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Terrance Oakey

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What Union Leaders Aren't Telling You About Bill C-377

Posted: 02/05/2013 12:42 pm

When the Senate returns this week, one of the major items on its agenda will be Private Member's Bill C-377, which would impose new financial reporting requirements on organized labour. During debate on the Bill in the House of Commons, union leaders and their political allies tried just about everything to delay or defeat its passage, from obscure procedural filibustering to a YouTube video comparing the Prime Minister to Hitler. Complemented by a massive lobbying blitz -- including more than 200 union bosses descending on Ottawa for a single day in October -- big labour will stop at nothing to avoid a reasoned debate on Bill C-377 and its transparency requirements.

With that in mind, here are five key aspects of the legislation to consider as the Senate debates the Bill and union leaders engage in a renewed propaganda campaign.

First and foremost, it is important to understand what Bill C-377 does -- and does not do -- since union leaders have purposefully tried to distort it. Quite simply, Bill C-377 would require labour organizations to report the following information annually: their financial statements, salaries paid to officers and employees, certain information about expenditures over $5,000, the percentage of time spent on lobbying and political activities. The reporting requirements under Bill C-377 are not onerous and will be easy to implement with even the most basic accounting practices.

Second, when arguing against Bill C-377, labour leaders ignore one fundamental fact: unions are not voluntary. If you work in a unionized workplace or profession, you are obliged to pay union dues even if you choose not to become a union member. These funds are funnelled into a wide range of causes, many of which have nothing to do with collective bargaining. This right to tax comes with a basic requirement of transparency. Without it, one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy is undermined.

Third, Bill C-377 does not embark on radical new territory and merely brings Canada's laws in-line with those of other industrialized countries including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, the U.K, and the U.S. In fact, the U.S. has had transparency laws on the books since 1959 and the Office of Labor-Management Standards, responsible for enforcing these laws, credited it with over 900 criminal convictions for inappropriate and fraudulent activity between 2001 and 2008. While a popular refrain from union leaders has been that Bill C-377 will cripple or even kill the labour movement, it is alive and well in the countries listed above and, arguably, in a stronger position as a result of these transparency requirements.

Next, rank-and-file members support enhanced transparency. In a 2011 poll by Nanos Research, 86 per cent of unionized Canadians supported greater union transparency -- a figure even higher than that for the general population (83 per cent), which suggests the union bosses lobbying in Ottawa are not reflecting the views of their members.

Finally, Bill C-377 does not impact the union financing model, which will continue to rely on the forced contributions of unionized workers. Nor does it put any restrictions on how labour organizations spend the money they take in. Instead, the Bill will allow union members and taxpayers to scrutinize that spending. For example, unionized energy workers should know if their union is funding anti-oil sands campaigns that put their jobs at risk. A unionized worker at a nuclear plant has the right to know that their union is funding an environmental group seeking to shut down all nuclear reactors. A federal public service worker in Quebec has the right to know how much time his or her union leadership has spent supporting separatist parties that would eliminate their job.

None of the examples above are fiction -- and it shows why the transparency requirements of Bill C-377 are needed. Union leaders will pull out all the stops to hide from transparency, but hopefully Senators will see through the misinformation and pass this legislation in a timely manner.

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