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April 2013

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Anti-Union Forces Gaining Strength in Canada

Late last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder stunned voters by ramming right-to-work legislation though the lame duck legislature, bringing the anti-worker law historically found in the Deep South to a state many consider the historic center of the labour movement.

Now Conservative politicians across the Detroit River are looking to follow in Snyder's footsteps, hoping to deliver a so-called right-to-work law to Canada's largest province.

Tory leader Tim Hudak has signed on to right-to-work legislation aimed at crippling employees' ability to collectively bargain.

"Hudak calls it 'labour market flexibility,' but it's really just right-to-work-for-less," says First District Political Action/ Media Strategist Matt Wayland. "And it's a serious threat."

The Tories had been gaining in the polls since Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty's resignation last fall. His successor, Kathleen Wynne, helped stop the Liberals' free fall and she is now leading Hudak in approval ratings, but right-to-work still remains a real threat to Ontario working families.

Many expect an election as early as spring.

Wayland says the success of organized labour in turning out votes for pro-worker candidates in the 2011 general election has made it a target for Conservatives.

The 1946 Rand formula — authored by former Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand to help end the historic Windsor Ford strike — provides for automatic dues-check across Canada. Workers are not required to join a union, but they do need to pay dues if covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan writes on the Huffington Post that under the formula: "Membership is not mandatory, but dues are. Mandatory dues are reasonable given that the union is responsible for negotiating on behalf of all employees. Since everyone in the workplace benefits, everyone must contribute."

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the Rand formula, ruling that it does not violate Canadians' constitutional right of freedom of association.

Behind the right-wing's talk of workers' choice, says First District International Vice President Phil Flemming, is the Conservatives' real goal: turning Ontario into a low-wage haven.

"You only have to look at the U.S. to see that whenever a state passes right-to-work, low wages are sure to follow," he says. "We want to raise living standards for working families, not lower them."

Based on U.S. statistics, workers in states with right-to-work laws earn on average approximately $5,500 (U.S. currency) less a year than workers in states without these laws.

Federal Tories are also jumping on the right-to-work bandwagon. Last December, Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre became the first politician to raise national right-to-work in decades. He says it is one of his top legislative goals.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stated that right-to-work is not on the government's agenda, but with Poilievre considered one of the most influential legislators in Ottawa, union activists aren't taking anything for granted.

"We're educating our members on the grassroots level, reminding them of the value of a union contract and how right-to-work threatens all that," says Wayland. "Without a strong labour movement there is no countervailing pressure to big business."

Regina, Saskatchewan, Local 2067 Business Manager Neil Collins says the ruling right-wing Saskatchewan Party is waiting to see what happens on the federal level before opening up discussion of provincial right-to-work legislation.

"Right-to-work is still too extreme here at the moment, but they are definitely looking to see what happens in the rest of Canada," he says.

Meanwhile, another anti-labour bill, C-377, has moved one step closer to becoming federal law. The legislation would force unions to publically disclose all financial transactions — from office supply purchases to salaries — creating onerous reporting requirements for labour.

All information will be posted to a government Web site.

Excluded from the legislation are other dues-paying membership organizations, including C-377 supporters Merit Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses. Vice President Flemming says it is not a coincidence.

"Merit Canada is an anti-union group … which employs about 60,000 workers," he wrote on the Huffington Post. "Don't they stand to benefit from the government forcing unionized work forces to open their books for everyone to scrutinize under the guise of transparency?"

More information on Bill C-377 is available at