Straight Talk
BRIAN LILLEY - They’ve paid their dues: Time to rewrite the law in Canada to give more freedom to unionized workers

Credits: Tony Caldwell/Ottawa Sun/QMI Agency


It’s time to give unionized workers in Canada their freedom.

This week QMI Agency reported once again on the obsessive anti-Israel ranting of the folks running the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

CUPW, which has a history of anti-Israel comments, used its newsletter to claim that Canada is helping Israel commit war crimes.

“Canada is allowing Israel to terrorize occupied people, breach international law, normalize home demolitions, build prison-style walls and checkpoints, and steal resources,” said CUPW in the newsletter.

We heard about this internal newsletter because postal workers have been complaining to their MPs and the media about how their dues money is spent.

“I continue to be astonished by the extent to which ideas which should be on the ‘loony tunes’ margins of politics have now been adopted by a union which represents thousands of its members,” interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Wednesday.

NDP MP Peter Stoffer also called out CUPW’s statements.

“If they’re accusing any government or anyone of war crimes in terms of Israel, I think their position would be very wrong on that and I would ask them to carefully reflect upon that,” Stoffer said.

Those are pretty strong words from Rae and Stoffer, both men very friendly with the labour movement, and both have received significant support from organized labour in the past.

The anti-Israel statements are problematic but hardly surprising coming from CUPW but there is a wider issue here that goes beyond the union. This is a boots vs. suits issue.

Workers in Canada are required by law in many cases to belong to a union or to pay union dues even if they choose not to become a member. The argument is that all who benefit from the collective agreement should pay for the administration of the contract.

This is known as the Rand Formula and came into being in 1946 to settle a bitter strike at Ford’s Windsor, Ont., plant.

But the Rand Formula was never intended to generate huge sums of money for political slush funds operated by union bosses.

Unfortunately, that is the state of affairs in Canada.

In the 1990s there was a case in Ontario, Lavigne v. OPSEU, where a college professor went to court to stop paying for the political activities of his union. He didn’t ask to stop paying dues — he just wanted to stop paying for political activities he disagreed with.

Believe it or not the court said no. To let him enjoy his own freedom of expression and freedom of association — two rights guaranteed by the Charter — would harm unionism.

So we need a change in the law in Canada.

We should not force postal workers to pay for the radical anti-Israel politics of their leaders. Federal civil servants should not have to pay for leaders supporting separatist parties as has happened with both the Public Service Alliance of Canada or the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Workers on the oil patch who belong to the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union should not have to pay for their boss Dave Coles to campaign against the oil industry.

It’s time to rewrite the law in Canada to give workers more freedom.

Either let them opt out of dues completely or, if we are going to force them to pay dues, ensure this money is used for contract administration and workplace issues — not political campaigns.

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