On May 1, 2013, Ontario Tory MPP and labour critic, Randy Hillier (Lanark–Frontenac–Lennox and Addington) introduced two pieces of right-to-work style (RTW) legislation, Bill 64 “Defending Employees’ Rights Act (Collective Bargaining and Financial Disclosure by Trade Unions), 2013” and Bill 63 “Labour Relations Amendment Act (Ontario Labour Relations Board), 2013”.
Bill 64 prohibits trade unions and employers from negotiating an automatic dues-check off provision in a collective agreement. It goes so far as to void dues clauses where they currently exist. The bill also prevents unions from using dues for purposes other than “collective bargaining” without consent from specific members covered by a bargaining agreement who opt to pay dues. Much like its federal counterpart, C-377, Bill 64 requires unions to file a yearly statement with the Minister of Labour that includes a breakdown of all expenses of $5,000 or more. Clauses in the bill also put an end to “closed shop” and “union shop” provisions that are negotiated by unions, especially in the building trades.
Bill 63, meanwhile, ends the arms-length and supposed impartiality of the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) by granting the Lieutenant Governor the power to determine OLRB regulations. Under the current Labour Relations Act, the practice and procedures of the Board are established by rules made by the Board itself. Finally, Bill 63 grants the parties affected by an OLRB decision the right to appeal Board decisions to the Divisional Court. This could have positive implications for unions, but there is potential for certification orders and other labour relations decisions to be bogged down in the court systems for years. The Supreme Court of Canada’s 2007 Health Services decision aside, courts are not reliable allies for workers and organized labour.
It’s unlikely either piece of legislation will pass considering the Liberal and NDP majority at Queen’s Park. However, Bills 63 and 64 are signs of things to come if the Progressive Conservatives win a majority in Ontario. Since the release of the party’s white paper, “Paths to Prosperity” in 2011, the Tories under the leadership of Tim Hudak have proposed a range of anti-union right-to-work style legislation. To be sure, RTW provides no rights and no guarantees of employment or economic renewal. Right-to-work, as written in Bill 64, is a prohibition on what employers and unions can negotiate at the bargaining table. The legislation would also undermine the political influence of trade unions, which is purposeful, by restricting these organizations to a narrow definition of collective bargaining and servicing. Nor is there any reason to believe that Ontario would experience a manufacturing renaissance if the province adopted such reforms. In fact, wages would likely stagnate or go down without any commensurate increase in employment. Statistics south of the border recognize that wages and benefits for workers across the right-to-work states are on average 16% lower than their counterparts in non-RTW jurisdictions.
Recently, the conservative Sask Party backed away from similar anti-union reforms in Saskatchewan. Hansard documents make it clear that employers (and their lobby groups) did not want to challenge the dues-check off (“Rand Formula”) convention, with the exception of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and Merit Canada. Unions and workers in Ontario should also pay attention to the politics and politicians behind these proposed reforms. Randy Hillier is a co-founder and past president of the Ontario Landowners Association, a far right organization that aims “…to preserve and protect the rights of property owners and to enshrine property rights within the Constitution of Canada and the laws of the Province of Ontario”. Prior to being elected MPP, Hillier sent a picture of a dead deer to Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty to protest a ban on out-of-season deer hunting. Hillier was an electrician by trade and previously member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), a moniker he likes to use when attacking trade unions.
Finally, the Tory strategy is far removed from the consultative approach, however flawed, adopted by the Saskatchewan government since 2012. Hillier and Hudak, by comparison, have launched a full-out assault on trade unions and labour relations legislation they feel burdens businesses and provides excessive rights to organized labour. Of course, their position is based on speculation and fueled by misconceptions from Wisconsin and Michigan, where unions, public sector workers, and collective bargaining are under attack.
But the question unions and workers in Ontario might want to ask is: are the Liberals any better?