Canada's union leaders are involved in an unprecedented campaign to avoid any efforts to impose transparency requirements on the $4-billion of revenue they collect annually from forced contributions of unionized Canadians. How much of this money Canada's union leaders are spending to defeat Bill C-377 we may never know, but comments this past week from the secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) revealed why unions are engaged in such a massive lobbying campaign.
CLC secretary-treasury Hassan Yussuff told a breakfast meeting of union leaders assembled in Ottawa this week to lobby against the bill that they must defeat it because it would cripple the labour movement. And what exactly are the measures in Bill C-377 that would cripple labour?
A change to their funding formula that would end the mandatory contributions of all workers in unionized workplaces -- even those who refuse to join the union? Nope.
An end to generous tax breaks on union contributions? Nope.
New dictates on how unions can spend money on efforts to influence elections or promote various social causes? Nope.
An end to privileged access to government contracting in many parts of the country that dictates only certain companies, with agreements with pre-selected unions, to get all the contracts? Nope. That is safe too.
All Bill C-377 would require of unions is annual reporting of financial statements, salaries paid to union officials and employees, certain information about expenditures over $5,000, and the percentage of time spent on lobbying and political activities.
How do these requirements threaten to "cripple" the union movement? Even the most basic accounting or record-keeping software would meet the task.
The rhetoric of union leaders opposing Bill C-377 about privacy concerns or compliance costs is a smoke screen -- and on compliance costs an argument that has proven to be grossly overstated in reality, as demonstrated in the U.S. where such requirements have been in place for decades.
The real reason for the campaign against transparency is because union leaders do not want their members and the general public to see how they are spending the billions of dollars collected each year in forced contributions. That can be the only way the requirements of Bill C-377 could "cripple" the union movement, to use Mr. Yussuff's words.
There are countless examples of union leaders pursuing pet political projects or social causes that are completely divorced from the interests of their members' collective bargaining, like funding the Quebec student protests or campaigns against the oil sands or pipeline projects; illegal sponsorships of NDP conventions; support for organizations seeking to shut down nuclear reactors (including those employing union members); to name a few. That is the one reason Mr. Yussuff and co. are concerned about Bill C-377.
Otherwise, unions will simply be meeting the transparency requirements that are already imposed on charities, publicly traded companies, federal, provincial and municipal governments, government agencies, boards, Crown corporations, First Nations bands, foundations, political candidates and MP, Senator and MLA offices.
Unions in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. already comply with disclosure regimes like that proposed by Bill C-377 -- and unions in those countries have not been crippled.
If Canadian unions are crippled because of Bill C-377, it will not be because of compliance costs. Likewise, their funding model is safe; their privileged access to contracts is untouched; they can continue to support every protest and oppose every business initiative they choose; and they can continue to enjoy their generous tax breaks. However, they will have to do so in a transparent manner. If operating in a transparent manner cripples Canada's union movement, then union leaders have only themselves to blame for that demise.
Terrance Oakey is president of Merit Canada, a united national voice for open shop construction associations across Canada.