Union Dues – it’s time for a Progressive Conservative approach – Part 2

Thank you very much for your comments on my original blog on union dues – I’m thrilled we can have this discussion and allow Albertans and Canadians to decide where they stand on this important public policy issue.

You ask whether shareholders should get rebates if they don’t support the political contributions made by the company they invest in.  The difference between being a shareholder in a company and a worker who is legally compelled to pay union dues is that a shareholder can choose to take their money out of one company and invest into another.  Union workers are compelled to pay these dues as a condition of their employment.

A shareholder has the opportunity to invest in any company and has the freedom to associate and support companies, organizations and causes that are in line with their political views.  My argument is that workers should have the option to either opt in or out of activities not related to collective bargaining and other core union activities.

With respect to citizens being able to opt out of paying a portion of taxes if they don’t agree with the direction their government takes on an issue, I suggest you make the highly erroneous assumption that unions should be afforded the same institutional recognition as governments.

Governments are responsible for providing public goods and services such as defence, monetary policy etc to all citizens. We cannot renounce being a citizen and our citizenship obligations. The issue here is that as a condition of employment people are compelled to pay union dues, which is akin to a tax. Since a union should not have the same institutional recognition as a government, is appropriate for a union to “tax” its members to support these causes? If a portion of these dues are being used to support causes, issues and political parties that the individual does not support, that individual should have the right to voluntarily opt in or opt out.   Unions are not governments – it’s very dangerous to make these types of parallels.

Your third argument is an interesting one given the actions of Albertans for Change during the last election and the Working Families Coalition in Ontario. No mention was made of labour law/collective bargaining in those ads. Rather, the advertising constituted an ideological attack against the Stelmach government. All employees that are forced to pay the portion of dues that support these ads are being compelled to associate with these ideological views.  While the Charter provides a freedom to associate, the flip side of that right is the freedom to disassociate.  Compelling employees to pay union dues to support such ideological attacks is therefore a violation of their right to disassociate.

I also got a few tweets on this blog and most people made the same arguments as above.  However, one was different and I want to address it.  @noleftandright tweeted “if union members want to control expenditures they should run for union office of whatever sorts and state their case”

My response is that if union bosses want the province to have labour legislation that is more closely aligned with their ideological views, they should run for MLA and state their case to the whole population.  Why should a worker who just wants to make a living and provide for his or her family be compelled to contribute to these causes through mandatory pay deductions?  If the worker is compelled to pay these dues as a condition of employment, why should it also be their responsibility to run for union office if they don’t like it?  The government has the responsibility to ensure legislation protects employee rights.  The employee should have the right to disassociate from their unions political view and current Canadian legislation doesn’t respect that right.

These are my arguments … I welcome yours!


4 thoughts on “Union Dues – it’s time for a Progressive Conservative approach – Part 2

  1. Hello again. Hope you don’t mind me replying again. I apologize if this reply is too long.

    First, I should identify that I am the Director of Labour Relations for United Nurses of Alberta, so am very familiar with Alberta labour legislation. I should also point out that the comments below are mine alone and do not necessarily represent the views of UNA.

    Secondly, I would also like to say it is a pleasure to have a real discussion rather than just shouting and sniping which so often passes for political debate these days.

    In response to the previous points – you say a shareholder can simply leave the company and invest elsewhere. With respect, the same is true for an employee – they can just resign and work elsewhere. In either case, the individual cannot stay with the company and opt out of those things to which he or she is opposed.

    I did not suggest that unions are akin to governments, although you point out that union dues are akin to taxes. It is important to realize that a union has a legal obligation to represent ALL its dues payers (or taxpayers). Unlike the case with governments, however, if a duespayer believes he or she is not being fairly represented, there is legal action that can be taken.

    The government/union analogy may be useful though. In the case of a union, the majority of employees have, through secret ballot, chosen to have the union represent them. There may well be individuals who do not like the union, but to refer to their union dues as “forced dues” makes as much sense as saying that I have “forced taxes” because I do not support the PC. Even though I do not favour the PC’s, the majority (or at last plurality) of Albertans do. Majoritarianism what our culture is based on, and this applies to unions as well.

    I dont think you addressed my final point – that the Progressive Conservative Party, which has been in office for some time now, has passed legislation making it nearly impossible to engage in free collective bargaining. Therefore, spending money to have them replaced would be related to collective bargaining. And, by the way, in none of the Provincial elections, did the PC’s ever make mention of wanting to have amongst the most repressive labour legislation in the country.

    It is also interesting that you refer to leaders of union who have been democratically elected as “union bosses.” I note you don’t refer to Mr. Stemach or his cabinet as “political bosses.” I expect that this is not meant as disrespect but rather is simply because this is the terminology that those on the far right continually use, until it has become accepted.

    Finally, there was a very interesting case at the Labour Relations Board last year on the matter of union dues. Although it may seem lengthy, it does provide a good history of Canadian Labour laws and how we got to where we are. It can be found at http://www.alrb.gov.ab.ca/decisions/GE_05611A.pdf

    It is important to know the history and look at the totality of our labour laws. In your first blog you seemed to want to base the laws on those in Europe – but remember that right now in France, literally millions of workers are currently on wild cat strikes, not for contractual, but political reasons. France is undergoing its sixth national strike since May. One third of that Nation’s gas stations are dry. Strikes are disputing subways, buses, trains and boats. Unlike Canada, none of the protesters will lose their job, be fined or jailed.

    Canadian labour laws are a serious of compromises designed to avoid the very thing that is common place in Europe. I am not sure you really want to throw that away and model ourselves on European labour relations.

  2. Interesting dialogue here. I wonder..you mention how an employee is free to leave their employer..but if I were a nurse working in the public sector would I be free to leave? First off I am not sure I would have any private sector opportunities to work. Evan so, your union could fine if you felt I was working outside your contract..

    With respect, you have previously argued that member’s should be compelled to contribute their dues to whatever cause the leadership deems worthy even if it meant opposing for example the Stelmach government. You are clearly out of touch with your membership given the results of the last election.

  3. P.S. We know the decert rules…but we have provincial elections every 4 years…When was the last time there was a vote on when UNA was designated as bargaining unit for a group? There should be mandatory votes to reaffirm bargaining unit status…but there is’nt

  4. Hello Bill –
    First, Registered Nurses can find employment at many non-unionized sites. In Calgary for example, Bethany Harvest Hills, Beverly Centre – Glenmore, Bow Crest Care Centre, Bow View Manor, Carewest Garrison Green, Carewest George Boyack, Carewest Royal Park, Carewest Sarcee, Carewest Signal Pointe, Extendicare Cedars Villa, Extendicare Hillcrest, Father Lacombe Care Centre, Glamorgan Care Centre, Intercare Brentwood Care Centre, Intercare Chinook Care Centre, Intercare Millrise Care Centre, Intercare Southwood Care Centre, Mayfair Care Centre, Newport Harbour Care Centre, Wentworth Manor – The Court and Wing Kei Care Centre are all non-union Nursing Homes. Most physician offices and medicentres are also non union. HRC, until they went under do to their bankruptcy was also non-union.

    The union cannot and would not fine a nurse if she worked outside the contract. There is no ability to do so, nor would we be interested in such a thing.

    I don’t agree that we are out of touch with our members. And I did not mean to suggest that dues be spent on what the union leadership deems worthy. The positions we take are based on what positions our members tell us to take.
    Although a plurality of Albertans voted for the PCs in the last election, the majority of electors did not. In fact, the majority of electors did not vote at all. And as we have secret ballots, there is no way of knowing how many nurses voted PC. Without a doubt, some did though.

    As for decertification – the current rules are that when 40% or more of duespayers in a bargaining unit want a decertification vote, such a vote must be held. You suggest that rather than this, it should be automatic, but limited to once every four years. That is interesting, and to be honest, not an idea I have heard or considered before. I am not sure I would be opposed to such a policy – it would have some very positive aspects. I imagine some employers might be opposed as it might become too disruptive. But to my knowledge it is not something that has been publicly debated before.

    When was the last time there was a vote on when UNA was designated as bargaining unit for a group? –
    About a month ago. RNs at the Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre had previously been non unionized, and recently voted to join UNA.
    I have been with UNA about 20 years, and to the best of my knowledge there has never been a situation where 40% of the nurses at any unit applied for a decertification vote.

    Thanks for your comments. And thanks to Peter and Christina for allowing this discussion. I may take you up on that invitation for a beer on the “about” page!

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