Ontario PCs in favour of right to work-style legislation
The Progressive Conservative Party thinks part of the solution to Ontario’s slow job growth is updating labour laws to allow workers to choose whether to be part of a union, but it’s a plan many call nothing more than union busting.
When the Electro-Motive Diesel plant in suddenly closed in 2012, 500 Londoners lost their jobs.
One former employee is Kelly Gordon, who had worked there since 2005 making locomotives and earning nearly $35 an hour – until her job went south of the border.
“I’ve been looking for work since then. I've had a few interviews and nothing has come up that's been a good fit. I applied many different places and then I applied to drive a school bus…It’s definitely been a struggle.”
Now she’s back in the driver’s seat, but the work is only part time, with no benefits and she’s earning less than half her old salary.
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex PC MPP Monte McNaughton, the party’s labour critic, says those jobs shouldn't have left.
“Clearly Ontario is losing out. We've lost 300,000 jobs over the past ten years. There's something wrong in Ontario.”
And he believes the government is to blame, “We either continue on the path that we're on, under the current government that's killing jobs in the province or we take another path - one that deals with expensive energy in Ontario and the outdated labour laws.”
Part of the PC plan is to give workers a choice when it comes to unions.
“Ontario is one of the only jurisdictions in the developed world where being forced to join a union is a requirement of getting a job. It really gives the power to the union leaders over the works and we want to empower the workers,” McNaughton says.
He adds that the party has had numerous complaints about what union dues are being used for.
PC Leader Tim Hudak has said it’s not union-busting, just supporting the little guy, “I separate out between the union bosses and the front-line workers. And to me, there's a world of difference between the two.”
The Tories believe the move will make unions more accountable to their membership, but union leaders say the policy is designed cut their revenue - meaning they'll have less money to spend on political campaigning, settling grievances and collective bargaining.
The plan also calls on unions to collect their own dues, diverting further resources away from their regular functions.
Bob King, head of the UAW union, says “Why do conservative right wings want right to work? Because they want to lower wages and benefits. They want labour divided so they don't go in with a common voice.”
And Nancy Guyott of the Indiana AFL-CIO says “The motivating factor, in my opinion, is to try to do harm to organized labour and workers in general. To put more power in the hands of large corporations at the bargaining table.”
McNaughton says the unions have it wrong - in the U.S. - states with voluntary union membership have higher economic growth than those with mandatory membership and workers with choice are empowered.
“We're advocating to give workers a choice - whether they join a union to get a job or not - so that's empowering workers, letting them make a decision.”
But Gordon doesn't think the plan will bring back an industry that's increasingly leaving for cheaper labour.
She believes the days of life-long employees, are gone, and “nothing is secure like it used to be.”
Coming up in part three: A look at what impact right to work is having Michigan – the most recent state to adopt the legislation.