COLUMN

The NDP plans some shotgun weddings

DIANE FRANCIS December 14 1992
COLUMN

The NDP plans some shotgun weddings

DIANE FRANCIS December 14 1992

The NDP plans some shotgun weddings

COLUMN

DIANE FRANCIS

Organized labor has its rightful place in any society as a countervail against abuses of workers by managers or owners. But unions can be a tyranny of their own if allowed to ride roughshod over individual rights to enhance their coffers or power. And there is a worrisome proclivity on the part of some members of the Canadian Labor Party (ND), in power in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario, to bigmore workers’ rights in favor of unionism for its own sake. A case in point involves 2,000 provingcal workers in Ontario who may be forced to support a union through paying dues without worker assent. Even worse, there appears to be no charter protection for these public-sector workers thanks to an unfortunate Supreme Court of Canada decision of several years ago.

Janet Ballantyne is president of the Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario, representing 5,000 non-union members. Her group comprises about six per cent of Ontario’s entire public-service workforce and has been fighting amendments proposed by the NDP cabinet’s management board to Ontario’s Crown Employees Collective Bargaining Act. The act determines who bargains on behalf of provincial government workers and also determines who has the right to strike. The amendments, which will affect 18,000 workers, and prevent 2,000 workers from choosing their bargaining unit, are now before the ministry of labor, headed by former union organizer Robert Mackenzie. If he upholds the proposed amendments to the act—and there is little reason for doubt— then the changes will go before the legislature. Most feel they will become law as early as this spring.

The board recommended that 9,000 of the 18,000 were management, or people who directly handle labor negotiations and, as a result, have a conflict of interest in terms of joining any bargaining group. It recommended that about 5,400 be put into a new bargain-

While extension of union membership is always a festering issue between workers and management, this case has gone a step too far

ing unit with freedom to choose their bargaining agent and that another estimated 1,600, represented by professional associations, also be given formal bargaining status.

The fight between the association, representing the 5,000 employees, and the board, concerns the board’s recommendation that 2,000 workers must join the bargaining unit of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). While extension of union membership is always a festering issue between workers and management, this case is different. Instead of letting these 2,000 workers choose their own bargaining group, as 7,000 others have been allowed to do, the NDP’s management board has gone one step too far by recommending that those 2,000 workers be denied any choice in the matter. Those who support the 2,000 joining OPSEU point out that this union has been recognized as the principal bargaining unit for provincial government employees over the years. But that’s beside the point If 5,400 can be put into a new bargaining unit with freedom to choose their bargaining agent and another 1,600 can, why not these 2,000? And why OPSEU, and not another union that now represents provincial government employees?

At the very least, those workers should be

given a secret ballot, along with all the other workers, to determine whether they wish to join any bargaining unit and, if they do, which one. By forcing 2,000 workers to join the public service employees, the NDP will have handed over what amounts to an annual gift to the union of hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on yearly dues as high as $800 for the captive workers. This is the labor equivalent of an unfriendly takeover using workers’ own money. “Many of us don’t want to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union,” said Ballantyne. “We’re not against the idea of a professional association with bargaining rights, however.”

In addition to the 2,000 who want to exercise the right of choice, many among the 9,000 workers excluded from joining any bargaining unit are equally upset And rightly so. They too deserve a choice Ballantyne says that many want to join a union or a bargaining unit because of the NDP government and its favorable bias towards unionized workers. This is ironic because it means that a pro-union government doesn’t even have to mandate union-dues payments to drive people into thinking they must join one.

Unfortunately, the weapons available to these workers may only be moral suasion because of a court precedent. Said Ballantyne: “Our lawyers told us the one Supreme Court decision on a similar issue concluded, under the charter, that although one has freedom of association, there is no freedom to select who represents you.” She added: “This is a mindboggling decision involving the movement in the Northwest Territories of a group of publicsector workers from one union to another without consulting the members. The case was fought by the two unions. But our lawyers said, given the precedent, their advice was to fix things legislatively before we have to go that far and take the province to court.”

These civil servants are right It is ironic that the perceived bias towards unions of the Ontario NDP government has driven many of them to want to join a union or other form of collective bargaining unit to protect their rights in the event of layoffs or hardship. It is also ironic that the NDP recommendations would deny collective bargaining to 9,000 workers while foisting a union on 2,000 others. All those workers want is the right to the same treatment as the other provincial government employees, with the freedom to choose whether they want to be represented by a union or other bargaining agent. Ontario laws also grant workers the freedom to choose which union or arrangement they want to represent them in negotiations. To deny them those rights is discriminatory and undemocratic.

“Personally,” said Ballantyne, “I feel we’re much better served with some collective voice, given the government there right now. This government, and past governments, have only worried about meeting the needs of unionized employees. This provides a strong incentive to become a unionized employee. But I feel very strongly one should be able to do that on one’s own terms. The 2,000 workers are being forced to join a union. And that’s not right.”