Organizing turns to non-traditional sectors

“To boldly go where no union has gone before”
By Gordon Sova
||Last Updated: 01/21/2009

On December 5, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) and the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) each filed applications with the Commission des relations du travail to represent bargaining units of home care providers. The CSN filed papers for six bargaining units in addition to the two they held prior to the 2003 legislation; the CSQ made roughly 20 applications covering 3,000 individuals.


On October 31, 2008, the Quebec Superior Court declared unconstitutional the provisions of two laws passed in 2003 that purported to deny collective bargaining to individuals who provide either care in their homes for the disabled, youth and the elderly (Bill 7) or care in their homes for children (Bill 8). The ruling was based squarely on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia. The rationale behind the legislation was that these care providers were entrepreneurs and not employees.


In a second ruling, on November 17 the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the Agricultural Employees’ Protection Act, legislation allowing farm workers to join associations, but denying those associations the right to bargain collectively. Here again, B.C. Health Services with its affirmation of a right to union membership was the underpinning of the decision.


Interestingly, the Ontario decision mentions the right to strike several times, even though this was not part of the union’s request. It found that the applicants have the right to a “mechanism for resolving impasses in bargaining” and the right to a single representational body.


Quebec has announced that it will not appeal the Superior Court ruling, but there is a strong likelihood that Ontario will appeal its loss.


The other sector that has been in the news recently involved migrant workers, primarily but not exclusively in agriculture. Units in Manitoba and British Columbia have been certified within the past few months.


In many ways, employees in large-scale farming work in conditions similar to manufacturing. However, the language barriers, cultural barriers and transient nature of their employment will make the functioning of a union local very different from what it is in most workplaces.


Home care workers in Quebec share a community of interest because they are reliant on regional funding bodies, but they work in isolation from each other. Local general meetings and election of officials, for example, will be more difficult to accomplish.


The standard models of union organizing and functioning will need to be adapted. Maybe in both cases a more directed, top-down approach is the only one that will work. More democratic? Perhaps not. More workable?  Probably.



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