Ironing out Union Irony
/ Author: Andrew Regnerus
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Ironing out Union Irony

Through labour monopolies and no-raid pacts, some unions are keeping workers from exercising democratic choice

By Andrew Regnerus, Ontario Construction Coordinator

CLAC has always advocated for worker freedom, democracy, and solidarity. Other unions do too, but for some, their actions prove otherwise, as highlighted in three recent news stories.

In the first story, a number of craft unions picketed Lambton College in Sarnia over construction procurement. Some of their leaders asserted that the college had a moral obligation to hire only their union members for construction work. They claimed that it was ironic that while their members were good enough to study at Lambton, they were not able to work on the college’s construction projects. They argued that local labour—i.e., their members—ought to be preferred.

The real irony is that labour leaders are demanding yet another uncompetitive and unfair labour monopoly. These craft unions, which represent a minority of the workforce (about 25 percent), sought to shut out the vast majority of Lambton graduates who are not union members.

A second irony is that these craft unions complain that local tradespeople didn’t get the job. But they’re strangely silent when an out-of-town contractor that employs their members wins the bid. 

These same craft unions have slyly manipulated labour law to impose labour restrictions on municipalities, utilities, and school boards across the province, including in Toronto, Waterloo, Hamilton, Sault Ste. Marie, and other regions. Work on public projects in these municipalities is restricted to members of certain unions and the contractors who employ them, creating a labour monopoly for those unions, which increases the cost for taxpayers.

This leads us to the second recent story, about bid rigging in Toronto’s construction industry. When work on public projects is restricted to contractors affiliated with certain unions, it reduces the number of bidders, which drives up costs. Even worse, these bidders know each other well and have identical labour pricing. It’s easier to fix prices among a few friends than in an open and competitive market, which is what has occurred in Toronto and elsewhere. Studies show that labour monopolies cost taxpayers a premium of up to 40 percent for their construction dollar. 

In the third recent story highlighting union irony, members of a Canadian transit union local have been fighting to leave their Washington-based parent union (ATU) and join another union (Unifor). But members of the Canadian local aren’t allowed to exercise their democratic choice. No-raid pacts made between the two competing unions forbid them from accepting each other’s members.

The ATA, Unifor, and other unions with “peace pacts” must try to reconcile two fundamental principles: 1. Union democracy—workers have the right to choose which union to represent them. 2. Union solidarity—unions shouldn’t use their resources to fight each other. 

But democracy and solidarity mean much more than that. In real union democracy, worker loyalty is earned by providing good member service. In real union solidarity, unions enable collective action by workers to better their workplaces.

Imposed labour monopolies, whether on unionized public employers or on workers saddled by no-raid pacts, keep workers from exercising real democratic choice in representation. The effect of no-raid pacts implemented by union executives is solidarity for themselves—not for the membership.

The real irony is that these unions are hurting the very people they were established in the first place to protect: workers.

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Learn more about CLAC’s commitment to worker choice.


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