|North of 49°
|Tories Move to Bury Unions in Red Tape|
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power promising to cut regulations and shrink big government. But a new bill backed by the Tories promises to substantially expand federal authority in at least one area: the internal workings of Canada's labour movement.
Bill C-377 would force labour unions to publically disclose all their financial transactions to the federal government — everything from office supply purchases to salaries — creating onerous reporting requirements for union leaders and staff.
"It targets one group in our society and singles it out for unfair, burdensome treatment with no apparent reason other than to make mischief, attack unions and drive them out of our communities," said New Democrat MP Robert Chisholm during floor debate on the bill.
In addition to creating piles of extra paperwork for union staff, opponents say the bill would violate the privacy rights of the many individuals and companies that do business with labour organizations.
"Nearly every transaction a union makes will be posted on a government Web site," says First District Political Action/Media Strategist Matt Wayland. "Companies we do business with will be forced to make the details of their contracts available for anyone to see, giving their competitors — who will still be able to keep their paperwork a secret — an edge."
Most galling, says Wayland, is the fact that the legislation won't apply to other dues-paying membership organizations, including C-377's biggest boosters, the open-shop contractor's association Merit Canada and the anti-union Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.
"That makes it pretty obvious that the Tories are more interested in harassing unions than guaranteeing transparency," he says.
Union financial statements are already publicly available to members, and most provinces have some union reporting requirements as part of their labour codes. The IBEW's policy and practice has always been complete transparency.
"It's in the IBEW's constitution that every member has the right to check our financial records," says Wayland.
The Canadian Building and Construction Trades Department estimates that the government will need to hire hundreds of new employees just to process the paperwork required by the proposed regulations. "This is from a government that has slashed work forces at key agencies like the unemployment office," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming.
While nominally a single-member bill, which means fellow Tories are not required to vote for it, it passed a second reading with unanimous Conservative support in March — a rare feat for a private member's legislation.
"It was introduced by Tory MP Russ Hiebert so Harper and the rest of the party could deny ownership of it," says Wayland. "But it's clear that this has the Conservatives' full support."
The bill has now gone to Parliament's finance committee, where it is expected to be reported back for a full vote this month.
"We can now see the real purposes of this legislation," said MP Chris Charlton. "It is not intended to improve transparency or accountability. It is intended to deliver to the government's corporate friends a cudgel with which to hobble Canadian unions as they seek to represent their members."
The First District, which is mobilizing its members against C-377, is planning a lobby day for May 15 in Ottawa.
"This bill is about political payback against labour and it shows just how far outside the mainstream the Harper government really is," Flemming said
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