There was an op-ed published last week by Conservative M.P. Pierre Poilievre, the guy who the Tories have chosen to be their torch bearer for their next attack on their political foe, the labour movement. Here it is. The Federal and Ontario Conservative parties are busy trying to figure out how to cut off union funding in the hopes that this will weaken the ability of the labour movement to participate in political discourse and criticism of Conservative policies.
In the piece, Poilievre accuses the labour movement of forgetting the Rand Formula. I’ve explained what Rand said before: In a nutshell, Rand said that no one should be forced to become a union member, but that everyone in a bargaining unit and covered by a collective agreement should be required to pay union dues. In Ontario and the Federal sector, the law incorporates this formula by providing that, if the union proposes in bargaining that a clause be included in the collective agreement requiring every employee in the bargaining unit pay the same amount of union due, then that clause will be included and the employer will deduct the dues and remit them to the union. It’s in Section 47 of the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
Poilievre correctly notes that Rand found that it was “entirely equitable” (Rand’s words) to require every employee convered by a collective agreement to pay union dues. But then he makes a leap from the Rand decision to his own view of what Rand might have thought about unions using dues for purposes not directly relating to collective bargaining. Poilievre says this:
Conservative M.P. Poilievre: By contrast, Rand’s formula only required employees to fund the bargaining and administration of the collective agreement — nothing more. “I consider it entirely equitable then,” wrote Rand, “that all employees should be required to shoulder their portion of the burden of expense for administering the law of their employment, the union contract [the collective agreement].” His decision used the term “bargaining agent” six different times to refer to the union, which clearly delineated its raison d’être: bargaining — not politics.
Poilievre is taking liberty with the facts here. Rand was never asked about whether the union dues he believed all employees should pay should be parsed into ‘collective bargaining’ and non-collective bargaining purposes. How dues would be spent wasn’t an issue put to him. Any lawyer knows that you can’t make assumptions about what a judge thought about an issue that was not argued or addressed directly in a decision. Rand’s references to ‘bargaining agent’ do not mean what Poilievre claims. A ‘bargaining agent” is simply a definitional term used throughout labour relations statutes to refer to the union that represents workers in a specific bargaining unit. (See section 7 of the Ontario Act, for example). That is why Rand used it, and not as Poilievre suggests, to signal his views about how dues should be collected. The legal term “bargaining agent” doesn’t have a normative meaning. If Poilievre doesn’t even know this most basic fact about labour law, then you have to wonder why this guy is dabbling in labour law amendments at all.
Rand was very aware that the union in the case before him was involved in political activities, if by that we mean advocating for stronger labour laws and campaigning against the Conservative parties of the mid 1940s. These were highly charged political times, and the United Auto Workers were directly involved in those debates. You could equally draw the conclusion from this fact that by not specifically saying that dues can only be used for purposes directly related to the bargaining and administration of the collective agreement that he was not interested in trying to draw a line between ‘bargaining’ issues and ‘non-bargaining issues’, but rather was prepared to leave that as an internal union issue.
But, in any event, Poilievre so far seems to be saying that he believes in the Rand Formula, which would require all bargaining unit employees to pay union dues, even nonunion members. His only objection is that he believes workers should be able to ask that their dues not be spent on political causes with which they disagree. That is essentially the way the law works throughout most of the United States.
However, although seemingly praising the Rand Formula throughout the article, he then suddenly surprises the reader in the last line by saying this:
If union leaders refuse to follow the Rand Formula, then why should anyone else?
Considering what he had written in the op-ed , you would think that his argument would be that the law should ban forced union membership and give workers the right to tell the union not to spend dues on political causes they disagree with. But with this sudden, unexpected last line, his argument is suddenly jolted in a different direction.
He now appears to be arguing that since some unions bargain mandatory union membership clauses (which Rand rejected), and some unions spend part of the dues collected on political purposes (which Rand did not address), then there is no reason to Respect Rand’s main finding that all employees in a bargaining unit should have to pay union dues. Do you see the slight of hand there? Until the last sentence, he never hints that he has a problem with Rand’s essential finding that all employees should pay union dues if that is what the majority of employees decide is reasonable.
Poilievre has to make this big leap of logic if he is to argue later in Parliament that mandatory union dues clauses should be made illegal, and not just forced union membership and use of dues for political causes with which a worker disagrees. You see, Rand believed in the right of workers and unions to bargain mandatory union dues clauses, but the Tories do not. That is why it is so very strange to see a Conservative MP cite the Rand Formula favourably, as Poilievre does here. The Tories need a way around the Rand Formula, recognizing that not even Conservative politicians have ever before made the untenable argument that the law should force unions to provide free services to nonmembers. However, that is exactly what the Ontario Conservatives are saying should happen, and probably Poilievre believes that too.
Do you agree with Poilievre’s argument?
Do you think the government should force unions to provide free services to nonunion members?