For decades, Quebec has forbidden non-resident Canadians from taking construction jobs while Quebecers have been free to work anywhere else in the country. Notably, they swamped the labor markets along the borders until the Mike Harris government passed Bill 17 which forbid them from working in Ontario until Quebec backed off its restrictions.
« Last month the Ontario government cancelled Bill 17 which forbid Quebec construction workers from getting employment in Ontario unless Quebec changed its unfair labor laws, » he said. « They call it a shared labor mobility agreement, but it’s a fake. »
« The Ontario government tried to get me to support this but it’s not what we’ve been fighting for, » he said. « Here’s what they said they got in exchange: Ontario workers may apply to work there but there were many restrictions. They had to pass an exam, provide certain evidence of experience and had to already be working in Quebec. That’s not labor mobility. »
Ontario added that Quebec agreed to let Ontario residents accept construction jobs involving Hydro Quebec contracts, but only if the salaries were $100,000 or more.
« That was just an exemption for big contracting companies like Ellis Don, » said Mr. Dumais.
He’s one of my favorite Canadians and is founder of the Association for the Right to Work (www.adat.ca). Over the years, he has lobbied provinces, staged road blockages and raised hundreds of thousands to mount a Supreme Court of Canada case which, unfortunately, lost. (His charter challenge argued that if workers have the right to associate they also should have the right to not associate. The Court disagreed.)
But he hasn’t given up and hopes to reverse this unfair deal. He also wants to warn Ontario that the McGuinty government is looking at closed-door laws like Quebec’s because of all the illegals and non-union members working in the province.
By the way, Quebec’s unions run the show there and their construction sector is embarrassingly restrictive: Workers must be union members or obtain a special work permit from the province which are about as readily available as Green cards. People are routinely rounded up on sites for the « crime » of working illegally, fined and even jailed.
Another Voice of Reason
Meanwhile, the labor situation worsens nationally as the giant sucking sound from Alberta’s megaprojects continues apace and unions stand in the way of labor mobility through featherbedding and apprenticeship restrictions. What follows is a thoughtful letter from union member John Gilmurray:
« The real problem with labour policy in Canada is the union `local’ system. On a recent visit to England and Ireland I was surprised that there are no locals, just one trade union congress for each country.
Everybody is hired directly by a construction company based on their resume. There are no grandfather clauses, no middle-aged white guys hanging around a union hall dishing out jobs to friends. Supply and demand are the rule. Thousands in Dublin have vacated jobs as teachers and bank clerks to become carpenters and electricians. No wonder they have one of the the best economies in the world. »
« The present shortage of skilled labour in Alberta/Fort McMurray is an almost entirely artificial creation. A small percentage of the millions of skilled labour unemployed all over Europe could be in Alberta within weeks if our bungling federal immigration bureaucracy and archaic union locals would get the hell out of the way and allow our efficient market system to work. »
« There are more people getting hired from carparks and street corners in the U.S. than are now dispatched from union halls. Globalization is creeping in through the back door. In Canada, the young people from Eastern Europe and South America who are turning up on construction sites all over Ontario, Alberta and B.C. may be the trail blazers of our future labour policy. The recent mass hiring of non union workers in Ft. Mcmurray,the construction of new Toyota plants all over the USA and Ontario spells a seismic change is afoot for our unions. Either we change or the new world market will do it for us. »
Court rulings entrench unions
Canadians think more like Americans than Europeans when it comes to labour unions.Some 93% of Canadians who responded to a National Post/Global National poll said they feel workers should be able to choose the union that represents them. Nearly two-thirds, or 62%, said removing a union should as easy as voting in one.Nice sentiments, but no such rights exist here. Canadians only think they do.
Nearly one-third of Canada’s workers belong to unions that are entrenched because of laws and court decisions that are as restrictive as Germany’s or pre-Thatcher Britain’s.
It’s all but impossible to unseat unions.For instance, an individual offered work at a unionized company or government department does not have to become a member of the union, but must pay dues and be subject to its edicts. Likewise, an individual already in a union, who no longer wants to be a member, can quit but must pay dues and pay allegiance.Worse than being forced to support a union, individuals cannot replace one because existing unions belong to a monopoly — the Canadian Labour Congress — which forbids its members from competing against one another for new « customers.
« The only alternative is to form an independent union, but these are sandbagged by provincial labour relations boards which are comprised of patronage appointees drawn from the ranks of the union establishment.As for removal, labour laws impede voting out a union as opposed to voting in one.This new poll reveals how out of sync governments and courts are with the Canadian public. It’s a mismatch that dates back to 1946 and a landmark decision by Mr. Justice Ivan Rand.
Judge Rand ruled that workers in union shops do not have to « join » a union but must let that union bargain on their behalf. In return for this service, he wrote, workers must pay dues. Intended as a compromise between individual rights and union rights, the formula has clearly subordinated the individual to the union.It also handed unelected union leaders the power of taxation which has, in turn, given them the money to lobby against reforms or democratization and to support politicians and parties such as the New Democrats and Parti Québécois that have maintained the status quo.For instance, Quebec’s construction unions are so powerful that workers have been, and can still be, jailed for the crime of working unless they have a union card.
Gatineau contractor Jocelyn Dumais and allies mounted a Supreme Court of Canada charter challenge on the grounds that a worker’s right of assembly or association, contained in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also guaranteed his right to NOT have to associate or belong to a union.The court rejected the argument.Likewise, the law has not protected individual workers, captive to union leaders, who use dues to further their own agenda. About 73% of polled respondents already in unions said their dues should not be spent on political or other causes.
In 1982 an Ontario community college teacher named Merv Lavigne launched a Charter challenge to win the right to direct a portion of his union dues to the political party of his choice, rather than allow it to be directed to the New Democrats.
Mr. Lavigne fought his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, with the help of the National Citizens’ Coalition, and eight years later lost to high-priced lawyers from dozens of powerful unions. The court ruled that his rights had not been transgressed.Union privileges have also cost taxpayers. In the poll, roughly 65% of respondents said they disagreed with governments that restrict bidding on public contracts to unionized companies.But this is more common than not, at all three levels of government. Unions control Toronto’s city council, through NDP members, and only unionized contractors can bid for work even though their costs are often twice as much as independents charge.
Without a doubt, Canada’s pro-union labour laws transgress individual liberties and damage the economy.Fortunately, the union movement is shrinking in the private sector, where people still have choice. But, unfortunately, Canada’s unionized workers still need, and deserve, their own charter of rights.
Part four of a four-part series.;
Tuesday, April 27, 1999
Diane Francis Financial Post
We should have the freedom to work wherever we can
Individuals, businesses and organizations should consider making contributions to an important new cause which could change the face of Canada’s economy for the better.
Gatineau, Que., contractor Jocelyn Dumais deserves support because he has spent the past six years fighting for worker rights in Quebec. Last week the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear his landmark test case which means his cause now involves a fight for the rights of all Canadian workers. This pits Dumais against the country’s union bosses.
« If we win this, anyone who’s in a union will be able to resign if they wish. The dues are another matter, » said Dumais’ lawyer Julius Grey. « This is one of the major civil liberties cases which will be heard [by the Supreme Court] this year. It’s an essential issue. »
The case involves the « freedom of association » section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Dumais argues that just as people have a right to associate, they have a right NOT to be forced to associate, as is the case in unionized workplaces.
« Freedom of association includes freedom from association. This has never been decided, » said Grey.
However, the Court was sympathetic to Grey’s arguments along these lines in a case involving Robert Libman, who was leader of the Equality Party at the time in Quebec, and the referendum law. Libman and Grey won that case in the fall of 1997 and the law was set aside because it imposed a form of « forced association that the court found was not acceptable, » said Grey.
That referendum law required anyone who wanted to campaign to be approved and financed by either the « Yes » committee or the « No » committee set up by the separatist government. The Equality Party was virtually excluded by « No » committee members who were Liberal Party members. Similarly this case involves the trampling of civil rights by the Quebec government.
For decades, Quebec has fined and, ultimately, sent people to jail for the crime of working. Any construction tradesman living in Quebec must belong to one of its militant construction unions (which are run by separatists), or else each one must obtain a special permit from the province. These permits are harder to obtain than Green Cards in the States. That’s the way the union bosses like the system to run. Quebec is a closed shop. Their closed shop.
But workplaces throughout Canada have the same problem. New workers joining a unionized company are routinely forced to join and pay dues. In some cases, a certain number of exemptions from union membership are negotiated in bargaining agreements. But most of Canada’s four million unionized workers really never got the choice of whether they wanted to be members or not. And if they opt out as members, that means other unions or associations can compete for their membership or the right to negotiate on their behalf.
Quebec’s laws have been the worst. That’s were the feisty and tenacious Dumais and his colleagues got involved. To fortify these laws, Quebec actually has « labour » police who routinely scour building sites looking for « illegals » — in other words workers who have chosen not to be in a union, or who have not obtained special permits.
Dumais once explained the nonsense that goes on to me in an interview a few years ago: « If you had 150 workers on any construction site in Quebec, I’d guess that half of them would be ‘illegals’ or working without the permit. We call the inspectors ‘boubou macout’ and run like crazy when they arrive. I have hidden in a dumpster for two hours to avoid being caught once. Imagine having to do that just so I can work? »
Dumais lived in other parts of Canada for many years before returning home to Quebec and a system he felt was unfair. After starting his cement contracting business in Gatineau, he was hit with fines of $35,985 for employing so-called « illegals » in 1991. He says transgressions are widespread because the laws are so unfair.
So he, like so many other Quebecers, began seeking contracts or work just across the border in Ontario. But here’s the other discriminatory aspect to Quebec’s labour laws: While Dumais and others could work in Ontario, Ontario contractors and workers were not allowed to earn any money in Quebec.
Even though he has been prospering doing work mostly in Ontario, his second strategy has been to lobby both Ontario and New Brunswick governments to convince them to retaliate against Quebec’s discriminatory labour laws in the hopes of forcing change. He and his associates drove down from Gatineau to Queen’s Park today to meet Ontario officials to push this agenda.
Dumais should be fully supported in this effort by Ontario legislators. He should also be fully supported, with donations, by Canadians from coast to coast.
Now they need money. They have financed the case to this point by building a house and donating their labour costs to the cause, plus they have gotten donations from several business organizations and their legal defence funds. Dumais and his organization can be contacted at the e-mail address meritqc@adat
This is a landmark case and could finally break the monopoly power of the union bosses who have been responsible for bankrolling with worker dues the ruinous policies of the NDP and Parti Quebecois to the detriment of this country’s economy. We need unions, but they should have to compete, be accountable to workers, or face rejection.
But politics and unionism aside, Dumais makes the best case of all: « I am a Canadian and I want the freedom to work wherever and whenever I can. »