Joshua Sherman

Joshua Sherman

Joshua Sherman
Managing Editor

It seems miracles really do happen, as evidenced by the fact that provincial PC Leader Tim Hudak recently made a logical decision.

The decision was his choosing to finally stop pushing for right-to-work legislation in Ontario.

The Toronto Star reported on Feb. 21 Hudak said of the strategic policy move that, “You got to make the most impact on jobs and the economy. It didn’t make the cut. We got a better plan.”

Who knows, perhaps somebody finally informed him Ontario isn’t a Republican state. But whatever the impetus for the decision, it’s a good sign for all workers in the province.

For those unfamiliar with right-to-work law, it basically allows employees to opt out of paying union dues. Currently the only way to avoid paying union dues in Ontario is to work for a non-unionized employer.

In light of this, right-to-work legislation might seem to be a positive measure, one that supports the individual rights of workers.

But it’s not so simple.

According to a Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights report last year, in U.S. right-to-work states, workers’ earnings are an average of $1500 less per year.

It’s also no surprise that right-to-work states had lower pension rates, too, according to the report.

And, perhaps most importantly, as the CFLR report also points out, there’s actually solid logic behind ensuring everyone at a unionized workplace pays union dues. After all, every employee at a unionized workplace hypothetically reaps the benefits that their union fights for. It’s only fair that all employees should have to pay their share.

By letting people opt out of paying their dues, the resulting scenario is one where some employees subsidize others, and where unions are considerably weakened due to their having fewer employees to collect from.

Weakened unions have less bargaining power. Presumably one fundamental result of this is lower wages and, eventually, outright job loss, as the CFLR report found.

But in spite of the evidence that right-to-work legislation actually has a negative impact on the job market in places where it’s adopted (and ironically hampers one’s right to work), some still support it.

One argument is that unions in the province aren’t relevant anymore, particularly due to the establishment of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

However, while the Labour Board certainly defends workers’ rights, it alone can’t have the sort of day-to-day impact the presence of a union does.

At unionized workplaces there are representatives on site to lend an ear to employee complaints. As employees themselves, such representatives are familiar with the challenges facing others in their particular workplace environment in the way that a large province-wide tribunal simply can’t be.

There is still room for improvement in Ontario, though.

Indeed, for unionized minimum wage workers, it’s understandable why there might be some desire to opt out of paying dues; after such deductions, these workers are left earning less than minimum wage.

Despite this, the answer isn’t union busting.

If the minimum wage were raised, as the Humber Et Cetera called for last month, surely it would be less painful for those working at that level to fork over dues.

Another solution could be making exceptions to allow for minimum wage workers to opt out of paying dues. In this case, unions would have a vested interest in bargaining for more for their lowest-paid members, without being weakened to the extent they would be if all employees could opt out.

All in all, even though the present situation isn’t ideal, it seems Hudak has — at least on one issue — come to his senses.