Right-to-work laws coming to Canada?

Let’s take a break from talking about Rush and proper hygiene for a littl self-promotion.

Yesterday, The Ottawa Citizenwas gracious enough to publish my Op Ed discussing the merits of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s suggestion that we adopt Right-to-Work laws in the province. I’m in agreements:

The Tories propose that workers be allowed to switch from one union to another. This is a sound first step, but it does not go far enough. Workers should have the choice to join any union they choose or none. They should be allowed to be a party to the collective bargaining process, or to negotiate their own terms of employment. Regardless of this shortcoming, the Tories deserve praise for proposing a small step toward labour sanity.

Elliott defended the Tories’ proposal on the grounds that workers should not be forced to fund the political activities of unions. She is right, of course. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms defends a person’s right to work and support themselves without being forced to associate with others or others’ political views. Elliott’s defence is a tad misguided, however. The case against closed union shops is far broader than a question of partisan politics; it is an elemental question of upholding the freedoms enumerated in our Charter. Regardless of legal precedent, the power unions wield violates the essence of both freedom of association and freedom of expression.

And apologies go out to my wife, the theology major, apparently the editors cut my reference to Dante.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. Huh. I think I’m actually to the left of you on something!

    The main issue I have with RTW is that it denies the ability of a company and its employees to come to a voluntary agreement. If an employer wants to work with a union, and a union wants to insist on all of the employees being a part of the union, I think that should be their right. That being said, I believe an employer has a right to ignore the union. I believe that unions have a right to strike in response (and that secondary strikes should be legal, too).

    Whether this makes me pro-union or anti-union depends on who I am talking to, I suppose.

    (I am conflicted on the degree to which union dues should be able to be used on political activity.)

    • Will, I see what your saying, and if a union was a service provider for the company, then the company would have the absolute freedom to use only their people. However, in Ontario, the company hires the individuals and then the individual is forced to join the union. From then on, the individual has absolutely no way of escaping the union should it benefit him or her. Right now, we don’t have laws that allow companies to deal only with unions, we have laws that force companies and employees to deal with a union (once it is established).

      I think policy could be crafted in such a way that if a company only wanted to deal with a union, they would be allowed to do so (I thought that might be the case in some states), but that they wouldn’t be forced to deal only with the union.

      The Tories recommendation (if I read it correctly) doesn’t even negate the union’s role in the employer-employee relationship. I think they are suggesting that employees should be able to easily opt out of a union or switch from one union to another without much hassle. However, I don’t think an employee would be able to opt out of the union and then be able to negotiated his own contract. Now, should the Tories gain power in a few years, maybe they would go for a more extreme RTW policy, but, right now, it’s a smallish first step.

      From the research I did into various U.S. labour laws (and I didn’t do a lot, just a cursory review), it appears that, as it pertains to unions, Ontario’s current legislation (and Canada’s) is far more restrictive than any state.

      Personally, as much as I want a radical change to our labour laws, I tend to think incremental changes are often the best way to get their (and I don’t mean that we should try to sneak harsher and harsher laws in, just that it’s often good to take a smaller step and then evaluate it).

      • “From the research I did into various U.S. labour laws (and I didn’t do a lot, just a cursory review), it appears that, as it pertains to unions, Ontario’s current legislation (and Canada’s) is far more restrictive than any state.”

        By “restrictive” do you mean restrictive against the prerogatives of unions or restrictive of individual rights vis-a-vis the unions that represent them?

        • I meant restrictive on both what individual employees can do and on what employers can do once a union has been established (ie, once a union is established, it’s status seems far more entrenched than in most/all states).

          Sorry, should have been clearer.

    • Will,

      I’m pretty conflicted on right to work laws, and my objection is similar to yours.

      I’m not sure where I stand on secondary strikes or boycotts. My inclination is to allow them (based on freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom to quit grounds), but I do think it’s possible a line can be crossed over into intimidation of the employer or non-union worker.

      • My feeling is that merely by being permitted to exist, unions are granted a privilege that other goods and service providers are not – the right to combine explicitly to increase bargaining power. There are good reasons for this, but it’s still possible for the scales to tip so far that unions can exert excessive power over employers. I think of right to work provisions as a safety valve for that.

        • I’m personally less concerned about employers than I am about workers who either don’t want to affiliate with unions or are not allowed into certain jobs because they are not part of a union or because union contracts make the jobs scarcer.

          I am curious about the combines regulations in New Zealand (part of my dissertation research deals with Canada’s combines policies and how they compare to US antitrust laws).

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