Moral Dilemma

The debate about union dues is a difficult one because participants are typically emotionally involved due to their deep seeded political beliefs about unionism.  As such, the discussion goes back and forth and often misses the point, while the question at the core of the issue gets tossed to the side.

I have much respect for Mr. David Harrigan for engaging me on this debate.  As a principled leader with the United Nurses of Alberta, he has a lot of knowledge about how his union works.  However, every point he makes in my mind misses the core point of the debate.

I share our last exchange because it illustrates this well.  Please read it and share your thoughts …

PP

David Harrigan | November 3, 2010 at 6:50 AM | Reply | Edit

I agree, it has been an enlightening debate. I suspect that you and I will likely never agree on this one. But there are some things we do agree on.

I agree that unions must be democratic and must allow free, open and democratic votes about how money is to be spent.

Where we disagree is I believe that majoritarianism must hold the day, and the will of the majority rule.

This is the way things work in every organization that Albertans belong to, be it their local soccer association, their government, their services organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, their workplace social fund, any club. The Merit Contractors Association doesn’t give a rebate to its members if one of them disagrees with a particular stance.

I believe that the suggestion that unions, and unions alone, should be forced to do so is illogical and wrong.

I think you may be correct as well on the issue of absolute individual choice, and it essentially boils down to a libertarian vrs majoritarianism view.

Also, like you, I tend to get offended when any group starts trying to use the word “family” as exclusively applying to their values. I noticed in the US the protestant religious right began doing this years ago. Having grown up in a close, Roman Catholic, liberal family, very little of their views were shared by me.

As you say, a most interesting debate!

pcinyyc | November 3, 2010 at 11:08 AM | Reply | Edit

David – polling suggests that the majority of Canadians AND union workers agree with my point of view. Why don’t you have a free, open and democratic vote (secret ballot) of your members on this topic and go with the voice of the majority?

The question can be simple:

“Do you agree or disagree with your union forcing deductions directly from your salary to pay for partisan political activity”?

OR

“Do you agree that you should have a right to opt-out of the portion of your union dues that goes towards partisan political activity”?

Chambers of Commerce, Associations and other groups put questions to their members and go with the will of the Majority. However, none of these organizations take forced deductions from people’s salaries to pay for the activities that are voted on.

I think this is the area where you and I disagree most. You say that to pick on unions and unions alone is illogical and wrong. But unions are the only institutions that forcefully deduct wages to finance partisan political agendas.

Don’t you see a moral issue here?

Further, you say that unions should be open and democratic and must allow free votes on how money is spent. I agree with you – and if the majority of union members vote and agree that union money should be spent on political advocacy I totally support that. This isn’t about a union’s right to participate in the political process.

However, the next question (the first question, really) to union members needs to be “do you support financing these activities through wage deductions”.

This is the most important question here and the one question union leaders don’t want to ask. Without asking this question, the claim that unions are democratic institutions is something I can’t begin to entertain.

I respect that you will fight for your institution because you have strong beliefs in what it does. However, I will continue to fight for the rights of the individual worker because I have a moral problem with the premise behind HOW your institution finances its political activities.

PP

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2 thoughts on “Moral Dilemma

  1. First, I should say I am pleased and honoured that you refer to me as a principled leader, rather than union boss.

    I agree that points are missed – but as you believe I am missing yours, I believe that you are missing my point. At the risk of repeating myself, I will try one more time.

    You say
    “Chambers of Commerce, Associations and other groups put questions to their members and go with the will of the Majority. However, none of these organizations take forced deductions from people’s salaries to pay for the activities that are voted on.”

    That is not correct.

    If I want to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce, I must pay or I will not be allowed to be a member. If I disagree with a position the Chamber takes, I certainly have the right not to pay, but if I don’t pay, I must leave the Chamber. I don’t get a rebate. My choice is work within the Chamber to have them change their position, or leave the Chamber.

    If I want my son to play soccer, I must pay the soccer association. If I disagree with a position the soccer association takes, I certainly have the right not to pay, but if I dont pay, I must leave the association, and my son no longer plays soccer. I don’t get a rebate. My choice is to work within the association to try and change the position, or leave the association.

    If I invest in a company and I don’t agree with a position the company takes, I don’t get extra money back. My choice is to live with it or leave the company.

    You are suggesting a different set of rules in the single case of unionization.

    In this case and this case alone, you are suggesting that the individual not be required to follow the democratic will of the majority.

    Having the money deducted from one’s cheque is no different than having the money automatically withdrawn from one’s bank account, or from writing a cheque, or handing over cash.

    If I want to join the Chamber of Commerce I MUST pay. But no one is forcing me to join. I can go join some other group, so – you don’t call that “forced dues.”

    If I want to play soccer I MUST pay – But no-one is forcing me to play soccer, I can go play basketball -so you don’t call that “forced dues.”

    If I invest in a company I MUST pay. But no one is forcing me to invest there, I can go invest elsewhere. So you don’t call that “forced dues.”

    If I want to work as an RN at the Foothills where the nurses have organized, I MUST pay. But no one is forcing me to work at the Foothills, I can go work elsewhere. This you call “forced dues.”

    Finally, partisan politics is hugely related to collective bargaining. The party that wins an election gets to write the rules and if a government wants to stack the deck against unions, (or businesses) they do so. That is why business is so heavily involved in partisan politics. That is why unions need to be as well.

    I don’t think you are fighting for the rights of the individual. (Although I am sure you think you are.) You are merely fighting against collections of individuals, which will only harm the individuals.

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