By Gerard Di Trolio
Regardless of who wins, the outcome of the June 7 provincial election in Ontario will have consequences for workers.
The NDP will keep Bill 148 and the $15 minimum wage. But the NDP has said it will go further promising more changes that the labour movement has long been demanding.
The most notable change the NDP is offering up, and one sure to elicit plenty of push back from business, is restoring card based union certification. While the Liberals recently extended card-based certification in building services, home care, temp agencies and community services, the NDP has promised to make this the norm, not the exception. This practice was brought in under Ontario’s previous NDP government and rolled back after the Tories defeated them in 1995.
For industries not covered by card check, a union has to sign up at minimum 40 per cent of workers in a bargaining unit it wishes to represent. It then files an application for certification with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Once the board rules that the bargaining unit is legitimate, it then holds a vote where certification is achieved if workers vote 50 percent plus one in favour of the union.
This two step process has long been criticized for allowing time for employers to pressure workers not to support the union. Though Ontario labour law explicitly forbids retaliatory measures for workers who support unions, employers are still allowed to communicate to their employees about unions within reasonable limits. Though the labour board can reinstate with lost wages workers who were found to have been disciplined, laid off, or even fired for supporting unions, this two step process still makes certifying a workplace harder than the card based certification.
The positive effects for labour of a card based certification model are very real. A 2000 study by Brock University Economics Professor Felice Martinello found that once the NDP under Bob Rae introduced the card based certification model in 1993, certification applications significantly increased. And once Mike Harris’ PCs introduced Bill 7 to roll back card based certification, the number applications significantly decreased.
But Martinello found that political context also contributed to increases or decreases of certification applications in Ontario. From the time between the NDP won the 1990 election and the passage of card based union certification, certification applications also increased, but to a lesser extent. Likewise between the time when the PCs won the 1995 election and the passage of Bill 7 bringing back the two stage certification applications declined, but the decline was even greater after the legislation was changed.
Understanding these dynamics are important for the labour movement to consider whatever the election results.
Another key labour law reform proposed by the NDP is to introduce automatic first contract arbitration in Ontario. First contract arbitration currently exists in Ontario under Section 43 of the Labour Relations Act, but for it to be accessed, it must be ruled that the employer has violated the act.
The NDP platform gives little detail on the mechanics of their proposed legislation. The platform simply states “And we will introduce first contract arbitration legislation that will prevent long, tactical delays by employers.” (p. 72). Presumably this means that beyond the current criteria, that first contract arbitration would become available at the request of the union at time once it has been certified.
Given the current lack of details, should the NDP win, it is important that the labour movement make sure that any first contract arbitration legislation makes it truly automatic.
The third major reform the NDP is proposing is to increase annual paid vacation minimum from two to three weeks for all full time workers regardless of the number of years they have been at their job. Right now, gaining a third week of vacation in Ontario requires the workers to have been in their job for five years. This would bring Ontario in line with most other OECD countries where at least 20 days are the norm, with the exception of Japan where the minimum annual vacation is ten days, and the U.S. where it is zero.
Fourth, the NDP will close loopholes that allow liquor servers and students to be paid a lower minimum wage. Currently, once the minimum wage hits $15 on January 1, 2019, liquor servers will only have to paid $13.05, and students $14.10.
If Doug Ford wins on June 7, then a sustained oppositional campaign from the labour movement is an obvious must. But if the NDP does win on June 7, and that seems to be increasingly likely, the labour movement can’t rest on its laurels.
As we’ve recently seen in British Columbia, the NDP was willing to drop card based union certification legislation soon after they came to power with little resistance because the Greens opposed it. This is all the more disappointing given the willingness of the NDP to approve Site C and liquefied natural gas development, despite opposition to those two issues being major parts of the Greens’ platform.
A new committee to review labour law was struck this past February, and Premier John Horgan has spoken in favour of card based certification but that is still no guarantee and BC business have signalled their opposition to card based certification. A campaign still needs to be waged to actually win what the NDP promised in their election platform.
Given the Ontario Liberals’ collapse in the polls, a minority government of any kind is unlikely. Should the NDP form government, it will still have to reckon with a hostile business community. The Liberals and PCs are already fear mongering that the NDP is beholden to the unions and that strikes will spiral out of control and disrupt the economy. There will be tremendous pressure on a NDP government to prove they can maintain “investor confidence.” This was the situation that the NDP faced when Bob Rae became Premier and is always a tension when social democrats are in government.
However, the labour movement can’t just defend the government against an offensive from business. It needs to push the NDP on its rhetoric about fairness for workers in Ontario.
There are still a number of labour law reforms that the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign had wanted to see in Bill 148 that were not included and the NDP did not mention in their platform. Some of these reforms include:
- Workers given two weeks notice of their schedules.
- 7 paid personal emergency leave days.
- Protection against contract flipping in all industries.
- The ability of workers at multiple locations of the same franchise to be able to bargain together.
- Banning of replacement workers.
- Better rules around overtime.
- Real pay transparency in workplaces to enforce equal pay for equal work.
- Paid breaks for all workers.
- Expansion of the ESA to include workers like Uber drivers.
Whatever the result on June 7, the labour movement needs to continue to build on the successes of the Fight for $15 and Fairness and the Make if Fair campaigns to continue to build working class power in Ontario.