accountability,” Oakey [Terrance Oakey, Merit Canada] says. “Workers facing a union drive should be able to learn where their forced union dues will be spent and Canadians should know because of the tax free treatment that unions have.”
The Income Tax Act gives tax breaks to Canadians for various purposes. However, there are two major groups in particular who benefit most directly from tax breaks within the Income Tax Act. One is registered charities, the second is labour unions. While both groups benefit from taxpayer-aided income tax laws, the way they disclose to the public what they do with the money is very different. A new private members’ bill in Parliament seeks to change this.
The Conservative attack against the NDP and its union affiliates widened on Monday with a backbench Conservative MP tabling a bill to force public disclosure of union finances, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Parliamentary Secretary, Dean Del Mastro, criticized Elections Canada on how it is handling a Conservative complaint over NDP and union links.