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Linda McQuaig References Doorey in Piece on Royals and Unions

I’m referenced in Linda McGuaig’s column in the Toronto Star today. Her article contrasts how Canadian media and politicians treat the Royals as down-to-earth regular folk, while public sector workers in Canada are presented as greedy, good-for-nothing slobs sucking on the taxpayers’ teat.  She definitely has a point, but I’m staying away from how the Royals suck up public funds in Britain while they pay crappy wages to their own staff.  My  English immigrant parents get mad at me…  McQuaig references me for two points.

First, that governments in Canada have set out in the past 15 years or so to discourage collective bargaining and unionization.

They have done this by creating a legal model that mimics a political-democratic model, but that in fact is a very distinct form of democracy in which one “party”–the employer–is granted substantially greater rights to campaign than the other (the union).  Canadian laws grant employers virtually unfettered access to employees in the days preceding the vote to proselytize anti-union messages.  Employers are permitted to force employees to stop working and to sit in a room and listen to employer’s message.   Employers can send emails and letters, and they can have face to face discussions at work to explain why the employees shouldn’t support a union.

How does the law counter the employer’s access to employees, to ensure employees receive a reasonably balanced presentation of the issue?  It grants employers the right to exclude union organizers from anywhere on the employer’s property–even the parking lot!  Employers can also ban employees from discussing unions during working hours.  If unions are not permitted to speak to workers at work, do our laws at least help them reach employees outside of work?  Nope.  Unions must try to reach employees by holding meetings during the employees’ leisure time, trying to hand out flyers as workers drive past them, or posting information on websites that they hope employees will search out on their own.   The law envisions union organizing as a clandestine activity that has no business in the workplace and union organizers as charlatans intent on tricking employees into supporting the union, while employers are just presumed to have the right to compel employees to listen to their antiunion messages at work.

Could the law ensure a more balanced campaign process? Absolutely.  Look around.  In Britain, the law requires that unions be given access to the workplace, during working hours, to address employees about the benefits of unionization.  Moreover, the union’s right to do this must be at least equivalent to the amount of time that the employer addresses it employees at work about why they should not join a union.  A vote held in which a union is not granted this right of access is considered unreliable.  Not here.   In Britain and even in the U.S., unions are given means to communicate with workers at their homes.  Not here.

The point is that, while we could ensure a relatively balanced presentation of the arguments to employees during organizing campaigns, our politicians have no interest in doing this.  They prefer a model in which employers have the upper hand in communicative access because the employers’ message (vote no) accords with the government’s preference for workers to vote no.  I told McQuaig that unions are like the Green Party on televised debates:  they have a message, but they are denied equal access to the electorate to present it.

Anyone want to argue that I am wrong, and that our laws aim to ensure employees have equal access to the arguments for and against unionization?

Chris Riddell has found that a shift to the vote model from the card-check model results in a 19% decrease in union success rates in organizing campaigns.  This is why governments prefer this model.   There is nothing wrong with a ballot model in theory.  The devil is in the details.  Are the rules that govern the election process balanced, fair, and objective?  Would unions fair better in a vote model that ensured more balanced access to workers?  We are unlikely to ever know the answer, since contemporary politicians like the model just the way it is.

Second, McQuaig noted that a majority of workers in Canada would vote for a union if given the chance.

That was taken from a blog entry I did last year. In it, I noted a study that found that over 85% of union members in Canada would vote to remain in the union if given a choice, and that 33% of nonunion workers in Canada would vote to join a union if given the chance.  Interestingly, for my university students, the study found that over 58% of Canadian nonunion workers between age 15-24 would vote for a union.  These stats refute the commonly heard assertion in the business media that Canadians have no interest in unions, and that union members are trapped against their will by forced unionism that they cannot escape.  Hogwash.  As I’ve noted before, under our “majority rules” model in North America, 50 percent of workers might want to be unionized, yet they would be denied that right.  In my earlier post, I asked whether it is a failure of the legal model if greater than 50% of workers want collective bargaining, yet only about 30% presently have it?

Do you think we should move towards a model (common in Europe) in which employers would be required by statute to recognize and bargain with unions that do not represent a majority of the employees (“minority unions”)?

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