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Has Anything Changed With Tim Hudak’s New Claim That He Is Dropping “Right to Work”?

I was teaching an all day executive Masters’ course yesterday when news came down that Tim Hudak made this announcement in a public speech:

When I talk to employers, and to workers, some of them tell me they want right to work laws in Ontario.  But not very many.

Hudak & Hillier: The Art of Mixed Messaging

Hudak & Hillier: The Art of Mixed Messaging? (Photo: Toronto Star)

For every worker or employer who asks for a right to work law, a hundred talk about energy prices, and skilled trades, and tax rates, and trade.

After all, only 15% of private sector workers in Ontario are unionized today. Most of them aren’t getting ahead, but neither are the 85% that are non-union.

This “right to work” issue just doesn’t have the scope or the power to fix the issues that are threatening 100% of the manufacturing jobs in Ontario. So if we’re elected, we’re not going to do it – we’re not going to change the so-called “Rand Formula”. Our agenda is a lot bigger, and a lot more ambitious, than that.

Here is Hudak’s full speech.

These comments mirror exactly what I wrote here [Repealing the Rand Formula Might Weaken Unions, But It Won't Create Jobs], right down to the point that only 15% of the private sector is unionized, and that a tiny law on how unions collect dues won’t affect the landscape of manufacturing industry in Canada.  Maybe my piece should have been cited :-)

Yet a mystery remains.  As is often the case, I have no idea what Hudak is actually saying.  It has never been clear to me what the Tories actually intended to do with labour law if elected. They produced a policy paper last year that included a lot of vague talk about ending ‘forced unionism’, but that was all political spin. There were no details of what a Tory law would actually do. Details matter greatly on this stuff.  There was no specific mention of ‘right to work’ in the Tory platform, although the so-called “evidence” the Tories used to back their argument compared differences between ‘right to work’ states and non-’right to work’ states. This suggested that they were indeed looking at ‘right to work’ laws; otherwise, why direct the reader to stats about states with ‘right to work’ laws?

Professor Brian Langille (U of T Law) and clever U of T law student Joshua Mandryk wrote a paper recently arguing that the Tories’ plan was not to adopt US style right to work laws, which prohibit collective agreements clauses requiring workers to join unions or to pay union dues to unions.  They assumed that the real plan was to follow the model set out in renegade MPP Randy Hillier’s private member’s Bill 64, which has the typical Tory double-speak language, Defending Employees’ Rights Act.   That Bill was mostly ignored because Hillier is always introducing private members bills that go nowhere, and he rarely speaks for the party. Hillier’s Bill is far more sweeping than the typical American ‘right to work’ laws.  It would allow workers to opt out altogether from a collective agreement, thereby ending the twin core principles of the Wagner model of labour legislation: majoritism and union exclusivity. It creates a weird, untested libertarian hybrid model based on pieces plucked here and there from various national models around the world.  It would place Ontario on its own little experimental island, with a system unlike any other model in the world.

As Langille and Mandryk explain, this would inject into Ontario’s labour market widespread uncertainty, conflict, confusion, and almost certainly produce a wide range of unexpected consequences.   It’s hard to imagine why employers or a government trying to stabilize the economy would want this uncertainty, beyond a faith-based belief that when the smoke eventually clears, after years of litigation and conflict, that unions would be weaker than they already are.

From my perspective, I doubted that the Tory plan would actually be to follow Hillier’s wacky model.  After all, Hillier is considered a maverick and has had high profile public clashes with Hudak.  Why would a party with hopes of running the province let a loose cannon rewrite 60 years of Canadian labour policy? Hillier is no William Lyon Mackenzie King or Franklin D. Roosevelt.  But Joshua Mandryk points me to an opt ed by Hillier published in the Windsor Star which I had not seen before.  In it, Hillier claims that his policy is in fact Hudak’s policy.  he refers to “our” labour policies, meaning his, Hudaks, and the Party’s I presume.  Again, who knows what to believe out of Hillier’s mouth.  But if that is true, then we are left scratching our head about what Hudak intended this week when he said “we are not going to change the so-called Rand Formula.”

The mystery is this.  Hillier’s plan does not actually address the Rand Formula, not directly. In his editorial, Hillier says that he stands by the Rand Formula and agrees with it.  He puts words into Rand’s mouth though to suit his objective of cutting of the use of union dues for political purposes. He claims that Rand only said that union dues could be used “for collective bargaining purposes” and not “social policy campaigns”.  That is technically true, but only because Rand wasn’t asked about what unions should be able to use dues for.  It wasn’t an issue that was argued in the interest arbitration.  However, Rand knew that the UAW was very politically involved at the time, and the fact that he did not specifically insist that unions not use dues money for political purposes suggests that the opposite of what Hillier claims, that he did not feel it necessary to police how the union spends its money. There is no reason to believe that Rand would have rejected a democratically elected union from using dues to support social policy causes it’s elected leadership believes advance the interests of its members.

However, and this is the big question, if Hudak’s plan was never to “change the Rand Formula”, as Hillier claims, then what meaning can be given to Hudak’s comment this week that he has no intention to “change the Rand Formula”?  

Maybe all Hudak was trying to do is adjust the talking point away from Rand and ‘right to work’, but with zero actual change in his labour policy plans.  That would make sense of Hudak’s comment that, “Our agenda is a lot bigger, and a lot more ambitious” than changing the Rand Formula.  Indeed it is, if that plan is Hillier’s plan to completely rewrite the Canadian labour relations model and make it some weird, untested hybrid of North American, European, and Pan-Pacific models.

On the other hand, if nothing has changed, then it is certainly disingenuous for Hudak to suggest that something has changed.  His speech is written to lead the listener to believe that something important has changed. But what?  Maybe all he was saying is that he considered American style ‘right to work’ laws at some early point in the policy making process (which I am sure he did), and now he has decided against that particular option.  That too could be true, even if everything in Hillier’s master plan remains on the table.

So, I remain unclear if (and what) Tim Hudak’s speech means.  It may mean nothing at all, that absolutely nothing has changed in terms of the Tory’s plans for labour law reform.  If so, then unions still face the possibility of a complete dismantling of the Wagner Model in exchange for some new weird hybrid model, in which workers can just opt out of a collective agreement altogether (including the dues clause) and bargain individually with their employer.  Lots of details about how such a model would work remain uncertain and wouldn’t be known for sure until the Bill was introduced, and even then the effects would not be clear until years later, after lots of litigation, at huge cost to employers, taxpayers, and unions.

But we can be certain that the intention of the law would be undermine collective bargaining and weaken the labour movement.  It’s hard to imagine a Tory government would do anything the strengthen collective bargaining, isn’t it?

Issues for Discussion

Do you think Tim Hudak intended to signal in his carefully worded speech this week an important change in their plans for labour law reform if elected?  

Do you think he is saying that he will not make major reforms to the labour law model if elected?

Or, was he simply confirming that he does not intend to introduce a very specific American style labour law ‘right to work’ law, but that he still intends to fundamentally rewrite Ontario labour law policy?


16 Responses to Has Anything Changed With Tim Hudak’s New Claim That He Is Dropping “Right to Work”?

  1. Fernando Reis

    February 23, 2014 at 1:54 am

    He will introduce such legislation if elected but will call it something else. Probably something like “Freedom to Chose” or will pass legislation that would only allow for the deduction of union dues for that portion of union services that are non-political (such as the costs of collective bargaining and administering the collective agreement).

  2. Jody

    February 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    I think Tim Hudak was trying to distance himself from “Right to Work (for less)” specifically. However, and to my continued amazement,various attacks on workers’ rights still seem attractive to some. In other words, I think Tim Hudak has changed hats, not thoughts. If he gets elected, he’ll still do his best to remove employee rights, reject more revenue, cut social services and basically turn Ontario into a corporate wild west setting.
    I realize I may be a little bit over the top with my description, but basically I think Terrible Timmy is aiming for the third option above, and it won’t be good for most of us if he gets away with it.

  3. sharon

    February 23, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Hillier’s modelling on Scott Walker’s attack on unions in the state of Wisconsin, I think.

    Public service union there have to re-certify each year, can only ‘bargain’ for a wages set by the government, have to collect union dues from each individual member rather than a dues check up, etc.

    Union membership in Wisconsin has plummeted as a result.

    Redford’s gambit in Alberta sounds like a watered down version of it.

    Excellent article in the New York Times describes the Wisconsin model:

  4. graham campbell

    February 24, 2014 at 12:18 am

    I am a union member ufcw.They are nothing more than parasites.When you use analagies to make your argument,your argument is pale.No two sets of circumstances are exactly the same.We are not electing public officials.This is about the right to chose what I do with the money I earn.They shove insurance plans down my throat,that I would not otherwise by.These insurance plans,pay you rather than the service provider,maybe you cannot afford $800. for a root canal.This is deliberate.I make 25000 a year,give the union 1000 per yr and get nothing in return.They have a license to steal.I want the right to chose.It is a fundamental right.

  5. Doorey

    February 24, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks Graham. Well, one thing we know empirically is that unionized workers earn considerably more money, and have WAY better pension and benefit plans in Canada than comparable nonunion workers. On that point, even conservative, union-haters agree. That is why there is a direct correlation between higher income inequality and lower union density, and is the main reason why antiunion employers, lobbyists, and conservatives want to weaken unions. Your implication that you’d be better off without a union is not supported by the empirical evidence.

  6. Josh Mandryk

    February 24, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Hillier’s model is unique from the Wisconsin Walker model. It’s a “worst of both worlds” combination of Euro-style minority unionism & the Wagner Act model.

  7. Andy

    February 25, 2014 at 3:02 am

    Doorey, that sounds like a fallacy of composition. If the average union worker makes more than an average non-union worker, it does not necessarily follow that unionized Graham must make more money than a non-union worker.

    I do believe that some individuals are harmed by their union, and I find our system odd that those same individuals are still required to pay into the union.

    One might argue, ‘well that is how democracy works,’ and I can’t disagree that this is how union democracy presently works. Should it work like that though? Well that is the question isn’t it. But one cannot accurately argue that everyone within a union is being helped by the union.

  8. Brian Farrugia

    February 25, 2014 at 3:18 am

    When times are good, it is easy to see unions as unnecessary. But the times are good because of the struggles, and ideologies of our union ancestors. The list of changes to the workplace is well known and are the bane of the existence of the those seeking their riches on the backs of labourers. Just look at how rich the owners of slaves managed to get with free labour(lots of work for slaves too). Yes there is a cost, but don’t let a few dollars woo you over to the dark ages of the industrial revolution.

  9. graham campbell

    February 25, 2014 at 8:15 am

    My implication that I would be better off without a union is supported by my own empiriacal evidence.Look at my wages.The evidence you are quoting no doubt is hevily skewed by public sector wages.Tell the people at kellogs.bicks.and caterpillar,there is no evidence.Both federal and provincial govts are cutting back some benefits,if they don’t we will end broke like Detroit.The feds are trying to bring them in line with the private sector.So when you factor in public sector compensation,of course the inequality gulf widens,which is what the federal govt is addressing.The recent Volkswagen union rejection in a good example of a better mgt labour relations Toyota as well.If I was not in the union I would have $1000 more in my pocket.This is all the evidence I need.You also failed to address my right to chose. . .

  10. Doorey

    February 25, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Thanks Graham and Andy,

    Graham, actually the union wage premium is MUCH higher in the private sector. In 2013, the union wage premium in the private sector was 9%, compared to 3% in the public sector. That is, unionized private sector workers have 9% higher wages than nonunion private sector workers, plus much higher benefits and pensions overall. See this Conference Board of Canada report:

    Of course that doesn’t mean that every union member is happy with being unionized. I’m not suggesting that you are ‘wrong’ about your unhappiness with your union. No legal model can make everyone happy. There’s millions of workers in the US and Canada that would like to be covered by a collective agreement, but the legal model restricts their right to access collective bargaining by making it a condition that a majority of workers also join the union. There’s always going to be people unhappy with whatever labour relations model we use. The government’s role is to make policy decisions that will in its opinion improve the overall economy at an aggregate level.

    The main difference between those who support collective bargaining and those that oppose it, in my opinion, is different views on income inequality. We know empirically that there is a direct link between high collective agreement coverage in a country and a strong middle class, and the opposite is true. Those who support the spread of collective agreements are arguing for less income inequality throughout society (even though it will leave some people covered by collective agreements who don’t want to be covered). The argument that no one should have to be covered by a collective agreement if they don’t want to be is certainly an argument about ‘freedom’, but it would be foolhardy to believe that such a system will put more money into the hands of the middle class worker. Instead, income will flow upwards towards the higher level managers, executives, and shareholders. There’s lots of evidence to support this, including from such institutions as the World Bank, OECD, and the ILO. That’s the trade off that politicians debate.

    See: and Professor Lynk’s look at the link between unionization and income inequality:

  11. Fernando Reis

    February 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Why is it that unions should be held to a standard of having to satisfy every member? We do not expect this of any other institution. If you are in a bargaining unit you should pay union dues because you are benefiting from the contract that has been negotiated. Moreover, it’s not only about money; there are other terms and conditions of employment that unionized workers enjoy, such as just cause protection and access to a grievance procedure. This argument about choice is incorrect. I pay property taxes yet do not support the mayor. Why shouldn’t I be able to choose? Oh, right; I do get garbage pick up, clean water, etc. Also, union dues are tax deductible so $1000 in dues is more like $700 after tax credits are factored in. Finally, workers also have the choice of working in non-union workplaces; there are plenty available.

  12. John

    February 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    “Finally, workers also have the choice of working in non-union workplaces; there are plenty available.”

    For one this statement might carry a little more weight assuming the union actualy owned the workplace.

    Two if you are in a depressed region(obviously you are not)you would be limiting employment opportunities for that individual.

    Three if you are a long tenured employee and his workplace is suddenly certified (like Toyota for instance) should he pack his bags because 51% chose to join union?

    Four,You would be required to pay property tax regardless where you lived or who won a mayoral race. It is a false analogy for more than one reason.

  13. Fernando Reis

    February 26, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    He would not have to join the union, but he would have to pay union dues – that’s what Justice Rand ordered.

  14. Jody

    February 28, 2014 at 4:50 am

    Hi Graham; I read this exchange with interest. I’m sorry you’re so disappointed in your union. I’ve worked in both union and non-union shops, and here are some suggestions on how to improve things for yourself. Why not get involved? Become a steward, call your local, go to meetings, vote on union proposals and in union elections. After all, unions are democratic organizations created and run by workers just like yourself.
    If you try all that and still don’t get the action you’re looking for, then why not get a job in a non-union company? I don’t know what you do for a living, but I can’t think of any unionized line of work that’s not also available in a non-unionized setting. With less than 30% of all Ontario jobs being unionized, it should be easier to find non-union work than another union job anyhow. Just understand that if you switch to a non-union job, you might have to put up with some minor inconveniences like less pay, no paid sick days, few to no benefits, no protection from being fired without cause, no disability coverage and having to pay for your own lawyer if your employer rips you off.

  15. Chris

    March 4, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Though I don’t fully agree with Graham I can see why he is frustrated with both his union and the replies he has mostly gotten, which take on the tone of “Unions, love them or leave them.” and a version of Candide’s “This is the best of all possible worlds.” Surely one can think that unions are not all bad and still level criticism at the way they are run and organized. If you force people to pay Union dues to ensure that they are fairly paid and treated in the workplace then those dues should be limited to achieving those ends. Who knows or cares what Rand thought on that issue – he didn’t say and I think it fair to say that this many years later people may have differing views than he did. We do not need to be Originalists. As to the comment that we don’t have to make everyone happy in a democracy let’s be clear it is a very limited definition of democracy to elect your government once and then essentially just change the leaders of that government once in a while. Would it be so bad to force every so often the Union to justify its representation – it might make them more accountable to their members. I think revelations about corrupt unions in Quebec show that they are not always beyond reproach. My main point remains that one does not need to be a Hillier or Hudak to be frustrated with the state of unions and seek to change some aspects of them. Refusal to acknowledge any problems with unions by its defenders I think in the long run hurts them and forces people into the arms of the Tories.

  16. charles larsh

    March 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    if he gained power he will attack the unionized worker to lower wages and then the nonunion employer sees this and does the same a race to the poverty wage line.

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