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Labour in Canada: what went wrong?

Click on these links to read Part One and Part Three of this series.

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by David Anderson

As stated in part one of this series, a union’s purpose is to balance the needs and desires of the corporation and to defend all rights pertaining to the working life of employees. For the privilege of doing this job, exorbitant compensation packages are realized. 

A union rep’s position comes with a long list of perks: car allowances, credit card use, gas allowances, travel allowances, paid vacations under the guise of a “working retreat”, committee stipends, pension(s), and above all the flexibility to conduct the job requirements with huge latitude, in when and where time is spent. These are some of the top jobs in the field of earning wages and should be taken with the utmost humility and dedication to the dues-paying members providing their remuneration.

Before someone lights their hair on fire at my obvious bemoaning, I will say, as with all fields, there will be some who do perform the job of a union representative with excellence. I would suggest this is the exception, not the rule. Much like government officials, most have lost their way in favour of the perks and power. The effort put into keeping their positions often surpasses the fulfillment of those positions demonstrated each election cycle.

How could I say such a thing? Well, consider this: what have the last two years produced for the working man and woman? A lock step regurgitation of the “science”, a lack of public discourse lead by union leaders on the rights of bodily autonomy, a blatant partnering with governmental and corporate initiatives effectively converting the worker into a slave by removing the last vestige of choice for the “privilege” of earning a wage so they can pay both dues and taxes. 

Tell me I’m wrong.

Case in point. Back in late 2021, the federal government purposed changes to part II of the Canada Labour Code. This section of the code deals with occupational health and safety. The thrust was to place a permanent requirement of forced vaccination into the code to deal with the medical conundrum of the day. 

Again, where was the coordinated response of labour? Search for it and let me know what you find. I found no vociferous public defense of the laws of this country. At best, there was a milquetoast, “we support everyone’s choice” statement from most union leadership. That’s a cop out, a betrayal of the position and of the working men and women of this country. This initiative was subsequently removed by the government. For that I am happy, but where was the paid representatives charged with being on top of overreaching edicts? nowhere to be found.

Simultaneously to this limp-wristed, response, there was an onboarding with the various forms of shaming, coercion, and outright harm thrust by both governmental and corporate leaders. Think this bluster. Check out the list of “partners” in this initiative: Look for your union; most are there.

https://www.fastertogether.ca

This is pure propaganda designed to emotionally manipulate a weary population. Again, both dues and tax dollars are being used here. The emotional plea belies the law of the land, the law of choice, and should not be partnered with via union namesake. It is a capitulation by those who are paid to defend choice and rights. It begs two questions: Are you unaware of the laws of the land that enshrine choice? Or, do you know the laws and have made a calculated decision to disregard them because opposition to the narrative of the day is just too scary? 

In either case, shame on you!

I rail on the paid representatives, but there is blame to be had by labour, the men and women who have accepted this from people supposed to be their champions. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The ferocity of most workers’ lives ill affords them the time or focus to do this. Workers’ expectations of paid representation are open to abuse if regular engagement and accountability isn’t present. More balance is needed here.

Every person is entitled to their opinion. Mine can be disagreed with. If someone chooses to embark upon an experimental medical procedure, that is their choice. The thing is, most didn’t. They were manipulated into acceptance via threats of income loss. A great number now regret that choice.

Government has coopted unions. As the behemoth of bureaucracy consumes all in its path, unions have fallen prey to the beast, having found it is better to partner with than oppose politicians’ whims (see above link). On paper, union autonomy exists and the appearance of workers’ interests is present in the form of contracts, union halls, and social initiatives. The majority of these assets provide little benefit to the membership. 

The contract, unionization’s claim to fame, is little more than a wage scale guarantee. This is a good thing, as corporations will generally not give more than absolutely necessary. The remainder of working conditions, management, and workers’ rights are self-governing. The process of contract negotiations has become comedically predictable.

Prior to the expiration of the contact, the workforce is stirred to fervency over the unions’ commitment to hold the company to significant gains. The company predictably produces financial hardship information to limit expectations. Negotiations commence. Little is achieved for the expense of these face-to-face exchanges. A “final offer” is produced, lackluster in substance, and a strike vote is taken, with the union eliciting a high number to show the seriousness of the workforce. This high percentage is granted and used to back up the “union power”. 

This power, by the way, only exists and is occasionally demonstrated through a strike. This early happens not because of the prowess of the union negotiators but because the depletion of the funds held in a strike fund is to be avoided at all costs. 

The return to bargaining after the strike vote inevitably produces “hard fought gains” and a recommendation by the union to accept it regardless of whether it is or not. This dance is predictable and largely a show to legitimize the process. Most wage increases fall far short of inflation, meaning there are no increases in the actual purchasing power of wages.

Shop Stewards perform the lion’s share of the needed interaction of balance and resolution. Furthermore, most employees simply want to work well, free from harassment and do a good job, minimizing the need for professional representation.

When the need does arise, the grievance process kicks in. This dispute resolution mechanism is the best available, albeit deeply flawed and ripe for abuse. In all but the most clear-cut evidentiary-based cases, subjective interpretation of the contractual language, ambiguous in application and subject to the union’s plenary powers of decision, makes this process lengthy and without certainty of outcome.

The ultimate step, arbitration, is the end of the process. Outcomes are tainted by the arbiters’ biases. Independence of the individual will be argued. However, reading previous judgments will demonstrate the leanings of the adjudicator. Arbitrators work freelance and are therefore subject to the pull of the next gig. Both union and company have favorites depending upon their leanings. This process is again open to abuse, perhaps not in the direct manipulation of the arbiter but certainly in the need for the next paycheck. Ingratiation with one side or the other increases the chance of another hearing belying independence.

One might think the union must do the bidding of the employee that pays their wages, this would be incorrect. The union must meet the minimum standard of care. The union also has the authority to make decisions on behalf of the worker regardless of the employee’s wishes. These rights and operational standards are enshrined in caselaw.

In a dispute with the union, the employee will be required to plead before a Labour Tribunal under a duty of fair representation complaint. Historically, these complaints have a success rate of 1–3%. The reason for the abysmal number is that the union, with all its power and money, is only held to account in that some effort was made, not as to the competency of that effort. Try pulling that one off at your workplace.

Lastly, the governmental pressure on unions has had an ally in the NDP. This party is now, like most organizations, a facade of their stated purpose. The NDP’s actions now prop-up a Liberal government without legitimacy, betraying their ties to labour. Actions speak louder than party propaganda, so please don’t be fooled by mission statements, instead examine the effects of accomplishments.

This week’s topic has some significant weight to it. Clear and honest assessment cutting through the fog of war is a requirement of any solution. Next week we will look for the answers.

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David Anderson has worked as a Truck Driver, Chef, Pastor, Counsellor, and in Program Development in the recovery community. Now he works to improve the quality of life through truth; he provides education and skills training in common sense, personal responsibility, quality decision-making skills and emotional management. David hopes Canada returns to sanity before the pending economic truth causes BC to be sold to China to cover the foreign-owned debt.