A Union's Role?
/ Author: Isobel Farrell
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A Union's Role?

By Isobel Farrell, CLAC Regional Director

Have you ever read or heard something and thought, “Hey! A CLAC employee must have written that, or at the very least, they must know about CLAC?”

I recently had that reaction when reading an opinion piece in the National Post by Howard Levitt called “Why union-employer relationships are replete with tension.”

Levitt is an employment and labour lawyer whose clients include some rather large companies.

In tantalizing detail, Levitt describes a struggle that is playing out in one particular workplace, where the union is objecting to the employer’s position that they (the employer) can communicate directly with their employees, to share their side of the story. This unnamed union took great exception to the employer’s attempt to interfere with the operations of the union:

“To put it at its simplest, the notion that the relationship between employer and employee is nothing more than a trade of wages for service is entirely alien to that of any employer, consultant or manager I have ever dealt with. It is also alien to the views of most Canadian employees. It is also entirely foreign to labour relations law in this country, a law that provides the employer with many, many legal duties to its employees, far more than any union’s.

“The allegation that employers lack the same right to communicate directly to their employees as do their unions is almost equally foreign to most, as is the suggestion that an employer can only communicate with its employees through its trade union.”

As I read, I was encouraged to read about a company that wanted a seat at the table—so often I experience the opposite reaction. As a CLAC representative, I work hard to give voice to workers, to build meaningful relationships with management, and have experienced the most bargaining success when all parties are equal participants.

Unfortunately, my initial optimism was diminished as Levitt concluded his piece by relegating the role of unions to simple negotiations, limiting the relationship to financial matters. He did the very thing he accused the union of doing to his client.

A common icebreaker at a get-together is to ask your guests what person, living or dead, they would want to have dinner with. Most people are drawn to Hollywood stars or reality show celebrities. My current answer is now Howard Levitt. I would like to introduce him to CLAC and continue this conversation.

 

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