Friday, August 28, 2009

Bill 80: Wall government doing Saskatchewan Chamber’s and Christian Labour Association of Canada’s bidding with ‘unnecessary’ law

The Saskatchewan Party government’s latest attack on labour began in the legislature on March 10, 2009, when Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) Minister Ron Norris introduced Bill 80 – The Construction Industry Labour Relations Amendment Act, 2009 (CILRA).

A government news release said under the current version of the CILRA, companies are required to belong to a representative employers’ organization (REO), which bargains on their behalf. The legislation designates unions to represent workers in particular trades. The legislation prohibits a single employer or union from negotiating a separate collective agreement, with all bargaining taking place between REOs and unions designated by the government.

The proposed changes will allow a trade union to organize a company on a multi-trade, or “all employee” basis, as well as on a craft, or single trade basis. It will enable any trade union to certify an employer and allow employers to choose the REO that will represent them. It will also permit an employer operating outside an REO to negotiate a collective agreement for the duration of a specific project.

The amendments were introduced without any prior public debate or stakeholder consultation continuing the government’s tradition of announcing changes first then seeking feedback later. The tactic was used to introduce essential services legislation, make amendments to The Trade Union Act, and to lower the minimum age of employment.

The following day in The StarPhoenix, Norris said the new labour bill should give workers and employers more choices around unionization and boost building activity.

“We know that there are companies based in other provinces who are discouraged from operating in Saskatchewan because they find the current labour legislative environment too restrictive,” said Norris, before tabling amendments. [Labour bill should boost construction work: Norris (StarPhoenix, March 11, 2009)]

Industry associations and business lobby groups applauded the move while labour groups – with the exception of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) – did not.

One very vocal critic of the legislation is Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk.

In his June 16, 2009, column Mandryk said the proposed legislation was “a bit of a puzzler” before proceeding to use the Saskatchewan Party government’s own facts against them.

“By virtue of the government’s own news releases, which laud a record $2 billion in building permits and 37,000 construction jobs in 2008, there doesn’t appear to be a problem that needs fixing from an economic or employer standpoint. Also, with 8,130 apprentices working in 50 trades last year, the construction industry appears to be having a strong future,” he said.

“And the fact that we’ve had no provincewide strike or lockout on the construction labour front for 17 years under the current law, which sees provincial collective agreements bargained between employers and workers, suggests things are working rather well.”

Mandryk said Bill 80 is being “driven by pure ideology” and is “far more intrusive than it appears on the surface.”

“It’s being sold publicly as a relatively innocuous piece of legislation that makes it easier for out-of-province companies to work in Saskatchewan while giving employees more choice. The changes have the support of the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union of Canada and the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which both want to make inroads in the province.

“However, labour resents the Christian Labour Association as a “company” union that negotiates sub-par agreements. As for the government's “greater choice” argument, current laws allow construction and trades workers the choice of working either for non-unionized employers or at unionized shops, often being hired out of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council's union hall.

“One of the quirks of the new law, now under review at legislative hearings, is that an employer can “voluntarily recognize” a particular union if the shop isn't already certified. Essentially, an employer can pick the union it wishes to deal with.

“But perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the new law is what’s described as the “abandonment” of unions that are deemed to be inactive in a workplace. Again, on the surface it would seem to make sense. However, one of the reasons unions are inactive is because the companies that employ their members also are inactive.

“This raises the spectre among unionists that the new law will permit companies to reactivate old subsidiaries -- perhaps even those old “doubled-breasted” spin-off companies created in the 1980s to avoid certification -- as non-union shops or with more friendly unions. Unions also wonder if the legislation has been carefully crafted to allow companies to get around hiring through the union halls.

“At worst, the new labour law will be far more nefarious than the government claims. At best, it still seems really unnecessary.” [New labour bill suspicious (StarPhoenix, June 16, 2009)]

Three days later, on June 19, 2009, Mandryk picked up where he left off earlier saying, “The closest thing we’ve heard to honest talk from the government this week came from Labour Minister Rob Norris, who let it slip that his government “predominately listened to business” in preparing the bill. The truth is that the legislation is being driven primarily by construction businesses that prefer “wall to wall” unionization, where everyone on a job site belongs to one union. The Saskatchewan Party government would prefer to see this happen for both practical and philosophical reasons.

“As for all the rhetoric about “freedom of choice” for unionized workers and allowing in “wall to wall” unions such as the controversial Christian Labour Association of Canada and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers to “build capacity,” these groups generally are in the business of raiding each other’s members rather than “building capacity.” ” [Truth absent at hearing on bill (StarPhoenix, June 19, 2009)]

Still on the offensive, Mandryk said in his July 17, 2009, column: “There have been no labour disruptions in the Saskatchewan construction industry in the past two decades, or problems with out-of-province contractors competing. Instead, what we’ve seen is the Construction Association and others resort to expressing phoney concerns about tradespeople lacking a choice of union representation and about a lack of opportunity for tradespeople in Saskatchewan.

“Yet, the association seems to have no problem with contractors from outside Saskatchewan bringing in tradespeople from elsewhere to work on jobs in this province. My, what heartfelt concern for the Saskatchewan working man!

“Let’s be truthful: Bill 80 is the result of backroom lobbying of government by business -- the payback for years of an NDP government that did equally hideous things for labour, such as the Crown Construction Tendering Agreement that dictated firms pay union wages.” [Best when laws made in open (StarPhoenix, July 17, 2009)]

Two groups in favour of Bill 80 are the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and the aforementioned Christian Labour Association of Canada.

In response to a freedom of information request made on June 30, 2009, AEEL disclosed a handful of correspondence between the provincial government and the two organizations that appear to show Mandryk was right.

In late February the co-chairs of the Saskatchewan Chamber’s human resources committee, Alan Thomarat and Mike Wainwright, sent two letters to AEEL Minister Rob Norris complaining about various aspects of the CILRA.

In the first letter, dated February 24, 2009, the duo told Norris that the legislation “requires an “alternate union provision”, to reduce inflexibility in the workplace. Non existence of the alternate union provision means that if there is a slowdown in one particular area then workers must be laid off, rather than being assigned other work in the interim.”

“This issue,” they said “speaks to a need for Saskatchewan to operate competitively with other jurisdictions especially in neighbouring provinces where “wall to wall” representation is now allowed for large projects to ensure a stable environment.”

The co-chairs did not provide any examples or offer any information detailing how widespread the problem might be to justify the need to amend the legislation.

The second letter to Norris, dated February 26, 2009, was to register the Chamber’s concerns with the findings in the Labour Relations Board decision on September 23, 2008, regarding the issue of abandonment involving the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 529, and Saunders Electric Ltd. (LRB 019-05). The Chamber felt the board’s findings in favour of the union were “contrary to normal jurisprudence and would set an untenable precedent in the construction industry.”

Thomarat and Wainwright continued: “While you are by now quite familiar with case in question, it is our position that this decision is inconsistent with over 50 years of precedent as evidenced in previous determinations in similar cases in the construction industry. There are specific examples in the jurisdictions of Alberta and Ontario where the principle of abandonment, in instances such as this case, has been recognized and these would serve as a foundation that should apply in Saskatchewan and that should be entrenched in new legislation at the earliest opportunity.”

At the legislature’s human services committee hearings for Bill 80 on June 17, 2009, Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) president Michael Fougere referred to the Saunders case “as a prime example” of why the abandonment provisions in the legislation were needed. Interestingly, the Saunders case was the only example the SCA and the Saskatchewan Chamber had to offer.

The abandonment provisions of Bill 80 seem to be in direct response to that one case.

Fougere told the committee the bill will ensure “that we don’t have the issue with respect to Saunders Electric as an example where the uncertainty rests with both employees and employers.”

Fougere later acknowledged that the Saunders case was “extreme.”

Terry Parker, the business manager of the Saskatchewan Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council, noted at the hearing that “for at least 20 years the Labour Relations Board in Saskatchewan has ruled on matters of abandonment without requiring any specific legislative provisions to do so. And the courts in Saskatchewan have, through their past rulings, supported as reasonable the LRB’s [Labour Relations Board] authority to consider and make decisions on abandonment. This begs the question, if the LRB has the authority to rule on abandonment and has in fact done so with the support of the courts, what is the purpose of the abandonment provisions in Bill 80?”

The Saskatchewan Chamber obviously got what it wanted because at its annual general meeting held in Swift Current May 6-8, 2009, a resolution was passed congratulating the provincial government for introducing the legislation.

“Bill 80 addresses two of the Chamber’s Selected Issues – the issue of abandonment and the issue of alternate union option for wall to wall representation in large projects. The amendments, when passed will enhance competitiveness while at the same time allow employees more options for selecting the union that represents them in construction projects,” the resolution states.

The Chamber recommended the government “immediately commence the consultation process, in order that it may proceed with the timely passage of this legislation and enact Bill 80 to clarify the issue of abandonment and to enable the alternate union option in construction.” In other words, don’t change it.

It should be noted that both the Chamber and Thomarat, the CEO of the Saskatoon & Region Home Builders’ Association, appear to be supporters of the Saskatchewan Party. According to the party’s financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan Thomarat donated $809.47 in 2008 and the Chamber $728.80.

The Saskatchewan Chamber and the current government appear to be pretty close. Close enough in fact that Premier Brad Wall managed to find time during the lobby group’s annual Political Forum held November 12, 2008, in Regina to pose for a picture with the Chamber’s expert committee representatives (which included Thomarat and Wainwright) for the cover of the December 2008 edition of the Chamber’s action! news magazine.

Less dramatic are a string of emails concerning Bill 80 between CLAC Prairies director Paul de Jong and AEEL associate deputy minister Mike Carr.

On Thursday, March 5, 2009, Carr received an email from de Jong inquiring about the bill: “Mike, I just heard a rumour that next week Tuesday, March 10, the new labour legislation is going to be tabled. Is there any substance to this? If there is any concrete action planned, could you let me know, as we would like to be present if at all appropriate and possible….I normally don’t like acting on rumours, but in the context of you suggesting that there might be a positive announcement in short order, I thought I’d just check in with you.”

Carr replied on Saturday, March 7, 2009, telling de Jong, “Tuesday is introduction day. Paul I believe your organization has be [sic] invited to the stakeholder briefing on Tuesday at 11:30 am at the Travelodge on Albert Street South. Hope to see you there!”

A short while later de Jong wrote back saying, “Mike, Thanks for getting back to me – this is very welcome news. I have in fact received an invitation from Robyn Lekien, and plan to be there on Tuesday. Looking forward to that.”

At the briefing Carr reportedly stated a couple of times that the changes would allow unions such as the Steelworkers (USW) and CEP (in addition to CLAC) to apply for wall-to-wall certifications. SFL president Larry Hubich asked Carr a pointed question:

“Mr. Carr, you have said a couple of times in your presentation that the changes will allow CLAC, CEP and USW to apply for wall-to-wall certifications. Have you, your office, or the Minister ever been requested by either CEP or USW to make these changes?”

Carr responded, “No we have not.”

Hubich replied, “A supplementary question then Mr. Carr - has CLAC ever requested these changes?”

“Yes,” Carr said.

Carr was appointed associate deputy minister in March 2008 by the Wall government without competition. Carr has contributed to the Saskatchewan Party and is the former co-chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber’s human resources committee.

The email exchange between Carr and de Jong is interesting because neither mentions Bill 80 by name. It’s simply referred to as the “new legislation.” This would seem to suggest that some previous discussion about the CILRA had taken place.

Furthermore, in his March 7 email to Carr, de Jong said the introduction of the new legislation was “very welcome news.” Why would he say that unless he already had some inkling of what the legislation might contain?

The emails’ subject line is “Re: CLAC’s interest in Saskatchewan”. AEEL did not disclose the original email. According to the ministry this was non-responsive to the request. This further establishes that CLAC and AEEL were in contact prior to the bill’s introduction.

CLAC, according to one of its publications, “is an independent labour union that seeks to be guided by the Christian principles of social justice and love as taught in the Bible. It therefore views man as an image bearer of God called to responsibility and freedom in all areas of life, including his daily work. The CLAC rejects the adversary approach to collective bargaining and works toward the establishment of a form of partnership between labour and management within a just and pluralistic collective bargaining framework. It believes that the state’s primary role is to administer public justice, which includes the concept of a limited state and respect for the freedom of private institutions and a host of intermediate structures.”

In the past CLAC has been opposed to the concept of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ and seems to have been critical of interest groups trying to establish universal childcare. [Affirmative Action: The Perils of Social Engineering; CLAC, 1985]

In his book, The Freedom to Work, Harry Antonides, formerly director of research and education for CLAC and editor of The Guide, said members and supporters of the group “constantly face the challenge to defend the right of existence of a Christian labour union.”

Antonides said this “should not discourage Christians to live in the midst of the world as followers of Jesus Christ in obedience to His Word. We are convinced that the Bible demands a Christian approach to all human action, calling for Christian organization.”

Antonides notes that Christians “agree that improved working conditions and just wages are important… However, they must always be seen in the framework of the Biblical view of man. The unions’ secular view of man’s needs in reality narrows and confines his real perspective. Man’s first need is to be reconciled to God through Christ’s redeeming grace and power. Without this redemption, life remains limited to this world and cannot really flourish.”

“The Bible is clear,” he said. “Man was created to work. When God created man, he entrusted him with the task of developing creation and ruling over it.” He goes on to say, “The right to work comes from God.” He also believes, “The Government derives its authority from God.”

That’s fine, but what if you don’t happen to be Christian or believe in God?

CLAC appears to be undemocratic and have little room in its power structure for non-Christians.

Research conducted by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) notes that “CLAC’s Constitution spells out the “Christian social principles” that guide CLAC as those basic concepts of just and charitable relations found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.”

According to the CLC, “CLAC’s constitution restricts who is able to run for local or national office on the basis of subjective criteria. For example, a member is ineligible to run if he/she “is not qualified to give leadership that is in harmony with the Constitution. In other words, a member must be willing to adhere to CLAC’s version of Christianity and “Christian principles”.”

The CLAC Staff Council, the CLC points out, is “an important leadership structure” within the organization and “elects its own executive without any say from the rank-and-file membership.”

“Real trade unions,” the CLC say “pride themselves on the fact that union democracy is not a hollow concept, but is rather a living reality that members experience and practice at the work-site, union office and the convention floor.” [The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC): An Overview of an Employer-Accommodating Pseudo Union; Canadian Labour Congress, February 2008]

Chamber Expert Committee Representatives (left to right): Top -- Mike Dillon, Bob Schutzman, Alan Thomarat, Mike Wainwright, Richard Ahenakew Bottom -- Colleen Vancha, Holly Hetherington and Gary Syrota with Premier Brad Wall (2nd left)


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