Saturday, July 28, 2012

Hudak plans to wage war on unions, workers

The Windsor Star:

On the morning of Sept. 12, 1945, 10,000 hourly employees at Ford Motor Co.’s sprawling plant at the corner of Drouillard Road and Riverside Drive walked off the job after 18 months of contract talks between the United Auto Workers and the carmaker broke off. 

The historic dispute would span 99 days and revolutionize Canada’s labour laws by spawning the Rand formula - the “lifeblood” of unions.

Fast forward to 2012, and the formula, which entrenched the closed union shop, requiring all workers to pay union dues, would be dismantled under labour law changes proposed by the Ontario Conservatives.

Modifying Rand is part of a package, entitled Paths to Prosperity: Flexible Labour Markets, a policy paper aimed at modernizing Ontario’s “outdated” labour laws, said Hudak.

Labour leaders, however, view the Tory plan as nothing more than an unprecedented, idealogically-driven attack on unions.

“It’s an existential battle for the labour movement,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. “Without the Rand formula the labour movement would whither away. If you don’t have to pay your dues, it’s human instinct to say to yourself, ‘I’m going to save myself $1,000 a year.’ So, Hudak knows this is the lifeblood of the labour movement.”

As well as giving workers the choice to pay union dues, the Tory proposal would impose secret ballots on certification votes and end the practice requiring employers to deduct union dues from workers’ pay cheques. 

Hudak’s objective has nothing to do with job creation, said Ryan. Instead, the Conservative leader wants Ontario to emulate American right-to-work states with their diluted labour laws and lower wages.

“That leaves us with a vulnerable workforce, which we think is part of his agenda to drive down wages, drive down benefits,” he said. “What he’s proposing won’t save or create one single job in Ontario.”

While he refused to comment directly on the Tory proposals, Don Drummond, former chief economist with Toronto-Dominion Bank, said the Caterpillar dispute reflects a broader, more disturbing trend — the downward pressure on manufacturing wages in the United States and Canada. 

“It’s a worrying phenomenon,” said Drummond. “Do the math — at $17 an hour, working full time, good luck raising a family and saving for your kids’ education and your retirement.”

Ontario will be headed for a showdown with labour if Hudak’s proposals see the light of day, warned Ryan.

“There are a million unionized workers in Ontario, and each and every one of them will be feeling vulnerable in terms of what will happen to them in their workplaces,” said Ryan. “They understand what stands between them and the lowering of their wages and putting them at the mercy of an employer is the union that is democratically voted.

“I think there’s an army of activists out there who will be willing to take on this fight.”

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