Canada’s Building Trades Unions (BTU) came out publically the other day supporting the Government of Canada’s decision to allow the reversal of Enbridge Line 9 between Hamilton and Sarnia. In their release, Director of Canadian Affairs, Robert Blakely, says that they work with energy producers on a daily basis to ensure that Canada’s energy projects “achieve all of their potential” and that “it’s refreshing to have a federal government that also grasps this economic reality.” Blakley goes on to say that “with measures like an improved regulatory process, their commitment to apprenticeship and now this – the Harper Government is demonstrating its knowledge of, and commitment to, our industry.”
Taken at face value, such strong support of Prime Minister Harper’s Government and policies are no doubt helpful to the Prime Minister and to the energy industry as a whole. Had the BTU sent this news release and focused only on the great nation building work of Prime Minister Harper, the BTU would have come across genuinely.
Instead they went on to express their concern about the “unintended, negative consequences of Bill C-377, which endangers the ability of Canadian workers to participate in large scale nation building energy and resource projects”
WHAT??? How??? Huh???
Bill C-377 is a federal Private Members Bill that would require unions to make public their finances, including assets, liabilities, expenses, and salaries of officials. It’s a necessary piece of legislation in a world that is becoming increasingly open and transparent.
In his news release, Blakely goes as far as threatening that if Harper’s government moves forward with Bill C-377 it will “add considerable costs to the bottom line of large-scale energy projects” while at the same time stating the legislation would actually “duplicate processes that are already in place to provide accountability and transparency”.
If unions already have systems in place to provide accountability and transparency then they will be able to comply with Bill C-377 with little or no additional cost. You can’t say on the one hand that you already provide full financial disclosure to members and on the other that it would cost you a fortune to provide public financial disclosure. There is no logic to that argument. It simply doesn’t make sense. We know, for example, that when the US brought in union disclosure legislation the cost of compliance to unions was nominal.
Blakely also states that building trade unions are private sector unions and that “unlike charities and political parties, they (we) receive no public sector subsidies”. The fact of the matter is, however, that unions enjoy special status under our tax laws and receive approximately $400 million worth of tax benefits every year. Furthermore, union dues are mandatory which means that unions effectively have the ability to tax their members without any requirements to be transparent or accountable.
When Bill C-377 was first introduced, Blakely and friends complained that the Harper Government was unfairly targeting unions with this legislation. Given that the government has required charities and first nations governments to be more transparent, these arguments have fallen on deaf ears. Their new argument that they receive no public subsidies is also full of holes given their unique tax status and the mandatory nature of union dues collection.
Canada is far behind many other developed countries when it comes to both union financial disclosure and the ability of workers to opt out of all of some of their union dues. Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. all have some form of union financial disclosure. Furthermore, in Canada MPs, Senators, Minister’s offices, provincial politicians and their staff, federal and provincial departments, First Nations Governments, charities and foundations, crown corporations and publically traded companies are all subject to some form of financial disclosure and transparency requirements.
So why are the building trade unions essentially threatening large scale industrial project cost escalation and an endangerment of the “ability of Canadian workers to participate in large-scale nation building energy and resource projects”?
What do big union bosses REALLY have to hide??
Until unions are subject to financial disclosure legislation, we will never really know.
What we do know is that the USA has had union financial disclosure legislation in place since 1959 and it has led to thousands of fraud convictions. In fact, from 2001-2008, the US labor department secured more than 1,000 union fraud-related indictments and 929 convictions.
We also know that several unions provide funding and support to oil sands opponents, such as the Sierra Club (CAW, Nova Scotia Nurses Union), Environmental Defence (United Steelworkers), Parkland Institute (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the Rideau Institute (CUPE), the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CUPE, CEP), the David Suzuki Foundation (B.C. Teacher’s Federation) and the Council of Canadians (CUPE, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Hospital Employees’ Union, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, Confederation of Canadian Unions, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, CAW, Pulp and Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, COPE, B.C. Teachers’ Federation, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). But we often only know about this funding because the recipients, not the unions, report it.
Over the summer, one Federal MP told me that she has never been lobbied as much as she is being lobbied by organized labour against Bill C-377. Clearly, organized labour has chosen union financial disclosure as their preverbal hill to die on.
One has to wonder why …
It’s great that the Building Trade Unions support Prime Minister Harper’s direction on energy development and its great they believe he is moving forward with great nation building policies. I support Prime Minister Harper’s approach as well and so does the open shop construction community, which actually represents the vast majority of construction workers in Canada.
But to tie the issues of energy development and union financial disclosure together in the same media release is dishonest and, quite frankly, embarrassing.
Canadian unions should embrace financial disclosure requirements. And they shouldn’t tie their support for energy development to the desire of Canadians to have greater union financial transparency.
Oh ya …. I forgot to mention that Canadians support Bill C-377 – in fact, more union members want increase union financial disclosure than non-members ….
But I thought that unions already disclosed all of their finances to their members?
Right … they really don’t.