Here’s a good queston to get labour relations law students thinking about government labour policy. A tweet today from a Toronto Star reporter said this:
“Ontario NDP MPP Paul Miller says McGuinty can stop #NHL from locking out Leafs, Senators players but refuses to do so”
It would be a bit odd to hear an NDP politician asking for government intervention in a labour dispute, since that undermines the position the party usually takes, which is that these disputes should be left to collective bargaining, and that strikes and lockouts are a small but necessary cost we pay for a democracy. Apparently though Miller’s point was that the Ontario government could and should have been more active in offerning and providing mediation/conciliation services to help avoid a lockout. Fair enough.
Nevertheless, the NDP politician is correct. The American and Canadian governments could ban an NHL lockout. And he raises a good point. On what basis do our politicians decide whether to prohibit work stoppages? A lockout of the Leafs will harm not just wealthy players and owners. There are economic spin off effects in restaurants, arena jobs, taxis, hotels, bars, vendors. Since North American governments seem quite content to ban work stoppages these days, why not intervene in this dispute between millionaires that adversely effects “the little guy”?
The McGuinty government has been very active in repressing work stoppages since being in power. Think teachers, think teaching assistants, think TTC, think garbage collectors, etc. At the Federal level, we’ve see the Harper government prohibit strikes and lockouts even in the private sector: think Air Canada, think CP Rail. In fact, Canadian governments are punch drunk with using law to prohibit work stoppages, more so than almost any other advanced economic, democratic country. So much so that the International Labour Organization has singled out Canada for concern for its cavaliar disrespect for collective bargaining.
Then again, sometimes our governments are quite happy to sit back and do nothing. Ontario allowed work stoppages at Stelco in Hamilton (lockout) and Vale Inco in Sudbury (strike), to drag on for months with no intervention. These work stoppages had devasting impact on the workers and their families, and did real harm to the local economies as well. Yet no government intervention. When Caterpillar locked out and then fired all of its workers near London last year, the McGuinty government again did nothing. Work stoppages by any Toronto transit worker is now illegal, thanks to the McGuinty Liberals, but when transit workers in Vaughan struck for weeks, the Ontario government again did nothing.
So what is it that determines whether a Canadian government intervenes to prevent a lockout or strike? What reasoning drives the decisions?
Is it whether the work stoppage impacts other businesses or people? Almost every work stoppage does that, though some more than others. Is it about economic impact? The work stoppages at Stelco, Inco, and Vaughan transit created great inconvenience and cost to those communities. On the other hand, a work stoppage at Air Canada would be dispruptive, but there are also large numbers of competitors that would have been happy to pick up the slack. A teachers work stoppage is disruptive, yet teachers strike all over the world (there’s a teachers strike on now in Chicago, where I’m heading tomorrow), and life goes on.
So put on your Minister of Labour hat. What common thread can explain the recent decisions to intervene or not intervene in work stoppages in Canada?
Applying the rationale you come up with, should governments intervene to prohibit a lockout of NHL players?