Analysis 2008

There are a number of troubling problems that weigh down and stifle Canadian society. One of these problems is the unchecked tyranny of Canadian labour unions. They not only compromise their workers, but also our economy. Yet, Canadian politicians have not been able to come to grips with the problem and the problems with unions have been allowed to increase unchecked.

Canada Forces Payment of Union Fees by Employees

Canadais one of the few countries in the free world that forces workers to pay union fees. That is, Canadian workers are required by law to pay union dues whether or not they wish to join the union. In most other countries, governments have decided that it is a basic human right to allow employees to choose whether or not to belong to a union. Also, other countries have reformed union laws to reduce the power of unions in order to protect individual employees and promote business flexibility.

In short, nations throughout the world have declared that the well-being of their citizens outweighs the narrow self-interest of the labour movement and its leaders and have taken steps to remove many of the weapons labour unions use to advance their agenda. Many of these weapons, however, are still used here, including the use of union dues to further the personal, left wing causes of union leaders. That is, Canadian unions are permitted, with impunity, to fund political and other non-workplace activities. For example, unions have funded Morgentaler’s many legal challenges of the abortion law and the establishment of abortion clinics. In January, 2008, four different unions funded meetings to celebrate the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada Morgentaler decision that struck down the abortion law. Unions have figured largely in promoting homosexual rights, such as same-sex benefits and same-sex marriage. The Canadian Auto Workers Union gave a donation in January 2008 of $25,000 to a homosexual lobby group to finance its efforts in Canadian schools to legitimize homosexuality and to assist in “school anti-homophobia initiatives”. This is to be done by way of an on-line survey, which students may complete, if under 18 years of age, without their parents’ consent, if they have a “sexual identity” other than heterosexual. The lobby group, Equal Marriage advocating Same-Sex Marriage, was especially vigorously supported and funded by Canadian unions.

Radical feminist groups have greatly benefited from generous grants from the unions over the years. This funding has increased, since September 2006, when the Conservative government cut off funding to Status of Women Canada for advocacy (lobbying) and so-called “research” for feminist groups. At that time, the unions stepped in to fund these feminist organizations in order to keep them operational.

Unions have also become actively involved in election campaigns. In the October 2007Ontarioelection, the unions funded a front organization called, ‘Working Families Coalition” to run attack ads. Similarly, unions inAlbertaare funding radio and television attack ads under a front organization called, “Albertans For Change”. At no time, however, did theOntarioorAlbertaads disclose the union connection of these fake groups.

Unions explain their use of compulsory union dues for their left wing causes as working “for democratic and human rights and better social programs for all workers”. Such is not the case.

Unions Shift to Feminist Concepts

In the past, unions championed the family wage so that men could earn enough to support a wife and children. In recent years, however, they have shifted their support to the feminist working

family model, of dual incomes, under the guise of “equality.” Furthermore, although reasonable Canadians support the concept that women should be paid an equal wage for equal work, unions frequently now go much further and demand that their collective agreements include the feminist policy of equal pay for work of “equal value”. This concept requires that the “value” of women’s work in the workplace (the “value” being a subjective determination by bureaucrats) must be compared to the “value” of the jobs which are dominated by men in that workplace. Women are to be paid the same as these men, not for equal work, but, rather, on the basis that the women’s jobs are supposedly “equal in value” to that of the work carried out by the men. What a complex, expensive and mindless exercise in futility.

Unions have also put their weight behind left wing international causes and have provided grants to socialist political parties abroad. Last year theOntariobranch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) voted to support sanctions against and boycottIsrael, in solidarity withPalestinebecause ofIsrael’s supposedly “apartheid” policies. Jewish members of that union cannot have been pleased with the use of their union dues to support such partisan policies.

In a speech to the delegates at the constitutional convention of the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) in August 2006, Buzz Hargrove criticized the Stephen Harper government more than a dozen times on several issues. He claimed Mr. Harper was putting young soldiers at risk inAfghanistan, and he criticized Mr. Harper’s failure to attend or speak at the international AIDS Conference held inToronto. Also, he criticized Mr. Harper for entering into free trade deals with Asian countries, such as South Korea, which would “only hurt the Canadian economy,”

[by providing competition to Canadian manufacturers].

Unions are Wealthy Organizations

Union leaders collect billions of dollars each year in compulsory union dues, which are not taxable, thus enabling them to accumulate valuable assets both here and abroad, and provide their officials with high salaries (the exact amount of which they are not required to disclose), travel and many other perks. In 1995, Statistics Canada did publish a report called “Unionization inCanada: A Retrospective” which, although it did not provide a detailed breakdown of union expenses, nonetheless, exposed the enormous wealth of Canadian unions. It is significant that Statistics Canada has never again provided such information. In fact, REAL Women has learned that Statistics Canada is now considering discontinuing the informative publication “Perspective on Labour Income,” which did provide at least some limited statistics on the labour movement. We do not know the reasons for the consideration of discontinuing the publication of this paper. This 1995 Canadian retrospective report on unions appears, therefore, to be a once in a lifetime event. According to this revealing report, unions inCanada have combined assets of $5 billion in “land, buildings and equipment”. Foreign investments were disclosed at a staggering $1.962 billion or about 40% of the total wealth. Salaries were listed at $370.7 million of the $1.102 billion spent on unions’ ongoing expenses. This is 10 times more than the $31.5 million unions spent on tax benefits and 20 times more than the $18.3 million unions spent on “organizing”. Included in this information was $198 million spent on something called “other” – no need to specify such a sum since, by union standards, it is apparently a trivial sum.

Canadian Unions Differ From U.S. Unions

Canada’s failure to control union dues is in sharp contrast to the U.S., where, in 2005, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, pushed through federal rules which required large unions to disclose details of how they spend members’ dues. Labour fought bitterly against this. The reason that labour unions fought so hard against public disclosure was revealed when the U.S. federal regulations exposed that U.S. unions served as honey pots for left-wing political causes that have

nothing at all to do with the working environment. TheU.S.requirements also resulted in the disclosure of the incredible salaries paid toU.S.union leaders: for example, the $439,000 annual salary paid to the president of the National Education Association (NEA)Union. Canadians have no reason to believe that Canadian union officials’ salaries are not comparable to this. However, since union leaders are not required to disclose their salaries, we cannot know for sure.

Canadians Want Unions To Stop Using Funding For Non-Union Causes

Although most Canadians believe, quite reasonably, that unions are important in the workplace on shop issues, such as collective bargaining and improving working conditions, they clearly do not want union dues to be used for non-union purposes, such as support for political parties, advocacy groups and left-wing causes.

In 1999, a poll byGallupCanada, sponsored by the Christian based Work Research Foundation and overseen by respected analyst Dr. Reginald Bibby of theUniversityofLethbridge, found that 80% of Canadians believe that the use of union fees for non-union activity should not be mandatory, with 75% opposed to union involvement in politics. These views were confirmed in 2002 by the National Post/Global National Poll conducted by Leger Marketing, which found that 76% of unionized workers do not want their contributions siphoned off into political party coffers or to advocacy groups. Yet, in the 2006 federal election, unions spent the lion’s share of third party advertising during the election campaign – including thousands of dollars in direct support of another failed election bid by Sid Ryan, the controversial president of theOntariowing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Most of CUPE’s third-party advertising in the campaign was spent on salaries for union members to organize and distribute election brochures to union locals. Obviously, unions care little about what Canadians think about them and their spending habits.

Union Leaders’ Hold on Power

Union leaders have no intention of losing their entrenched power base inCanada. They prefer the collective system and mass votes which allow them to amass huge war chests in order to continue their influence and control over their members and their union dues. Unions are especially powerful in the public sector, where they control the education system, health care, all government services and contracts, including garbage collection and water systems. A strike in these areas has profound repercussions for the public – hence, the power of the unions. In the public sector, a union can effectively organize an entire category of workers, such as teachers or nurses, in a way that would be impossible to do in the private sector. InCanada, 81.6% of nurses and 89.5% of elementary and secondary teachers were unionized at the end of 2004 .

Canadian Unions are Undemocratic

In order to retain rigid control over unionized workers, union leaders insist that union representatives vote at conventions, as directed, on issues which have a pre-determined outcome. The unions are able to ensure this because union representatives at the convention are hand picked. This is easy to accomplish because most workers are not interested in union politics – except in regard to their collective agreement. That is, there is very low participation of the membership in the political life of the unions, except in times of crisis. This frees the union backers to run the show more or less as they like. The union’s local representative at the union convention is undeterred by the actual views of the workers in his/her local. Labour leaders are also able to cling to power by other undemocratic means. For example, only five Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland) require a secret ballot in order to authorize a union in an industry. The remaining five Canadian provinces

(Saskatchewan,Manitoba,Quebec,New   Brunswickand P.E.I.), as well as the federal government (which regulates federal industries, such as banking, federal government employees etc.), permit only what is called “automatic” certification of the union. This occurs when a prescribed percentage of workers submit a card to state they support a union. The pressure on workers to sign the cards is obvious and there certainly would be a different result on certification if a secret ballot were held instead.

In fact, studies have shown that secret ballots result in a 21% likelihood that the union will not be certified . That is, given a choice, workers choose unions significantly less often when they are permitted the anonymity of a secret ballot: no wonder union leaders do not want secret ballots!

No Legislation Restricting Union Operations

Further, legislation restricting unions is almost entirely absent in Canadian labour laws. The latter only cover issues such as the collective bargaining process, etc. Rules for elections of union leaders, the conduct of candidates, length of office, the fiduciary responsibilities of officers, and removal from office are governed almost entirely by the union’s own constitution. Also, the duties and liabilities of union officers in Canadian law are found primarily in the governing unions’ own constitution. That is, there is little control of unions by government because they are regarded by the courts as essentially private organizations that should be permitted the greatest degree of autonomy possible. This can work against a union, however. In 2007, the Superior Court of Ontario refused to enforce the enormous fines a union levied against its members who crossed a picket line. The Court concluded that unions were private organizations and that they cannot use the courts to enforce their internal constitutions.

Union Membership is Diminishing

Steady economic growth inCanadahas not translated into an increase in union membership. Instead, according to Statistics Canada , unionization of workers, in fact, fell from 30% to 29.7% in the first half of 2006. The strength of Canadian unions today lies mainly in the public sector and in the federal and provincial bureaucracies, schools, hospitals, postal workers, and garbage collectors, where unions have strength since they hold a monopoly in these areas. Public unions have 71.4% membership as compared to only 17.0% unionization in the private sector.

As a result of their diminishing members, unions are desperately trying to boost their membership in the private sector, especially in the service industry, but without much success. Unions are especially active inQuebecandSaskatchewan, which have the most pro-union labour laws inNorth America. A union was successful in its bid to unionize Wal-Mart inJonquiere,Quebecin 2005. However, when it did so, Wal-Mart management promptly closed down the store, which it was entitled to do, putting all its 200 employees out of work. Neither have unions been successful in their attempt to unionize McDonalds restaurants across the country.

Because of this failure to unionize the service industry, unions have begun to cast a roving eye on other areas of employment. This is why the unions are so keen to create an entirely new class of public sector unionized jobs in a nationalized day care industry. The thought of 270,000 new union cards from the day care industry sets the hearts of union officials beating furiously. In the private sector, unions are looking tenderly at prostitutes, strippers, escorts, telephone sex-line operators and other sex-industry workers. At the provincial annual meeting of CUPE, held inSt. John’s,Newfoundlandin September 2004, union president Wayne Lucas proposed the decriminalization of prostitution and the organizing of these sex workers, because, as Mr. Lucas cheerfully stated, “Work is work”.

Unions Can Detrimentally Affect the Economy

Even though it is important that workers be organized for purposes of collective bargaining, unionization does not necessarily mean an improvement in the economy. Rather, it seems to have the opposite effect for a number of reasons:

Unions protect their workers against technological changes, such as new equipment or machinery that might displace workers, thus making the industry less competitive.
Unions force wages up, prompting industries to cut employment.
Net profits tend to be lower in unionized companies.
Productivity growth is lower in unionized firms, where unions require seniority protection.
Employment growth is slower in unionized businesses.

Unionization apparently creates these negative impacts because it impedes an employer’s ability to adopt the right mix of capital, labour and managerial discretion in response to changing market conditions, which is required in today’s world of global competition. That is, firms that invest more in research and development, spend more on machinery and equipment, and hire more of the best available talent are likely to succeed in the global marketplace: those that do not, are the losers in competitive markets.

The Supreme Court of Canada and Unions

There is a very significant reason why politicians, both federal and provincial, have not been able to adequately deal with union tyranny. The reason is the curious and even eerie affinity that the Supreme Court of Canada has with unions. The Supreme Court of Canada has persistently backed labour unions in their disputes with employers and this has prevented any fundamental changes in union power, control and influence in this country.

That is, thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada, Canadians are locked into a world dominated by labour unions that use compulsory union dues to serve their own left-wing purposes.

Supreme Court of Canada Protects Unions

In theU.S., 21 states have right-to-work legislation, protecting workers from being forced to join a union or pay union dues. Such is not the case inCanada. The Supreme Court of Canada stopped this concept dead in its tracks. In 1946, Supreme Court of Canada Judge Ivan Rand, in settling a vigorous labour dispute between the Ford Motor Company and its employees in Windsor, Ontario, decided, in order to promote industrial peace, and to encourage collective bargaining and discourage “free riders” in the industry (those employees who get all the benefits but who do not pay union fees), that all employees must pay union dues, whether or not they join the union. This has now become an accepted principle of labour law inCanada, both federally and provincially.

The problem, however, is that the unions do not use these compulsory fees only for collective bargaining purposes, but also, as previously mentioned, to fund their favourite left wing causes, such as abortion, homosexual rights, promotion of feminism and any number of left-wing causes both here and abroad.

The Mervyn Lavigne Case

In order to put a stop to the abuse of the compulsory union fees, a teacher in Haileybury,

Ontario, Mervyn Lavigne, employed at the Ontario Haileybury School of Mines, brought a court challenge against his union, the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) in the 1980’s, to prevent part of his union dues being used for left-wing causes with which he was not in agreement. Mr. Lavigne’s costs in this court challenge were generously underwritten by the non-government organization, National Citizens Coalition (NCC). The Supreme Court of Canada rejected his appeal in its decision, handed down in 1991.

The court stated, per Wilson J., at page 37:

Unions’ decisions to involve themselves in politics by supporting particular causes, candidates or parties, stem from a recognition of the expansive character of the interests of labour and a perception of collective bargaining as a process which is meant to foster more than mere economic gain for workers. From involvement in union locals through to participation in the larger activities of the union movement, the current collective bargaining regime enhances not only the economic interests of labour but also the interest of working people in preserving some dignity in their working lives.

She went on to say (page 41) that it is too difficult to draw a distinction between collective bargaining and politics and to determine when a union has “crossed the line”. She then concluded that placing restrictions on the way in which unions spend their dues “will lead to interminable problems and jeopardize the important objectives at stake…” [i.e. labour peace].

Her opinion was confirmed by the other judges. Mr. Justice Laforest who is usually so sensible, (whose opinion was affirmed by Judges Gonthier and Sopinka), agreed with Wilson J. that the general objectives of unions included the advancement of the common interests, economic, social and political, of its members for which they require a stable financial base (p. 56). He did say, however, that it was up to the legislatures, not the courts, to draw the line between proper and improper use of union dues. He stated at page 57:

A legislature may at some point … decide that it will draw lines between proper and improper use of union dues. In the meantime, I think it would be highly unfortunate if the courts involved themselves in drawing such lines on a case-by-case basis. Such a result would ensue if the Court were to conclude that the limits on the appellant’s s.2(d) rights [freedom of association] in this case are not “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”.

Differing U.S. Approaches

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, took an entirely different approach to union spending of union dues. In the case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), the U.S. Supreme Court had no problem with “drawing the line” and concluded that unions could not constitutionally spend the funds of dissenting employees on “ideological” causes not germane to their duties as collective bargaining representatives. In June, 2007 this position was again confirmed by the U.S. Federal   District Court in Katter v. the National Education Association in which a teacher, Carol Katter, a member of a teachers’ union, won a case against her union that was using part of her union dues to support a political purpose, namely abortion rights. The District Court concluded that the union dues of Ms. Katter, a devout Catholic, could not be used by the union of which she was a member because it violated her constitutional right to the free practice of her religion.

In the same month, just a week later, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that a teachers’ union had no constitutional right to use union dues for political purposes paid by a non-memberemployee. This decision affects millions of U.S. public sector employees nationwide. This decision

was a consolidated case of Washington v. Washington Education Association and Davenport v. WEA. It was certainly a one-two punch by U.S. courts against unions’ use of compulsory union dues for political purposes. Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights ruled this year (Evaldsson 2007) that unions cannot take dues for political and other purposes not related to workplace needs from non-union members. This ruling builds on prior Court decisions (Sorensen and Rasmussen 2006, Sigurjonsson, 1993 and Young, 1981) that have now made forced union membership and conditional employment illegal throughout the European Union.

Given worldwide trends to ensure that union membership and dues are a free choice, is it not time for change inCanadaas well?

That is, court decisions from other jurisdictions show how far removed our courts are from international trends. The Supreme Court in the Lavigne decision not only set up unions and their leaders for life to do whatever they wanted to do with the compulsory union dues, but also for good measure, no doubt to discourage anyone else from questioning unions’ use of compulsory dues, ordered the National Citizens Coalition to pay a staggering $350,000 in costs in that case. This meant that the Canadian Labour Congress, Ontario Federation of Labour, National Union of Provincial Government Employees, Confederation of National Trade Unions, litigants or interveners in that case, walked away in triumph with their power intact, without having to pay a cent for this gift from the court.

The Supreme Court of Canada was not yet finished, with its support of unions:

In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a controversial Quebec law that forced construction workers to join only one of five government approved unions in order to work in the province, i.e., it forced construction workers to associate with a union. The court justified its decision on the grounds that the decision would keep the peace in an industry historically wracked by labour strife. This decision, however, turned the Quebec construction industry into a five union cartel, restricted competition, raised costs, and violated the labourers’ right to live and work anywhere in Canada. It also violated their freedom of association, contrary to the Charter of Rights. This decision indicates that the Court, in regard to labour unions, seems to have allied itself with a Marxist view and interpretation of the Charter.

In 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered that the then Conservative Ontario government, under Premier Mike Harris, had a constitutional obligation to facilitate the unionization ofOntario’s farm workers. In effect, the Court for all practical purposes, ruled that the rights of individual farm workers and farm owners must be restricted in order to further the collective objectives of the union movement in the farming industry.

In June 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that a union’s collective bargaining process is an (unwritten) right protected by the 1982 Charter of Rights and that if the government interfered with collective bargaining, it would be violating the freedom of association provision in the Charter. The decision did not protect all aspects of collective bargaining, but protected any “substantial interference” with it.

Needless to say,Canada’s top union leaders praised this decision to the skies.

Current Court Challenge to Paying Compulsory Unions Dues

Because the Canadian courts have supported unions every step of the way in the unions’ profligate spending by way of compulsory union dues, this does not make it right or acceptable. Consequently, a courageous Roman Catholic public servant in Ottawa, Susan Comstock, brought

an action against her union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) for using part of her compulsory union dues for the promotion of same-sex marriage, which was contrary to her faith. She first filed her complaint with the federal Human Rights Commission in April, 2005. The Commission refused to deal with her complaint. She then brought an application for Judicial Review in March, 2006 before the Federal Court. The latter dismissed her application in March, 2007. Fortunately, it did not order her to pay the court costs as occurred in the Lavigne case in 1991.

In August of this year, Mrs. Comstock appealed her case before the Federal Court of Appeal. The lawyer acting for Mrs. Comstock in this case is Philip Horgan, President of the Catholic Civil Rights League; he is doing so pro bono (without fee).


Canadian workers, thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada, are locked into a world dominated by labour unions that use compulsory union dues to serve their own left-wing purposes.

Democratic rights must be restored to Canadian employees. These rights should include:

  • the right to associate or not associate with unions;
  • the right to a secret ballot vote on certification;
  • the right to choose to withhold union dues designated for non-workplace related union spending;
  • the right to choose to cross a picket line without having to pay heavy fines; and
  • the right to freedom of speech for union members.

This is not too much to ask. Until such time as these rights are granted, the unions and their leaders will remain an arrogant entrenched power base inCanadawith tyrannical power over their unionized employees.

What Can be Done to Stop the Abuse by the Unions?

It is evident that the courts in Canadaare unlikely to support the individual rights of workers. This means, as suggested by Mr. Justice Laforest of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Lavigne case, that legislatures, both federal and provincial, should do what other countries, like the European Union, the U.K. and U.S. have done to stop the abuse of workers by union leaders. [If perceived left-leaning European countries believe that unions should not hold a loaded gun to the heads of their workers, why should Canadian unions be allowed to do so?] The governments at both levels, federal and provincial, undoubtedly, are reluctant to tackle the powerful unions because of the latter’s presumed political clout. However, many union members would be relieved if governments brought in legislation to protect them. The time has come to do something about unions inCanada.

Related Articles:
High Flying Union Leaders July 2015

Brief on Bill C-377 An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for Labour Organizations) May 2013

Corruption by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne December 2015

Unions Required to Bare their Secrets July 2012

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Riddell, Chris (2004). “Union Certification Success under voting versus Card- check Procedures: Evidence from British Columbia, 1978-1998.” Industrial and Labor
Relations Review 57, 4 (July): 493-517.
Riddell, Chris (2001). “Union Suppression and Certification Success”. Canadian Journal of Economics, 34, 2 (May): 396-410.
Slinn, Sara (2004). “An Empirical Analysis of the Effects of the Change from Card-Check to Mandatory Vote Certification.” Canadian Labour and Employment Journal 11:259-301.
Statistics Canada. August, 2006.