A Conservative MPP in Ontario has introduced a private member’s bill aimed at making unions more transparent when it comes to how and where they spend their members’ money. “Right now, they can use that money in any way the union brass wants to,” said Randy Hillier, member for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington and opposition labour critic. “Members are at a complete disadvantage. We wouldn’t allow that for shareholders or governments, but we allow it for unions.”
Hillier’s proposed bill calls for annual financial disclosure by all unions. It would require them to file a yearly statement with the province’s labour minister that shows the annual dues payable by employees in the bargaining unit in which the collective agreement applies. Unions would also have to provide a breakdown of all expenses over $5,000 during that fiscal year.
“This is just a sensible and reasonable way to protect a union member’s dollars,” he said. “It doesn’t restrict or prevent the unions in any fashion. It just makes them open and honest.”
Hillier said at one time union dues were used mostly to promote and conduct collective bargaining, but not anymore.
“Now unions are spending their money on much more,” he said. “We see them being much more active in social and political activities as well.”
Hillier said under the legislation, unions could still support those causes but only with the consent of their members in the form of a waiver. As a former electrician and union member, he said he had no voice on these kinds of issues.
“I noticed many things in union operations that I was not happy with but also felt powerless — and was powerless — to make changes,” he said.
Hillier said he introduced the legislation in response to what he sees as an increasing trend toward activism by unions. He points to the Working Families Coalition, composed of several unions, that has spent millions of dollars on advertising in previous elections. Critics have accused the coalition of being an attack arm of the Liberal party.
“That is obviously targeted against one politically party, who many of those union members may belong with,” he said. “When you have mandatory dues and it’s for a specific purpose, it should be used for that purpose only.”
A 2008 Nanos Research survey commissioned by LabourWatch, a group composed of law firms and industry associations, found that 80 per cent of unionized Canadians oppose union leaders giving dues to political parties and 70 per cent oppose giving dues to advocacy groups unrelated to workplace needs.
To his knowledge, Hillier says there is no legislation elsewhere in Canada that calls for the transparency he’s demanding, nor has there been a major outcry from unionized workers for these types of laws.
“There is no way you’re going to be open and critical of the union bosses,” he said.
The legislation would also eliminate card-based certification in the construction sector. There would have to be an open vote at a firm before certification would be granted. Hillier accuses unions of “abusing” the certification process by not clearly stating what potential members are signing up for.
Private members bills, especially those introduced by opposition parties, rarely succeed. Hillier said his intent is to “raise awareness” about the issues facing union members.
Requests for interviews with several unions were not answered.
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