Right to Work Laws are Not the Canadian Way

In the last few months Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party government has included right-to work legislation as part of its labour law reforms, and Alberta’s Wildrose Party campaigned on a right-to-work platform in the province's April 2012 election. Now Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has released a white paper calling for right-to-work laws in Ontario. Sadly right-to-work proposals are no longer restricted to the right-wing Tea Party movement in the U.S. – they have become part of the mainstream political discourse in Canada.

The northward spread of right-to-work laws and the suppression of collective bargaining rights in America are clearly having an economic and political influence on this country. For example, earlier in the year Caterpillar locked out 465 workers in London, Ontario, and demanded that they take a fifty percent pay cut. When the workers refused the company's insulting proposal, Caterpillar shuttered the plant and relocated to Indiana one day after the state passed right-to-work legislation.

If right-to-work laws are enacted in Canada, they will destroy the gains that have been won through use of the Rand Formula, which was devised by Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand in 1946. Under the Formula, employees in a unionized workplace can choose to join the union or opt out, but every worker has to pay union dues. This arrangement prevents free-riders - that is, workers who refuse to join the union - from using the benefits and services provided by the union while neglecting to pay union dues.  Under right-to-work legislation, workers would not be required to pay union dues but would still be able to use the services offered by the union.

Former Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Bill Davis promoted unions as a means of reducing inequality and improving the well-being of workers and their families. Rather than promoting the anti-union agenda of various American states, Brad Wall, Tim Hudak, and the Wildrose Party should follow Mr. Davis' example and publicly acknowledge that unions benefit our society in countless ways.