Credits: CHRISTOPHER SMITH/QMI Agency
Just before breaking for Christmas, the House of Commons passed Bill C-377 which will force unions in this country to open their books. It's estimated unions collect $4 billion to $5 billion in tax-free money with no public accountability.
While union bosses hate the idea and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against it, a 2011 Nanos poll showed 86% of unionized Canadians like the idea and want to know what's going on with their union dues.
Rather than accept the will of Parliament and the workers who pay them, union leaders promised to fight the bill in the courts, a move that could see millions more spent to keep the public and many dues payers in the dark.
I've been in a unionized job more than once in my working life. My mother was a union member and a shop steward, my sister is still in a unionized job. My late father was a member of the Boilermakers union his whole career.
I can tell you first-hand that union members and non-members want to know where the money is going.
The other day, I found out Newton B. Jones, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers president, earned $600,000 in salary and perks in 2011. McClatchy Newspapers reports Jones' salary increased by 67% over the last few years. Several relatives of Jones are on the union payroll and do very well with generous, six-figure salaries.
Funny, my father saw his pension, held and managed by that union, cut by hundreds of dollars per month before he died last December. It's the economy and things aren't going, so well he and other pensioners were told.
Seems things are just fine for Jones and his family.
I'm able to know this because America has long had the kind of disclosure laws that should be coming to Canada. American public disclosure began in the 1950s with a Senate bill called the Kennedy-Ervin Act. Then Democratic Sen. John F. Kennedy led the charge for public disclosure. As president, his administration's implementation was overseen by his brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.
Big labour's leader George Meany, the head of the American Federation of Labour, supported the legislation.
Compare that to the reaction from Canada's union bosses at having to reveal how they spend billions in tax-free union dues and other revenues.
"It's about destroying the labour movement and it's about destroying the middle class," said CAW president Ken Lewenza.
The largest union of federal government workers, PSAC, called the bill "another attack on public services," and Ken Georgetti, who heads up the Canadian Labour Congress, called the bill "disgusting."
But what is truly disgusting is that Canada's union leaders think their dues payers and the tax-subsidizing public deserve less information about how union money is spent than their Canadian unions already report in the U.S.
European nations and Australia also have public disclosure.
Opponents of the bill want the public, but specifically their dues payers, to believe this bill is an attack on unions.
But it is an attack on the unprecedented powers and privileges union bosses have to collect and spend, safe from the prying eyes of the people they take the money from.
As my father used to say at union meetings, show us where the money is going.