As the Conservative Party of Canada skulks from Ottawa to the friendlier confines of their heartland for their party convention, right to work legislation is going to be one of the top items for discussion.
At its core, right to work legislation allows workers in unionized workplaces to opt out of union membership and paying union dues. It is promoted as freeing employees from the 50, 80, or 100 bucks they are “forced” to pay per month to their union, but it’s real intent is obvious: to starve the union of members and cash.
At the risk of sounding like a cliche from a Billy Bragg song, the power of a union is the power manifest in organizing workers together as a bargaining collective. Both union membership and union funds are necessary for workers to be reasonably represented. Workers negotiating as a group have greater power, which offsets the greater economic power of the employer. Union dues, in turn, are needed for strike benefits, legal representation, contract negotiators, etc., as well as for union administration and staffing. It is a far from ideal system, but balanced adversity is manifested in other aspects of governance and jurisprudence and at least to this point is not the worst way to operate.
Union membership has been on a general decline in Canada for decades, a trend which would be worse if not for the union membership of the public sector where, as of 2012, membership is about 75% versus 17% in the private sector. The Conservative plan is nothing less than an attempt to further hasten the erosion of union protection for workers in Canada and it must be stopped. In future posts, I will look in greater detail what “right to work” has in store for us if implemented. (Hint, it’s not hard to find out; a variety of Republican-governed states are already experimenting for us.)