Work in progress on the flood expansion project, where all workers were required to pay union dues even if they weren't a member of the union.
Credits: Winnipeg Sun
It's all fair and good to ensure those who want to form unions have the legal right to do so, as long as the process is done fairly and democratically.
But what about workers who are forced into unionization against their will?
Manitoba is one of those jurisdictions where unionization is so dominant in the political system that sometimes workers who want nothing to do with a union find themselves paying union dues anyway.
One of the NDP's first orders of business after winning government in October 1999 was to usher in one of the most drastic pro-union omnibus bills in the province's history. Bill 44 gutted secret-ballot votes, brought in forced binding arbitration and gave unions a wide range of new powers.
But that wasn't the only move by the NDP to bolster the powers of unions and to extend their reach into the province's workforce. The party also sought ways of either pushing non-union workers into collective agreements - even against their will - or getting non-union workers to pay union dues as a prerequisite for working on large-scale public projects.
As part of our Labour Day weekend check-up of unionization in this province, we present our top three examples of how non-union workers were forced to hand over their hard-earned money to unions - even though they didn't want to.
1. The year was 2002, less than three years after the NDP won government. And the NDP-appointed Winnipeg Regional Health Authority began looking at ways to unionize hundreds of non-union hospital workers.
The WRHA said they wanted to amalgamate the number of collective bargaining units within the city's hospital to streamline the system. But while they did that, they quietly convinced the Manitoba Labour board to force hundreds of non-unionized hospital workers into unions - even though many of the workers were opposed to becoming union staff.
"We can't identify any positives to being in a union," said Anne Hildebrand at the time, a physiotherapist who had worked 27 years at Grace Hospital. "We have never sought out unionization, we have never inquired about it and we have never been interested in it."
In total, 161 non-unionized staff at the Grace were forced to become part of a union without having the democratic right to vote on whether they wanted to join.
2. In 2004, the NDP government announced all construction workers - regardless of whether they belonged to a union - would have to pay union dues if they wanted to work on one of the biggest public works projects in Manitoba's history.
The project was the expansion of the Red River Floodway. And even though the majority of heavy construction workers are not unionized, the NDP announced that under a new "project labour agreement" all those workers on the project would have to pay union dues.
The sole objective of the move was to line the pockets of Manitoba's unions, who work tirelessly during election campaigns to help re-elect the NDP. There was no logical reason for non-union workers to pay union dues. It was strictly a way to raise revenues for Manitoba's union movement.
3. Our third pick may be one that could effect change in this province when it comes to violating the rights of non-union workers by forcing them to pay union dues.
Manitoba Hydro forces workers on large-scale projects, like the Bipole III transmission line, to join unions if they want to work on them.
Merit Contractors Association of Manitoba is part of a lawsuit against Hydro that was filed over the summer. They say it's unconstitutional to force workers to pay union dues against their will.
Couldn't agree more. It will be interesting to see how the courts rule on this one.
Happy Labour Day weekend.