February 12, 2013
Counterpoint: ‘Right to work' is right to work for less
Conservative Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre is right: Judge Ivan Rand did rule that employees should “take the burden with the benefit” (“Unions ignore the Rand formula,” Feb. 6).
And Rand's formula does oblige workers who benefit from collective agreements and union representation to pay for those benefits. But that makes sense: Why should only some of the people in a workplace pay for something everyone in that workplace benefits from?
What Mr. Poilievre is wrong about is that workers would somehow benefit if the Conservative government did away with that formula. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is legally bound to represent all employees covered by our collective agreements, which is why all employees pay dues. Taking that away would destroy our ability to effectively represent workers and maintain the collective agreements they rely on.
That would seem to be Mr. Poilievre's objective. This is an attempt to import an American idea designed to undermine the rights of the people unions represent.
Eliminating mandatory dues has meant lower wages for both union and non-union workers in the U.S.'s “right to work” states — US$1,540 a year less than similar workers in other states. Is this what Mr. Poilievre wants for his constituents in Nepean-Carleton?
Mr. Poilievre argues that Judge Rand never contemplated the sorts of political action that unions take part in when he came up with his famous formula. He also probably never contemplated mobile phones, but it doesn't mean unions should not use them either. The fact is Canada is a more complicated place now and employee wages and working conditions are also affected by the courts, human rights commissions and indeed Parliament.
And a union that cannot act on behalf of its members before these bodies isn't going to be very effective at the bargaining table either.
Just last week, the PSAC won a major federal court victory for all working families because we stood up to the government, as an employer, for refusing to accommodate a worker who needed fixed shifts so she could arrange childcare.
The PSAC used the Canadian Human Rights Act to win pay equity adjustments plus interest for more than 200,000 current and former workers in the federal government, the government of the Northwest Territories and Canada Post.
PSAC's “Black Paper” campaign won health and safety protection under the law for federal government workers. Just imagine your working day without the right to a safe and healthy workplace. And there are so many more examples.
None of these would have been possible if unions didn't have the finances necessary to advocate for their members — not just at the bargaining table, but also before Parliament, human rights tribunals and the courts.
Is that what Pierre Poilievre wants for his constituents (which include, by the way, about 5,400 PSAC members)? If so, perhaps they should be able to opt out of paying some of their taxes — possibly an amount equivalent to what the MP for Nepean-Carleton has spent railing against the Rand formula.
Robyn Benson is the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Date Modified : 2013/02/12