Opinion letter by Yves-Thomas Dorval, President & CEO, Quebec Employers Council.
Montreal Gazette, p. A10 - May 6, 2016
The federal government's Bill C-4, which has been under the media radar as it is being debated in the House of Commons, challenges the principles that are the basic tenets of a healthy democracy and true transparency. In fact, it proposes the abolition of the mandatory secret ballot vote in the union accreditation (and revoking of accreditation) process for federal jurisdiction employees, therefore in sectors such as telecommunications, banks, maritime, rail and air transport; and it no longer makes it mandatory for labour organizations across all industries to release their financial statements and how they use their members' union dues.
Mandatory secret representation vote
The secret ballot vote, as a basic democratic principle, is currently used by a large majority of Canadian provinces in the union bargaining units' accreditation. Certain jurisdictions, such as Saskatchewan and Newfoundland-and-Labrador, have even amended their laws to adopt this system.(1)
While the previous government made a move in this direction, the current federal government plans to restore the membership card accreditation system. This system stipulates a bargaining unit can be accredited simply by showing that more than 50% of the employees in the unit are union members. This means workers that wish to be a union member do not have to inform all of the employees of their efforts to open a bargaining unit.
This way, one can never be entirely sure the express wish of the employees is being carried out, and employees have to announce their allegiance to their colleagues, so there are greater risks of acts of intimidation and a hostile work environment than there would be with a secret ballot vote.
We don't deny the mandatory secret ballot vote may reduce the chances of a bargaining unit being accredited, but this isn't the crux of the employer's contention. The fact the secret ballot vote is held after all of the employees have been informed about the pros and cons, and the issues have been debated, might result in less support for the union. But we don't see how deciding whether to join a union or not, following an objective information process, could be regarded as anti-union.
Contrary to what the federal government is proposing, there has to be stricter regulations encompassing the release of financial statements, thereby fostering greater transparency on the part of labour organizations. It is totally legitimate that union dues, which members obligatorily remit to their union as stipulated by the Rand formula,(2) and how these dues are used, be made public. However, it is the unions themselves that determine what information they wish to disclose.
It should be noted that Canadian workers annually pay approximately $4 billion in union dues, and the income tax deductibility of these fees costs the federal treasury $500 million a year. It is entirely legitimate that workers who pay union dues know how their money is being spent. The United States, Great Britain, Germany, France and Australia have all adopted measures aimed at publicly releasing the financial information of these organizations.
The Rand formula requires that every employee of a bargaining unit, whether they are union members or not, must pay a fee determined by the union. Thus, it is unacceptable that mandatory union fees can be used for purposes other than those related to labour relations. Union activities of a political or ideological nature should be funded strictly through voluntary contributions.
And any comparison with employer associations is irrelevant, since the fees of these organizations are solely on a voluntary basis, and employers who are not in agreement with their respective associations do not have to remit mandatory fees, while workers, on the other hand, cannot opt out. So, this isn't an attempt by the employers' side to weaken the workers' right to unionize, it's an effort to ensure a fair system, in which the level of balance of the employers and union organizations is respected."
- Quebec is one of the four Canadian provinces which adopted the membership card accreditation system.
- The "Rand formula" requires an employer to deduct union dues at source from the wages of each employee, whether or not the employee is a member of the specific union.