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Conservative M.P. (Poilievre) Supports the Rand Formula as He Argues to Abolish It?

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:

Poilievre, Conservative M.P.: Does He Agree or Disagree With the Rand Formula? Hard to Tell.

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?


11 Responses to Conservative M.P. (Poilievre) Supports the Rand Formula as He Argues to Abolish It?

  1. John Brennand, Secretary-Treasurer Local 50 TWU

    February 10, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Just as no one is required to vote, no one is required to be ACTIVE as a member of a union. If an employee represented by a union is unhappy with the activities of the union representing them they have a number of options available to them. They can campaign outside the workplace for any issue they support or, and this is the part which would require effort on their part, they can become active within the union to change policy.

    As long as we, as a union, and I as an individual are legally obligated to represent everyone within the group recognized as ‘bargaining unit’ then whether an individual joins us or not they receive a benefit (wages, benefits, working conditions & representation in grievances). Last I checked, to quote R. A. Heinlein, “There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.”

  2. Margaret Elson

    February 11, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    To say that Pierre Poilievre “believes” something is stretching a point. He is the master of finding a justification for anything the Tories want to do, regardless of whether it is consistent with things he has said before, or if indeed it makes any sense. I have the bad luck to live in his riding, and he has been like that from the start.

  3. Jody

    February 11, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I agree with John above. I’m a union member, if that matters, and I don’t mind one bit that I pay dues. I would happily pay more. If you share in the benefits provided by the union, you should pay the same dues. If you wish to opt out of the dues, then you should also be opted out of the collective agreement and/or any other benefits that result from the union’s actions on behalf of members in that workplace.

    Here’s another way to look at it this situation:
    It’s currently illegal to take an item from a store and not pay for it. In most cases, everyone who purchases the same item at the same store on the same day pays the same price. Should the store now be required by law to provide the same item to everyone who wants it, but allow customers to “opt out” of paying? Poiliever’s ‘logic’ would say yes.

    Who unions, or employers, choose to support politically or charitably really has as much bearing on the core question as… hm… the colour of Prof. Doorey’s socks?

  4. Melody Stark

    February 11, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    It is against the law for me to drive a car without insurance. If I get in an accident and have no insurance then I suffer the consequences alone. The insurance company will not represent me EVEN IF I AM NOT AT FAULT (besides the charges I would face from the police for driving without insurance).
    This should be the same for unions. Why should others be allowed all the benefits of the collective agreement fought for by the union (and paid for by unions dues) if these people are given the choice not pay and they don’t? Furthermore, if someone is unjustly wronged by their employer, why should that same non due paying member expect to be represented by the entity for which they contribute nothing?
    Why should I pay someone else’s way to enjoy the same benefits and security the union gives me? I shouldn’t.

  5. Dylan Gadwa

    February 12, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    As an active member of our local union executive board, I can say without reservation that the Harper government has well and truly awakened a sleeping giant with this issue.

    Let’s be clear: This is not about “rights” for working people, nor is it about choice or our government working towards wealth and prosperity for working class families. Our members get it – saving $50 a month on union dues does NOT make up the value of what is lost. The sole intent and purpose behind these measures is to break unions. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Working people have watched over the past number of years as the rich get richer and our well-being falls by the wayside. Harper can try and ram his agenda through, but the reality is that even workers in the booming oil industry are not immune from the effects of the world economy.

    If Mr. Harper wants to force a referendum on his ability to govern by picking a fight with the working class, so be it. He’s in for the fight of his life. As much as we’d simply prefer a government that works to represent the interests of it’s working families, we are damn good and ready for this fight. Bring it on, Stephen. Bring it on.

  6. Brian

    February 12, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    For Jody above who would happily pay more for her union, I would invite her to do so. Most unions accept donations on top of dues.

    My organization has employees who we would literally increase their salary, except that a negotiated salary range with the union caps the maximum. Although I agree that union and employer have both done poorly in negotiating such restrictive salary bands, it is the norm in collective bargaining. So then that these employees, who would have had great negotiating power on their own, now have to pay their union for the service of capping their salaries, seems pretty ridiculous to me.

  7. Monty Montgomery

    February 13, 2013 at 11:22 am

    @Brian, if you have employees doing a job who deserve more money, then everybody doing the same job deserves more money. The Union won’t object to you increasing everyone’s pay who is doing the same job. But if you want to play favourites and give raises only to those you like, then you’re being discriminatory.

    I’m a PSAC member, what Poilievre doesn’t understand [or refuses to acknowledge] is that when you work for an Employer who can change the rules of your employment through Legislation, you have to be politically active as a Union for your members to survive. Otherwise there is no point in negotiating collective agreements at all.

    Yes, there are “social justice” issues that my Union supports that I don’t always agree with, but that’s less than one percent [much less] of the total dues I’m paying. The vast majority of my dues go to bargaining, training, education and representation of members.

  8. Jason Soklofske

    February 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    What a world it would be to live in where I could “opt out” of things I do not agree with. I dont like Shell gas, so I’ll just “opt out” of paying profit at the pump. Just the cost for me please. You know what? I dont like what Harper is spending money on. Ill just “opt out” of paying federal income tax, thank you very much.

    Fortunateley, with my union, if the membship does not agree with how our dues are spent, we have a way to change it. Each year at our AGM, any member can submit a resolution, have their wages replaced, mileage, meals, and hotel covered, and put it on the floor at the meeting. A resolution such as “The Union will not spend any union dues on political activities” could be put on the floor. No such resolution has ever been made to my knowledge. The mechanism is there however, which is a far more democratic process than any government has in place.

  9. Derek Blackadder

    February 13, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I object to my tax dollars paying Poilievre’s salary. Come to think of it, I object to my taxes funding all Tories in any way, shape, or form. Federal and provincial. Municipal too. When can I expect my rebate?

    Mmmmm…add my share of the cost of the F-35 (if you can count that high) and I guess I have a nice tidy little sume coming to me.

  10. Sue McIntyre CUPE 139 President

    March 3, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Here, here! The ontario Conservatives are banking on the general public, including union members to be undeducated and gullible! No one if falling for that speech!

  11. John Baglow

    September 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Isn’t Poilievre trying to draw wide the Overton Window to get the US Taft-Hartley Act in here? Compared to abolishing Rand entirely, this will eventually appear moderate.

    Here’s T-H:

    The difficulty is trying to extricate “collective bargaining expenses” from “political expenses,” especially when the employer is the federal government, for example, and is being as political as it gets with the unions involved. How can the latter do their jobs without responding in kind?

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