May Day 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada: The Case of the President of the Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU), J.P. Hornick, Part One: A Fair Contract

Introduction

I did not attend the May Day rally here in Toronto. I did however attend it in 2014 (I had moved to Toronto at the end of August 2013). At the time, in 2014, it looked mainly like a protest of the fringe left who were not supported by organized unions. There were a few unions present (if I remember correctly, for example, CUPE 3903, a union “representing contract faculty, teaching assistants, graduate assistants, and part-time librarians and assistants.”

I did, however, in 2022, look at a couple of videos on YouTube that showed some of the speeches given. This year union representatives were present.

Now, I have little doubt that my personal presence at the rally would make no difference politically. On the other hand, personal presence is sometimes necessary to show workers’ strength in numbers. However, from the speeches that I heard on YouTube, it was evident that the main agenda was a critique of the Conservative Doug Ford government here in Ontario (elections were on June 2, 2022).

Of course, it is understandable that the immediate aim should have been the defeat of the Ford government. The government has been, as some of the speakers had indicated, a very pro-employer government.

On the other hand, there was no indication of any other point of view than the implicit social-democratic or social-reformist point of view. After workers have experienced the personal stress of having to work under even worse conditions than they normally do on a global scale, and after many citizens, immigrants and migrant workers have personally experienced tragedy in their lives during the pandemic, the need to organize to end the class power of employers was nowhere to be seen.

Thus, one video shows a speech by J.P. Hornick, the relatively new president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). Her main target is Doug Ford’s government.

Ms. Hornick is likely an improvement over the former president of OPSEU, Warren “Smokey” Thomas (see my criticisms of his views in the posts Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) ) and Smokey Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)–A Good Example of the Real Attitude of Many Union Leaders Towards the Ruling Class). But then again, it would be hard to not be an improvement over a union “leader” who criticizes those who criticize Conservative Ontario leader Doug Ford.

Indirect Evidence That Ms. J.P. Hornick, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is a Social Democrat or a Social Reformer

But who is JP Hornick? Obviously, to characterize any person is a complicated process that involves delving into history. As John Dewey once noted (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry), logically, to properly describe something necessarily involves a narrative form, with a beginning, a middle and an end. The following obviously falls short of this standard, but at least it is a beginning. I invite others to improve on it.

Ms. Hornick works (or worked) at George Brown College in Toronto as a professor. From https://www.georgebrown.ca/preparatory-liberal-studies/liberal-arts-sciences/school-of-labour/staff-profiles ):

Professor JP Hornick

JP Hornick is the current Coordinator of the School of Labour at George Brown College and a long-time social activist. JP is also vice-chair of the OPSEU Divisional Executive for the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology–Academic. She is presently on the Board of Directors of the community arts organization Red Dress Productions.

An experienced educator and steward, JP is committed to bringing a socially progressive labour perspective to students and workers through workshops, training, and community events

A natural question would be: What is the School of Labour? A webpage from the College ( https://www.georgebrown.ca/preparatory-liberal-studies/liberal-arts-sciences/school-of-labour) indicates the following: 

George Brown College has partnered with the Labour Council of Toronto and York Region since 1992 to establish and maintain the School of Labour. It is governed by a Joint Board, co-chaired by the Presidents of the College and of Labour Council.

Together, our commitment is to socially progressive curriculum that respects working people and expands their access to post-secondary education. We work to make George Brown a “labour-friendly” college because we believe that labour contributes to and enriches not just the college’s culture, but the whole society’s.

Our Mission Statement

Our mission is to:

  • Facilitate improved access to post-secondary education and socially progressive, relevant curriculum for working people.
  • Facilitate effective working relationships among the College, unions and their members for the benefit of working people.
  • Bring a progressive labour perspective to the College and its students.
  • Help ensure that George Brown College retains and strengthens a reputation as a ‘labour-friendly’ educational institution, and an awareness that labour contributes to and enriches the culture of the college.

Working Principles

Both the Labour Council and George Brown College are guided by the following principles in working together:

  • A respect for working people, the union movement and its educators.
  • A respect for the right of working people to formally-accredited, worker-centred education and training.
  • A commitment to expanding the access of workers to education and training.
  • A belief in the educational value of work experience.
  • A belief in the value of formal links between the publicly-funded education system and the trade union movement.

In offering training and services to unionized workers, and labour education to George Brown College students, the School of Labour works in coordination with the Labour Education Centre (LEC), the educational project of the Labour Council.

Coordinator: JP Hornick
Phone: 416.415.5000 ext. 3531 Email: jphornic@georgebrown.ca

Labour Educator: Kathryn Payne
Phone: 416-415-5000 ext. 3414 – E-Mail: kpayne@georgebrown.ca

Given the link between the School of Labour and Toronto & York Region Labour Council, it is probable that the School of Labour is a social-democratic or reformist organization. John Cartwright, the former president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council wrote the following in 2018:

We need to fight for labour law reform including broader based bargaining so that precarious workers can have a vehicle in which to achieve dignity and economic justice.

My comment to that statement, made in a previous post:

It is unlikely that he means by economic justice the creation of a working-class movement organized to abolish the treatment of workers as a class. He probably means the signing of a collective agreement, with its management rights clause. (For an example of a management rights clause.  Management Rights: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia

Compare this with the money circuit of capital (The Money Circuit of Capital) to determine whether workers experience economic justice even in the best-case scenario of a collective agreement. Or do not socialist principles include opposing treating human beings as things, as mere means for others’ purposes?

More Direct Evidence that Ms. Hornick is a Social Democrat or Social Reformer

But this is only indirect evidence that Ms. Hornick holds social-democratic or social-reformist views–views that aim to humanize the class power of employers (alias capitalism) rather than abolish it. Is there more direct evidence? Yes, there is. 

Ms. Hornick, although likely an improvement over Mr. Thomas’ leadership, shares much of Thomas’ beliefs–and those of other union leaders throughout Canada. Thus, she, like they, uses the rhetoric of “fair contracts.”

  1. From  https://opseu.org/news/on-the-line-college-faculty-strike-bulletin-4/16849/, dated November 1, 2017: 

On the Line: College Faculty Strike Bulletin #4

Your bargaining team is ready to bargain when contract talks resume Thursday.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system. We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.” JP Hornick, bargaining team chair. [my emphasis]

On November 8, 2017, OPSEU had a news conference concerning negotiations between academic faculty in Ontario colleges and the College Employer Council (CEC, or the Council), representative for the employer. At the beginning of the presentation, there is written the following: 

OPSEU college faculty held a press conference in Toronto, Tuesday, November 7, affirming their commitment to bargaining a fair contract that includes quality education and fairness for all faculty. [my emphases]

A further message indicates how the management side acted: 

Colleges have called for a forced vote on their final offer, which contains serious concessions. Meanwhile, faculty remain strong on the picket line at colleges across the province. 

Mr. Thomas, who at the time was the president of OPSEU, then indicated that the union negotiating team had not thought that there was a great gulf between the parties to negotiations. However, on Monday the government as negotiator indicated that it was going to ask the Ministry of Labour to conduct a vote–a legal move that they can do once. Mr. Thomas then indicated that the union negotiating team modified its demands and met the employer more than half way. They wanted the Council  to come back to the bargaining table since they were very close to a deal. 

Ms. Hornick, presumably as a member of the negotiating team, then implied that the Council’s request for a vote was continuous with the tactics of the Council since July, “which is to dictate rather than negotiate.” Despite the dictatorial attitude of the Council, both sides did manage to agree on many things before the last request for a vote. What was mainly left was the academic freedom piece. That issue revolved around “who is better placed to make decisions for our classrooms? Is it the faculty who are working with the students, or administrators who may have not even taught before or don’t know the subject matter.” The union negotiating team tabled an offer at that point, and the Council came back with a new final offer that contained many concessions that were designed to undermine the work the union negotiating team had done on protecting contract faculty. Their counter offer also tried to create unlimited overtime and individual bargaining with faculty. The union negotiating team could not accept this. The Council then indicated  that it was taking this to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for a forced offer vote. 

The night before this conference, the union negotiating team came back with a counter offer: retain the old collective agreement except for the items that both had already agreed to during negotiations, such as language that would protect contract faculty in terms of job security and seniority. The union negotiating team also took the language concerning academic freedom used by other party and worked into a clause that should have been acceptable by Council. Ms. Hornick then summarized what the union negotiating team had offered the night before the conference:  

  1. status quo
  2. things they had agreed on 
  3. and academic freedom–a no-cost item

But the Council rejected the offer.

Mr. Hornick then proceeded to indicate that the union negotiating team was still ready to negotiate so that a final negotiated agreement could be taken for ratification and faculty would be happily back in our classrooms very soon. 

The college faculty went out on strike, and the strike lasted for about five weeks, until the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne legislated the workers back to work. 

To return to the main issue: how is it possible to obtain “fair contracts” in the context of the class power of employers? What does the term “fair contracts” mean? Sam Gindin, former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor), wrote the following:

[But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan.

Is this persistent reference to “fair contract” an abstract slogan? Does it not cover up the real nature of the power relation between management and workers? 

What of the phrase “fairness for all faculty?” What does that mean? Is it possible to achieve fairness for all faculty in the context of the employer-employee relation? Such a relation is hierarchical and characterized by dictatorship (see for example  Employers as Dictators, Part One). 

Or is the following an example of a “fair contract?” From Academic Employees Collective Agreement Between College Employer Council (the Council) for the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology and: Ontario Public Service Employees Union (for Academic Employees), effective from: October 1, 2017 to: September 30, 2021. 

Article 6
MANAGEMENT FUNCTIONS

6.01 It is the exclusive function of the Colleges to:

(i) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

(ii) hire, discharge, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, lay off, recall and suspend or otherwise discipline employees subject to the right to lodge a grievance in the manner and to the extent provided in this Agreement;

(iii) manage the College and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, courses, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of campuses and facilities, services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment, or cessation of operations and all other rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

6.02 The Colleges agree that these functions will be exercised in a manner consistent
with the provisions of this Agreement.

Who made the employer the dictator? Why is it that they have such power? Why the separation of administrative powers from the actual work of the workers who constitute and make up the university? And not just academic faculty. There are library workers, administrative personnel, cleaning personnel, trade persons and so forth. 

What of “good jobs?” 

As I wrote in another post (The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Three: Collective Bargaining and the Interests of the Working Class): 

Furthermore, a few privileged sets of workers (such as tenured university professors) may seem to have “decent jobs,” but even that situation has eroded over time. It should not be forgotten that such relatively privileged workers exist in a sea of workers, whether unionized or not, who are things to be used by employers systematically and legally. University professors cannot engage in research, teaching and administrative activities unless there are other workers who produce their food, clothing, cars and so forth.

The concept of “decent jobs” or “decent work” even in the case of tenured professors cannot be divorced from the general economic, political and social context within which such workers work. As Thomas Hodgskin wrote (1825):

To enable … the labourer to devote himself to any particular occupation, it is … necessary that he should possess … a conviction that while he is labouring at his particular occupation the things which he does not produce himself will be provided for him, and that he will be able to procure them and pay for them by the produce of his own labour. This conviction arises, in the first instance, without any reflection from habit. As we expect
that the sun will rise tomorrow, so we also expect that men in all time to come will be actuated by the same motives as they have been in times past. If we push our inquiries still further, all that we can learn is, that there are other men in existence who are preparing those things we need, while we are preparing those which they need. The conviction may, perhaps, ultimately be traced them to our knowledge that other men exist and labour.

Ms. Hornick, of course, cannot be accused of focusing exclusively on the work of tenured professors. She, along with the other members of the bargaining team, attempted to provide protection for contract faculty as well. However, the implicit standard of the bargaining team in general and Ms. Hornick in particular for determining what constitutes “good jobs” is permanent, relatively secure employment–with a particular employer.

Even if all faculty in the colleges had relatively secure positions (a big if), in the first place, there are other workers in the colleges that do not have such security. Furthermore, to ignore the insecurity of other workers in all branches of work (industrial, commercial, financial, transport, agriculture, construction, high technology, education, health care) and to call the isolated work of relatively secured work at colleges “good jobs” is to define what constitutes a good job on the basis of a part of a whole that involves ignoring the whole of which it is a part. 

To ignore the division of labour and what makes possible the work of any particular part simply leads to narrow-mindedness and, ultimately, to the illusion of security since, if the sea of other workers involves insecure work, how can even the secure workers remain secure?

As I wrote in the other post: 

This division of labour is implied in a poem by one of the most famous poets of Guatemala, Otto Rene Castillo (from Apolitical Intellectuals):

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.”

To focus exclusively on the work of a bargaining unit (which is what unions do, at least in Canada) while neglecting the general context in which the bargaining unit functions is a narrow and sectionalist point of view that ignores the reality of social interdependence of workers on each other. As Hodgskin pointed out, pages 45-46: 

To enable either the master manufacturer or the labourer to devote himself to any particular occupation, it is only necessary that he should possess … a conviction that while he is labouring at his particular occupation the things which he does not produce himself will be provided for him, and that he will be able to procure them and pay for them by the produce of his own labour. This conviction arises, in the first instance, without
any reflection from habit. As we expect that the sun will rise to-morrow, so we also expect that men in all time to come will be actuated by the same motives as they have been in times past. If we push our inquiries still further, all that we can learn is, that there are other men in existence who are preparing those things we need, while we are preparing those which they need. The conviction may, perhaps, ultimately be traced then to our knowledge that other men exist and labour.

The unconscious dependence of one set of workers on other workers, however, should not be used as a reason for omitting such objective dependence; those who represent workers should acknolwedge such dependence–after all, such objective dependence is the basis for arguing for the need for solidarity among workers. 

Admittedly, tenured professors have much more freedom in their work than untenured ones and contract faculty (faculty who do not have permanent status and who often experience precarious working conditions), but this freedom, when set in the context of the general lack of freedom among the working class, needs to be taken into account when referring to “fair contracts” and “good jobs.” Freedom for a minority of workers that involves the negation of freedom for the majority of workers hardly constitutes freedom based on working-class solidarity. 

As for “quality education,” although it is certainly better to fight for faculty workers who have a more stable position and thus provide more consistent and continuous service to students, quality education as a goal requires a consideration of the entire educational system, from kindergarten to university. For example, what is Ms. Hornick’s position with respect to the existence and need for grades (marks) when evaluating a student’s work? Does she think that the existence of grades interferes with the learning process? Collective agreements hardly have begun to address that, and I doubt that Ms. Hornick refers to this at all in her reference to “quality education.” Her reference is to a very narrow definition of what constitutes “quality education”–limited in reference to the immediate situation of the university. (For a critique of the use of grades in schools, see The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services). 

2. On May 5, 2021, we read: 

Tweet

Conversation

Of course, unionized settings, by limiting the power of management, do tend to keep communities safER, but hardly SAFE. This is bullshitting the workers. Another union rep was more truthful. From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster, doctoral dissertation, page 202:

Another union representative expressed concern [with the proposed government legislation] that unions can be held responsible for workplace accidents, noting that unions and employees have little decision-making control with the organization:

“…basically we wanted the legislation to go after corporate bosses, basically, because
they’re the ones that make the decisions. At the end of the day any decision that’s
made on anything to do with the business comes about as a result of management’s
decision. It doesn’t come about because of a union decision. We wish, but it doesn’t.
They have the ultimate authority to manage, and that authority is only restricted by
terms of a collective agreement, and in very few cases, maybe in terms of regulations or legislation. So we were hoping that it would focus more on criminal liability for those that have the power to make decisions. But in reality what it does is that it will hold anybody accountable if the investigation shows there was any part played in any particular incident by anybody from the janitor right up to the CEO. Now some people will argue, why not? Well normally, in my experience in almost forty years, is that any decision made by the janitor is usually something that is usually handed down from above, right. And there are very few cases where you could actually cite where somebody at that level had any type of malicious intent to do anything to cause harm “(Union representative, Interview 12).

3. From    http://www.local244.ca/2022/jobaction , dated January 17, 2022: 

W2R Update #4: Town Hall Meeting, Jan 5, 2022 06:30 PM

5. What should I tell my students about work-to-rule?

You are invited to adapt either of the following messages, to suit your purposes…: 

“In response to the College Employer Council’s decision to unilaterally impose employment conditions after college faculty voted to support strike actions (https://www.collegefaculty.org/2021/12/17/opseu-sefpo-stands-in-support-of-college-faculty-members/), Ontario college faculty are now following work-to-rule guidelines established by the Faculty Bargaining Team.

Faculty have chosen to focus on our students’ needs and not interrupt College courses with a strike at this time, while demanding that our employer negotiate a fair resolution to this labour dispute [my emphasis]. Work-to-rule means that we will be working only the time outlined by our current contract and workload assignments, or our job descriptions. This means that we may not be available for additional, volunteer work that we may normally do, or work outside of regular work hours. Therefore, we may take more time than usual to respond to emails or other forms of communication and any additional work-related requests.

Currently we are in Phase 2 of the planned work-to-rule job actions. For more information on these actions including a work-to-rule FAQ, please visit: https://www.collegefaculty.org/work-to-rule/.

We appreciate your patience and your support in our efforts to improve working conditions for Ontario college faculty and the learning conditions of Ontario college students.”

In solidarity,

Your CAATA Bargaining Team

Ms. Hornick was chair of  the CAATA bargaining team at the time. 

4. The following is from a series of bargaining updates: From  https://opseu354.ca/bargaining-updates/   : 

Faculty solidarity works: your team is doing everything we can to protect the year for students, and to achieve a fair settlement that addresses faculty needs. It is up to the College Presidents to do their part.

In solidarity,

JP, Jonathan, Katie, Michelle, Ravi, Rebecca, Shawn

Your CAAT-A Bargaining Team

I assume JP means J.P. Hornick.

Ms. Hornick’s position is very similar to the position of Brian Forbes, who was president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union from 2002 until 2004 (see for example my post Academic Narrow-mindedness: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part Three).  Mr. Forbes complained that the Nova Scotia government, as employer, was engaging in underhanded methods by, on the one hand, not negotiating in good faith and, on the other hand, in trying to negotiate independently of the negotiating team. From Brian Forbes (Spring/Summer 2017), “The Assault on Teachers’ Collective Bargaining Rights in Nova Scotia,” in pages 20-29, Our Schools/Our Selves, page 21: 

While the two [negotiating] teams were engaged in trying to establish dates for further meetings, the Union’s chief negotiator, lawyer Ron Pink, was “approached by senior representative of the province … and asked if [he] would have a ‘discussion’ with the government about the possibility of settling the issues in dispute without lengthy and diffcult negotiations.” According to Mr. Pink, that led to “negotiations” between himself and the individual who had approached him, during which he consulted with “senior leadership of the union” and relayed their responses back to the unnamed government representative. 

Brian Forbes implies that was needed was fair negotiations–the usual process of give and take of conceding certain demands of the other side of negotiations if the other side does the same to the point where an agreement is reached that addresses the interests of both parties. The intent is to reach an agreement–but not at the expense of one’s own “bottom line.” Strikes or lockouts thus form part of the whole process even in the case of “fair negotiations.” 

I have constantly questioned on this blog the idea that, from the workers’ point of view, that there can be such a thing as a fair collective-bargaining process or fair collective agreement (fair contract). This is ideology that hides the reality of oppression and exploitation for most workers, whether unionized or non-unionized. 

Ms. Hornick undoubtedly is right to show concern about the tactics of management. As she stated in her presentation in the first point above, the union negotiating team bent over backward to reach an agreement: they proposed the maintenance of the former collective agreement, with the exception of three areas. 

The above quote manages to contain two clichés: “fair contracts” and “good jobs”(a.k.a. “decent work.” Good jobs are, apparently, relatively secure jobs that pay a unionized rate and provide some protection from the power of management. The opposite of good jobs is precarious jobs that pay minimum wage, are non-unionized and provide little protection from the power of management (except as provided by legislation, such as the Employment Standards Act). “Fair contracts” are, presumably, contracts negotiated by employers in good faith, recognizing the legitimacy of the union and the concerns of workers that are negotiated. 

I will not repeat what I have written elsewhere concerning the lack of critical thinking when it comes to using these two clichés (see for example Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and  Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?). 

5. On May 9, 2022, Ms. Hornick retweeted: 

JP Hornick Retweeted

OPSEU 231
 
@local231opseu

Thinking of our Union brothers and sisters with

as they begin their job action to get a fair agreement [my emphasis]. #SolidarityForever

Quote Tweet
 
CityNews Toronto
 
@CityNewsTO
·
Industrial and commercial construction projects across Ontario are expected to be impacted after workers with the Carpenters District Council of Ontario walked off the job at midnight. toronto.citynews.ca/2022/05/09/car
 

Of course, any radical leftist, out of solidarity, would generally support strike efforts of union members, but they would take issue about the rhetoric of “fair agreement.” 

Further evidence of her reformist views is her praise of the work of correction officers–whom she believes “keep us safe” in some fashion. But I will leave that, perhaps, to follow-up post. How they do so she fails to indicate.

Conclusion

Ms. Hornick’s stint as president of OPSEU will probably be an improvement, at least initially, over the former president, Warren “Smokey” Thomas, who was president for over 14 years. However, given that she shares the same beliefs as Mr. Thomas when it comes to the issue of the fairness of collective agreements, she may well end up similar to the current views of Mr. Thomas. It would be interesting to compare Mr. Thomas’ views, when he initially became president of OPSEU, and his current views. 

In a future post on this topic, perhaps, it will be shown that Ms. Hornick’s views on the role of corrections officers, whom OPSEU represents, reflect once again a social-democratic view–if not a more conservative and reactionary view. 

The Rhetoric of Unions and Social Democrats or Social Reformers

I read the following on Facebook.

It is quite typical of social-democratic or reformist unions and social democrats or social reformers in general: The use of rhetoric to justify their activities without engaging in any form of discussion or debate. All bolded words or phrases are my emphases:

Support OPSEU Local 5119 ON STRIKE at LifeLabs!

 

After organizing to join OPSEU in 2020, 150 couriers and mailroom workers at LifeLabs have run into a brick wall trying to bargain a fair first contract. Why? Because the bosses at this billion-dollar-a-year private corporation refuse to negotiate decent wages and benefits for these workers, who earn an average of just $35,000 a year.

 

That’s why since March 14 Local 5119 members have been on strike to achieve fair working conditions and a living wage. And they need our help to get LifeLabs back to the table with a fair offer!

 

Showing Our Solidarity:
Two Ways You and Your Local Can Help!

 

1) Join the Strike Rally for a Living Wage
Thursday, March 24, 10 a.m.
LifeLabs Head Office, 100 International Blvd, Etobicoke
(West of Hwy 27, South of Dixon Road)
Bring your OPSEU flags & noisemakers!
Join, like & share the Event on Facebook
For info contact Local 5119 President Mahmood Alawneh, 647-333-5555, raneentrading@gmail.com

 

2) Donate to the Local 5119 Strike Fund
As a brand-new local, L5119 doesn’t have a reserve fund to support their members during the strike. So, OPSEU has put out a call to other locals to show our solidarity by donating to the Local 5119 strike fund.
For info and to donate, contact Local 5119 Treasurer Maria Calingaon at maria_calingaon@yahoo.ca
I certainly support such striking workers, but the rhetoric needs to be constantly criticized.  I replied: 
 
Fred Harris

 

What are “decent wages and benefits?” This phrase is simply rhetoric used by the social-democratic or social-reformist leftists without thinking about the meaning of the phrase. For example, does not working for an employer involve agreeing to be used by the employer for purposes or ends that the workers do not define? If so, what wage and benefit can convert this situation into “decent?”

 

The same could be said about the rhetorical phrase “fair working conditions.” To work for an employer in the public o private sector is inherently unfair, so why the rhetoric of “fair working conditions?” This is an uncritical and unthinking phrase bandied about by the social-democratic or social-reformist left without any thought or discussion about whether it is true or can be true in the context of a society dominated by the class power of employers.

 

The same could be said about a “fair offer.”

 

On my blog, I have already showed how the rhetoric of “fair contracts” or “fair collective agreements” is consistently expressed by the largest unions in Canada: CUPE, Unifor and NUPGE. They are ideologues for employers–not against them. To claim that any employment contract is somehow fair when workers are faced with the “management rights” is simple nonsense–and many workers know it (even if they do not want to admit it). That is one reason why unions are losing ground–because they cannot face up to the limitations of collective agreements and collective bargaining–and a realistic assessment of their limitations is a first step in achieving real fairness, not rhetorical fairness that contributes to the perpetuation of unfair working conditions–the unfair working conditions of having to work for an employer (not a particular employer) in the first place.
To which the sender and anyone else who read the post responded: Nothing. The silence of the social-democratic or reformist left concerning the meaning of “fair wages,” “decent work,” and similar rhetoric is deafening. Why do they insist on using such rhetoric? Are they bullshitting the workers? If not, why do they not elaborate on what they mean by fair first contract etc.? What makes it fair? What would an unfair contract involve? How does a fair contract exist when workers face management rights implicitly or explicitly (I have provided explicit management rights clauses from various collective agreements on this blog (see for example Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia .I eventually incorporated  them with into a post where I calculated the rate of exploitation. See for example 
 
In another post, I challenged the social-reformist left to justify their continual use of the rhetorical phrases that they use. See Management Rights, Part Nine: Is A Collective Agreement that Involves Management Rights and the Exploitation and Oppression of Workers a Fair Contract?
 
Are union reps bullshitting workers by using such phrases? If so, should their rhetoric not be challenged? 

Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Four: The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) (The Second Largest Union in Canada)

Since in this blog I have often referred to particular union reps referring to collective agreements as fair in some way, I thought it would be useful to provide further examples of this rhetoric to substantiate the view that unions function as ideologues for the continued existence of employers–even if the unions are independent of the power of particular employers and hence represent independently the workers in relation to the particular employer of the workers.

I have already provided a series of examples in this series on their view of the fairness of collective agreements and collective bargaining, implied or expressed explicitly, specifically the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) (the largest union in Canada) and Unifor (the largest union of workers who work for employers in the private sector) (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One and Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)).

I now proceed to provide evidence for the ideological role of The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), which was, in 2015, the second largest union in Canada, with 360,000 members.

  1. The following is dated December 15, 2011 https://ww.nupge.ca/content/opseu-developmental-service-workers-demand-fair-contract):

Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) who work at Montage Support Services voted 100 per cent in favour of strike action if the employer refuses to offer a fair contract at the bargaining table [my emphasis].

The employer has proposed a large reduction to the payment of benefit premiums for full-time workers, unreasonable increases in probationary periods for new hires, language that would dismiss a worker for missing a single shift and increasing the length of time that discipline can be imposed. The Union is asking for pay equalization for its members who do equal amounts of work and only very small wage increases to offset the cost of living.

2. Dated September 6, 2012: The following is taken from https://nupge.ca/content/campaign-launched-support-women-working-elizabeth-fry-toronto-negotiate-contract

Toronto (06 Sept. 2012) – Workers at Elizabeth Fry Toronto have been without a contract since March 31, 2011. The employer is insisting on concessions that will cut benefits and job security for casual and contract workers.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), the union which represents the workers, is encouraging the concerned public to contact Elizabeth Fry Toronto’s executive director Michelle Coombs with the message, “stand up for women at Elizabeth Fry Toronto!”

These workers have been trying to negotiate a fair and reasonable contract for over 15 months. [my emphasis]

3. Dates 2014 (https://nupge.ca/content/mgeu-members-uwsa-heading-conciliation-amid-concessionary-bargaining):

MGEU members at UWSA heading to conciliation amid concessionary bargaining

MGEU/NUPGE members hope conciliation will help achieve a fair and reasonable settlement.

Winnipeg (14 April 2014) — Members of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU/NUPGE) who work at the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association have requested the help of a conciliation officer to reach a new contract.

UWSA looking for major concessions in bargaining

Members began negotiations with UWSA Inc. on February 12, 2014. However, it was immediately clear from the employer’s proposals that they were intent on attacking the rights of workers covered by the collective agreement.

Among the many proposed cuts to benefits and changes inn contract language, the UWSA is seeking to remove maternity leave top-up, respite days, and bereavement leave travel time. At the same time, they want to increase hours of work and reduce sick leave and vacation benefits. The employer’s representatives have defined this process as “normalizing” or “resetting” the current contract. MGEU/NUPGE negotiators say it represents the elimination of years of hard work and fair negotiation by severely weakening the rights of members covered by this agreement. [my emphasis]

Looking to conciliation for assistance in reaching a fair deal

In response, the MGEU/NUPGE bargaining committee presented a package to the employer on April 9, identifying what members felt was a fair deal [my emphasis]. The employer rejected the deal that same day and asked if the union members would be willing to submit a joint request for conciliation. MGEU/NUPGE representatives agreed and both parties made separate applications to the Minister of Labour and Immigration to appoint a conciliation officer to help reach a new collective agreement.

The date for conciliation has been tentatively set for April 24.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

NUPGE Components

4. Dated October 13, 2015 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/gawronsky-delivers-%E2%80%9Cstill-without-contract%E2%80%9D-petitions-provincial-ministers). The following attributes to members the desire for a fair collective agreement. It is of course possible that members do attribute fairness to a collective agreement–but it is possible that they may not. Union leaders may simply ascribe–falsely–their own beliefs to the beliefs of the members. Furthermore, even if most members did believe that a collective agreement was fair, did they discuss the issue thoroughly in order to have an informed judgement? Did they discuss whether it was fair to work for employers in general? Did they discuss why workers have to work for employers? If not, should there not be such discussion before claiming that union members want a fair contract? 

Gawronsky delivers “Still Without a Contract” petitions to provincial ministers

“MGEU members have been very frustrated by the government’s ongoing foot dragging in negotiations.” — Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU President

Michelle Gawronsky (centre) presents Greg Dewar, Minister of Finance, and Kerri Irvin-Ross, Minister responsible for the Civil Service, with the MGEU’s “Still Without a Contract” petition signatures.

Winnipeg (13 Oct. 2015) — This past summer the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU/NUPGE) turned up the heat on the provincial government to get a fair deal for thousands of its members who have been without a contract for more than a year — and, in some cases, more than two years. [my emphasis]

Members want a fair and reasonable offer

“MGEU members have been very frustrated by the government’s ongoing foot dragging in negotiations. It’s been an issue at our largest table (Civil Service), as well as at many other bargaining tables,” says MGEU President Michelle Gawronsky.

“Members are tired of it. They want to see some action; they want to see a fair and reasonable offer.” [my emphasis]

Strong support for online petition

In response, the MGEU developed an online petition this summer, collecting 5,787 signatures in support.

On October 9, 2015, Gawronsky and MGEU 1st Vice-President Wayne Chacun, delivered those petition signatures to Greg Dewar, Minister of Finance, and Kerri Irvin-Ross, Minister responsible for the Civil Service (both pictured above), as well as to Erna Braun, Minister of Labour and Immigration, and Drew Caldwell, Minister of Municipal Government.

“The government has said they’re willing to return to the Civil Service bargaining table. But returning to the table, and returning to the table with a fair and reasonable offer, are two very different things and it’s our job to make sure that message is sent loud and clear.”

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

5. Dated August 18, 2017   (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/nsgeu-members-sherbrooke-village-rally-fair-contract-0):  

NSGEU members at Sherbrooke Village rally for fair contract

“They are proud to be part of the fabric of the local community and the nearby counties. It’s time their hard work and dedication to their jobs be acknowledged with a fair collective agreement.” — Jason MacLean, NSGEU President [my emphasis]

Halifax (18 Aug. 2017) — The people who help bring Sherbrooke Village to life for residents and visitors to come, learn, and explore the history of this community held an information picket at the entrance gate to Sherbrooke Village on August 17. 

Sherbrooke Restoration Commission hasn’t addressed members concerns at bargaining table

 As members of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE), they wanted to raise awareness of their fight for a fair contract with their employer.

“Our members provide a one-of-a-kind, authentic historical experience for visitors to the area with their historical knowledge and skills,” says Jason MacLean, NSGEU President. “They are proud to be part of the fabric of the local community and the nearby counties. It’s time their hard work and dedication to their jobs be acknowledged with a fair collective agreement.” [my emphasis]

The 73 members work in administration, historical interpretation, costumes, crafts, marketing and promotions, trades, security, and maintenance, and many other occupations at the Village.

The Sherbrooke Restoration Commission, the employer, put forward a final offer at the bargaining table on July 20 without addressing many of the members’ concerns.

The NSGEU/NUPGE filed for conciliation and both sides met with a Conciliation Officer on August 16. 

6. Dated November 2, 2017 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/new-brunswick-union-supports-introduction-first-contract-arbitration): 

New Brunswick Union supports introduction of first contract arbitration

We applaud government for coming forward with these changes. We believe this is a reasonable approach, one that will help both employers and workers alike.” — Susie Proulx-Daigle, NBU President

Fredericton (02 Nov. 2017) — The New Brunswick Union (NBU/NUPGE) is pleased to see that the provincial government has committed to bringing changes to the Industrial Relations Act to usher in first contract arbitration.

First contract arbitration will no longer allow management to prolong negotiations

In New Brunswick, arbitrations are not available to unions seeking a first contract if a deal cannot be reached with management.

First contract negotiations are often prolonged, so having the legal ability to use an independent third party to help resolve outstanding issues will help both the employer and union negotiate a fair first contract in a timely manner. [my emphasis]

The NBU/NUPGE has been pushing for this change for quite some time. During its most recent biennial convention, delegates voted unanimously in favour of a resolution for the union to advocate legislation on first contract arbitration.

The change would bring New Brunswick in line with the rest of the country, with the exception of Prince Edward Island.

“We applaud government for coming forward with these changes,” said Susie Proulx-Daigle, NBU President. “We believe this is a reasonable approach, one that will help both employers and workers alike.”

7. This is taken from a June 11, 2018 post (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/workers-vote-strike-gateway-okanagan-casinos-bcgeu): 

Workers vote to strike at Gateway Okanagan Casinos: BCGEU

An astounding 93.1 per cent vote in favour of strike action.

Vancouver (11 June 2018) — Over 675 members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) working at Gateway Casinos in the Okanagan voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action against their employer.

In a vote held from June 4 to 6, over 88 per cent of Gateway staff in casinos in Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton and Vernon came out and voted 93.1 per cent in favour of taking strike action.

“Gateway workers in the Okanagan are sending a clear message to their employer: they will not settle for less than the fair wages, benefits and respect they deserve,” says Stephanie Smith, BCGEU President. [my emphasis]

Gateway Casino refuses to offer comparable wages

Negotiations for a new collective agreement broke off in May after the employer refused to offer wages and benefits that are industry standard at comparable casinos.

Smith says the employer’s offer is unacceptable. “The wages Gateway are offering won’t even keep ahead of the planned minimum wage increases.”

“These workers are the heart of their casinos. Gateway is a successful company in a highly profitable industry — they can afford to pay their workers what they are worth.”

Workers just want a fair contract

Strike preparations are now underway, and workers are set to walk off the job unless they receive a new proposal from the employer. 

“Gateway Casino workers in the Okanagan are ready to do whatever it takes to get a fair contract with their employer — including strike, if necessary,” says Smith. [my emphasis]

Gateway’s Okanagan staff have been trying to negotiate a new collective agreement since the last one expired in September 2017. 

8. Like an earlier reference, the following claims that the members are seeking a fair agreement–a debatable claim. Dated August 2, 2018 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/strike-mandate-given-sgeus-public-servicegovernment-employment-negotiating-committee): 

Strike mandate given to SGEU’s Public Service/Government Employment Negotiating Committee

Upon returning to the bargaining table, the government was unwilling to negotiate. It was their unwillingness that brought about the need for a strike vote.

Regina (02 Aug. 2018) —  Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU/NUPGE) members of the Public Service/Government Employment (PS/GE) bargaining unit have given their Negotiating Committee a strike mandate. The vote was conducted across the province throughout July.

SGEU/NUPGE public service members looking for fair agreement

“This mandate sends a strong, clear message to government that our members are serious about achieving a fair and reasonable collective agreement that protects their rights and improves their wages and benefits,” said Barry Nowoselsky, Chair of the PS/GE Negotiating Committee. [my emphasis]

“A mandate from the members to strike does not mean there will be immediate job action. The negotiating committee is willing to return to the bargaining table as long as the employer is willing to negotiate,” he added.

Agreement expired in 2016

The collective agreement covering approximately 12,000 workers, including social workers, wildfire fighters, highways workers, lab technicians, administrative professionals, agrologists, corrections officers, and many others, expired September 30, 2016.

Bargaining for a new contract for government employees began in October 2016. In February 2018, members were asked to vote on a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). The tentative deal was rejected in April. Upon returning to the bargaining table, the government was unwilling to negotiate. It was their unwillingness that brought about the need for a strike vote.

“Hopefully, with this mandate, government will now return to the bargaining table ready to show they value the work performed by people who live and work right here in our province,” Nowoselsky said.

9. The following is dated September 14, 2018:   (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/new-contract-nbu-college-instructors): 

New contract for NBU College Instructors

“Negotiations are successful when both sides come to the table with mutual respect and a willingness to work together.” — Susie Proulx-Daigle, NBU President

Bathurst (14 Sept. 2018) — Instructors in the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick system, represented by the New Brunswick Union (NBU/NUPGE), officially signed a new contract on September 7, 2018, during a ceremony in Bathurst. Instructors with CCNB educate and prepare students for careers in a variety of areas. Instructors are located on 5 different campuses across the province.

The newly signed collective agreement is for 5 years and 3 months covering the time period of May 1, 2015, through July 31, 2020. The terms and conditions of the contract came into effect upon signing. Membership had voted in favour of the deal on May 22, 2018.

A fair deal for both sides

“Negotiations are successful when both sides come to the table with mutual respect and a willingness to work together,” said NBU President Susie Proulx-Daigle. “That was the case during this round of bargaining, and I’m pleased we’ve come away with a fair deal for both sides.” [my emphasis]

10. The following is dated October 18, 2019 (https://ww.nupge.ca/content/nsgeu-calls-mcneil-govt-respect-collective-bargaining).  Of course, the McNeil government’s heavy-handed tactics should be criticized (I l already indicated that in one of my articles that in the ??? section of this blog–but not by claiming that the process of collective bargaining represents something fair or that the resulting  collective agreement in any way expresses something fair. 

NSGEU calls on McNeil govt. to respect collective bargaining

“By continuing to meddle with this long-standing practice, the McNeil government threatens to throw the already-overwhelmed legal system into chaos.” — Jason MacLean, NSGEU President

Ottawa (18 Oct. 2019) — The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE) is deeply disappointed to see the McNeil government once again employing heavy-handed tactics to skew the collective bargaining process in their own favour.

On Wednesday, October 16, Finance Minister Karen Casey introduced essential services legislation that takes away Crown attorneys’ right to arbitration and replaces it with the “right to strike.” The NSGEU/NUPGE argues that this harms workers and the services they deliver.

All workers have the right to collective bargaining

The NSGEU/NUPGE does not represent Crown attorneys. But, it unequivocally support the rights of all workers to bargain free from government interference that will unfairly tilt the process in favour of either the employer or employee.

“Collective bargaining is a deliberate process that is designed to yield a fair and balanced outcome,” said NSGEU President Jason MacLean. “By continuing to meddle with this long-standing practice, the McNeil government threatens to throw the already-overwhelmed legal system into chaos.” [My emphases]

Legislation could have ripple effect on other public sector workers

Furthermore, this only serves to put all other unions representing public sector workers on notice that this government is still squarely opposed to bargaining in good faith, setting a negative tone for all upcoming contract negotiations.

“We’ve seen government make similar arguments about many other important public sector workers in this province: health care and home care workers, and doctors,” MacLean said. “These continued attacks have negatively impacted recruitment and have pushed health care into crisis, leaving important public services in peril.”

The NSGEU/NUPGE is calling on this government to withdraw the legislation it has tabled to interfere with the Crown attorneys’ bargaining process, and to begin to bargain in good faith. It is only when the government begins to respect the process that we can achieve labour peace.

Political Implications

Unions evidently use the rhetoric of fair contracts, fair agreements and the like to justify their limited approach to the issues facing workers. This attempt to justify their own implicit acceptance of the power of the class of employers needs to be constantly criticized by being brought out into the open and discussed. 

However, the social-democrat or social-reformist left often see no point in such open and direct criticism–despite claims to the contrary. 

I will conclude this post with a conversation between Sam Gindin (a self-claimed “leader” of radical workers here in Toronto despite his probable own explicit denial of such a title) and me: 

Re: A Good or Decent Job and a Fair Deal
Sam Gindin
Sat 2017-02-18 8:05 AM
Something is missing here. No-one on this list is denying that language doesn’t reflect material realities (the language we use reflects the balance of forces) or that it is irrelevant in the struggle for material effects (the language of middle class vs working class matters). And no one is questioning whether unions are generally sectional as opposed to class organizations or whether having a job or ‘decent’ pay is enough. The question is the autonomy you give to language.

The problem isn’t that workers refer to ‘fair pay’ but the reality of their limited options. Language is NOT the key doc changing this though it clearly plays a role. That role is however only important when it is linked to actual struggles – to material cents not just discourse. The reason we have such difficulties in doing education has to do with the limits of words alone even if words are indeed essential to struggles. Words help workers grasp the implications of struggles, defeats, and the partial victories we have under capitalism (no other victories as you say, are possible under capitalism).

So when workers end a strike with the gains they hoped for going in, we can tell them they are still exploited. But if that is all we do, what then? We can – as I know you’d do – not put it so bluntly (because the context and not just the words matter). that emphasize that they showed that solidarity matters but we’re still short of the fuller life we deserve and should aspire to and that this is only possible through a larger struggle, but then we need to be able to point to HOW to do this. Otherwise we are only moralizing. That is to say, it is the ideas behind the words and the recognition of the need for larger structures to fight through that primarily matter. Words help with this and so are important but exaggerating their role can be as dangerous as ignoring it.

What I’m trying to say is that people do, I think, agree with the point you started with – we need to remind ourselves of the limits of, for example, achieving ‘fair wages’. But the stark way you criticize using that word, as opposed to asking how do we accept the reality out there and move people to larger class understandings – of which language is an important part – seems to have thrown the discussion off kilter.

On Sat, Feb 18, 2017 at 7:00 AM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

I was waiting to see whether there was any dispute concerning either the primary function of language or its material nature. Since there has been no response to that issue, I will assume that the view that the primary function of language is to coordinate social activity has been accepted.

What are some of the political implications of such a view of language? Firstly, the view that “But material conditions matter more” has no obvious basis. If language coordinates our activity, surely workers need language “to reproduce themselves.”

The question is whether coordination is to be on a narrower or wider basis.

Let us now take a look at the view that a contract (a collective agreement) is fair or just and that what workers are striving for is a decent or good job.

If we do not oppose the view that any collective agreement is fair to workers and that the jobs that they have or striving to have are decent jobs, then are we saying that a particular struggle against a particular employer can, in some meaningful sense, result in a contract that workers are to abide by out of some sense of fairness? Does not such a view fragment workers by implicitly arguing that they can, by coordinating their action at the local or micro level, achieve a fair contract and a good job?

If, on the other hand, we argue against the view that the workers who are fighting against a particular employer cannot achieve any fair contract or a decent job, but rather that they can only achieve this in opposition to a class of employers and in coordination with other workers in many other domains (in other industries that produce the means of consumption of workers, in industries that produce the machines and the raw material that go into the factory, in schools where teachers teach our children and so forth), then there opens up the horizon for a broader approach for coordinating activity rather than the narrow view of considering it possible to achieve not a fair contract and a decent job in relation to a particular employer.

In other words, it is a difference between a one-sided, micro point of view and a class point of view.

As far as gaining things within capitalism, of course it is necessary to fight against your immediate employer, in solidarity with your immediate fellow workers, in order to achieve anything. I already argued this in relation to the issue of health in another post.

Is our standard for coordinating our activity to be limited to our immediate relation to an employer? Or is to expand to include our relation to the conditions for the ‘workers to reproduce themselves’?

“They turn more radical when it becomes clear that the system can’t meet their needs and other forms of action become necessary -“

How does it become clear to workers when their relations to each other as workers occurs through the market system? Where the products of their own labour are used against them to oppress and exploit them? Are we supposed to wait until “the system can’t meet their needs”? In what sense?

I for one have needed to live a decent life–not to have a decent job working for an employer or for others to be working for employers. I for one have needed to live a dignified life–not a life where I am used for the benefit of employers. Do not other workers have the same need? Is that need being met now? If not, should we not bring up the issue at every occasion? Can any collective agreement with an employer realize that need?

Where is a vision that provides guidance towards a common goal? A “fair contract”? A “decent” job? Is this a class vision that permits the coordination of workers’ activities across industries and work sites? Or a limited vision that reproduces the segmentation and fragmentation of the working class?

Fred

The bottom line is that many who consider themselves radical socialists here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere)  indulge working-class organizations, such as unions. They are, ultimately, afraid to alienate social-democratic or reformist organizations. Consequently, they themselves, objectively, function as social democrats or social reformers and fail to engage workers in the necessary delegitimisation process of the class power of employers. 

Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)

In the previous post in this series, I quoted several references by the largest union in Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to “fair contracts,” “fair treatment,” and similar expressions (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One). This is a continuation of the series.

Since in this blog I have often referred to particular union reps referring to collective agreements as fair in some way, I thought it would be useful to provide further examples of this rhetoric to substantiate the view that unions function as ideologues for the continued existence of employers–even if the unions are independent of the power of particular employers and hence represent independently the workers in relation to the particular employer of the workers.

The following series of quotes are from various webpages of Unifor–the largest private-sector union in Canada. They show how Unifor refers to such rhetoric as

1. Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:

Paramedics and supporters in Sault Ste. Marie demonstrated in front of City Hall on January 8, calling for a new collective agreement for EMS workers represented by Local 1359. 

The demonstration was organized to remind city councillors that paramedics need a fair deal, which takes into account issues such as: lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and benefits between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD.

The group, made up of paramedics, nurses, retired health care workers, union members, family and supporters, marched into the council chambers after the rally with signs and Unifor flags. 
“Our employer is not negotiating fairly. City representatives continually talk about the debt and nothing else,” said Mary Casola, Local 1359 unit chair and paramedic of 28 years. “They offered workers a measly wage increase of 10 cents an hour, per year. That’s 0.25 per cent. But as our sign says – ‘10 cents is non-sense.’”


  1. Of course, the issues of “lunch breaks, major gaps in pay and between Sault Ste. Marie and other emergency and other emergency responders and the ongoing issue of PTSD” are immediate issues that are important to unionized (and non-unionized) workers and need to be addressed. They should not be just shoved aside and “revolution” declared. On the other hand, while addressing these issues, the possibility or impossibility of actually achieving a “fair deal” should be discussed; in my experiences as a union member, it never is. Unions thereby become ideological institutions, in part, for the class of employers–even if they are unaware of it.





    In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, some employers have become even more exploitative and vicious than normal. However, unions that legitimately focus on resisting such employers have no right that somehow, if they resist such employers successfully, there will be such a thing as “a fair and equitable contract.”
    Dated January 10, 2018 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/paramedics-rally-a-fair-contract:
  2. From https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/health-care-workers-hold-rally-demand-a-fair-collective-agreement:

December 8, 2020

WINDSOR – Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions by holding a rally outside of Fairfield Park long term care home to demand a fair and equitable collective.

“The employers’ approach of viewing our members as zeroes instead of heroes is insulting and disrespectful,” said Tullio DiPonti, President of Unifor Local 2458. “To think at a time where these health care heroes are risking their lives to care for others, their employer turns around and puts forward a laundry list of concessions and says this is what you’re worth. This employer should be ashamed. Let’s get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair collective agreement, free of concessions.

Last week a rally was held outside of Broulliette Manor, urging the employer to return to the bargaining table and withdraw its long list of concessions.

“I have negotiated many contracts in my day, but I have never seen an employer so blatantly disrespectful,” said Chris Taylor, Unifor National Staff Representative. “The pandemic has forced long term care workers across the country to do more with less and here we have an employer that’s asking these COVID heroes to take on all the new protocols and get nothing in return.  Our members will not be made to feel worthless and we will continue to ramp up our actions until they receive the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

Contract negotiations opened with Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor on October 27, 2020. The union proposed modest changes to the collective agreement that were immediately rejected by the employer’s legal representatives. The employer’s representatives presented the union with more than six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.

The union is steadfast in its resolve to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.
To arrange in person, phone or FaceTime interviews or for more information please contact Unifor Communications Representative Hamid Osman at hamid.osman@unifor.org or 647-448-2823 (cell).

Again, it is certainly necessary to have a union that fights against “six pages of concessions that include cuts in wages, health care benefits, time off, forcing of more hours of work.” The union should be praised for doing so.

On the other hand, it should be criticized for making such statements as: “Health care workers represented by Unifor Local 2458 will escalate actions … to demand a fair and equitable collective [agreement]”

As shown in the last post, unions persistently claim that, through collective bargaining and a collective agreement, there can arise somehow (by magic?) “a fair and equitable collective agreement.” There can be no such thing as long as there exists a market for workers, where human beings are treated as things and as means for purposes over which they have little control. To claim otherwise is to bullshit workers–and workers deserve much better than this.

Or perhaps union representatives can explain how collective bargaining and collective agreements can express “a fair and equitable collective agreement?” If they truly believe that it does, why do they not explain how it does so in the context of the power of both a particular employer and the power of the class of employers. (For a critical analysis of a lame attempt to minimize the power of management over workers by a representative in a unionized setting , see the post Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994. Also see the much more honest assessment of the real limited powers of unions in relation to employers, see Confessions of a Union Representative Concerning the Real Power of Employers)

The union should also be criticized for claiming “to bargain an agreement that fits the needs of the members working at both Fairfield Park and Broulliette Manor.” Obviously, the agreement should address the needs of the workers at these facilities, but “the needs of the members working” for an employer go far beyond the capacity of a collective agreement to address them.

3. Dated August 31, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-members-detroit-3-give-bargaining-committees-strong-strike-mandate:

TORONTO—Unifor members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors have authorized their bargaining committees to take strike action, if necessary, to secure fair contract settlements.

4. Dated January 7, 2020 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/locked-out-workers-escalate-fight-a-fair-deal-co-op-refinery:

REGINA – Hundreds of members of Unifor Local 594 and their supporters rallied at noon today to show the Co-op Refinery that, on day 34 of the lockout, their resolve has never been stronger.

“Co-op will not bust our union by using profits only made possible by your hard work. We are going to hold them to their pension promises. Our union will intensify our campaign to achieve a fair collective agreement for our members,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National Secretary-Treasurer.

Payne told locked out Local 594 members that locals across Canada will mobilize and send members to Regina as the union ramps up the fight for a fair deal.

“While refinery workers walked picket lines 24-7 in the frigid cold, their greedy employer posted revenues of $9.2 billion last year,” said Scott Doherty, lead negotiator and Executive Assistant to the Unifor National President. “For Co-op to attack workers with lies and misinformation while claiming to respect workers is just shameful.”

During the rally, secondary pickets were also underway at Co-op retailers in Western Canada as the union announced an escalation of the boycott campaign against Co-op. The union’s Boycott TV commercial has been seen by millions of Canadians, including during Saturday’s Gold Medal World Juniors Hockey game.

“Co-op must return to the bargaining table with a deal that does not include gutting half the value of our pensions as was promised in the last round of bargaining,” said Kevin Bittman, President of Unifor Local 594. “We just want to get back to doing the jobs we love.”

The event was streamed live on Unifor’s Facebook Page. Photos from the rally will also be available on Facebook. Facts about the dispute can be found at http://unifor594.com.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

5. Dated May 15, 2019: at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/press-room/unifor-energy-workers-sign-historic-pattern-deal:

May 15, 2019

MONTREAL— Unifor has achieved a new tentative agreement that establishes the pattern for 8,500 members of the National Energy Program.

“The energy and chemical sector continues to be an important economic driver in Canada. By working together, our members have used their collective power to make much-deserved significant gains,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Energy and chemical jobs continue to be good jobs in communities right across the country.”

The tentative agreement covers Unifor members working in the sector across Canada. Suncor was selected by Unifor as the chosen employer to set the pattern that will be rolled out to the remaining employers after ratification.

During this round of bargaining Unifor and Suncor bargained both local and national issues concurrently during one week, ensuring that no one union local was left behind.

“Make no mistake: energy companies provide good jobs across this country and are critical to Canada’s economy,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor’s Quebec Director. “Unifor members are instrumental in the success of energy and chemical companies and have earned a fair contract.” [my emphasis]

6. A campaign promoted by Unifor also claimed that, if realized, it would make the situation fair (https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/help-change-ontarios-labour-law-make-it-fair), dated July 13, 2016:

Help change Ontario’s Labour Law to Make It Fair

Today in Ontario, more than 1.7 million workers are earning at or around minimum wage and many Ontarians are trapped working precarious part-time, temporary, contract and subcontracted jobs, without a union.  

The Government of Ontario has initiated its “Changing Workplace Review” to examine the out-dated Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. In order to seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by the provincial review, the OFL [the Ontario Federation of Labour] has launched the “Make It Fair” campaign [my emphasis] to push for employment reform. 

As part of this campaign, the OFL and unions across Ontario have launched a survey on precarious work – an issue that is fast becoming the ‘new normal’ for Ontario’s seven million workers.  The goal of the survey is to speak to union members about their experiences and the experiences of their families with precarious work. Lend your voice – participate in the survey here:

http://www.makeitfair.ca/precarious_work_survey

 “Inequality and precarious work are on the rise across our growing province, but collectively each of us has the power to change the law and help Ontario workers out of poverty,” said OFL President Chris Buckley.

Unionized workers have a long history of incredible gains at the bargaining table, including the 40-hour work week, maternity/parental benefits and unemployment insurance, which have become the law of the land.  

“There is an urgent need for new laws as workers, particularly young workers, increasingly find themselves in part-time or contract positions with low pay, few benefits and unpredictable schedules,” said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Katha Fortier. “Our goal is to ensure that the voices of union members are heard in the changes that will come.”

Upon finishing the survey, participants will also have a chance to enter to win a $200 gift card for either Loblaws or Metro grocery stores.  

Unifor is a member of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents approximately 1 million working people across Ontario.

7. Dated November 15, 2017 at https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/picket-highlights-need-first-contract-youth-workers:

Picket highlights need for first contract for youth workers

Members of Unifor Local 333 working at Kennedy Youth Services organized an information picket on November 14 to highlight their struggles to reach a fair first collective agreement and increase pressure on their employer.

Prior to bargaining the employer  repeatedly refused to follow the Employment Standards Act around overtime, meal breaks, statutory holidays and vacation pay.  Kennedy Youth Services has also failed to provide a safe work environment, with workers regularly getting injured on the job. On top of the current workplace issues, the employer is pushing to introduce a 10-year wage progression from $17 an hour to $18.75 and has made any wage increase contingent on centre funding. The bargaining committee has said firmly enough is enough and will continue to push for fairness and a safer workplace.

“We need more safety measures at work. Arms are getting broken, staff members are being beaten and nothing is done about it – it’s not right,” said Amber Simpson, bargaining committee member. “Frequently, there are untrained temporary staff people who are brought in and this puts everyone in greater danger.”

The 42 developmental service workers are employed at two residential homes, providing care and support to vulnerable youth and adults with developmental disabilities. The workers joined Unifor in February and negotiations started in late October. After two days, the employer broke away from conciliation and requested a no-board report, which opens the door to locking out the workers.

“These workers joined the union because they want to improve their working lives in areas of fair wages and work schedules, and want the employer to be sensitive to the effect their work has on their health and well-being both physically and mentally,” said Kelly-Anne Orr, national representative.

Orr said that the employer did not come to the table to negotiate a fair agreement and seems to have no interest in acknowledging even basic rights as required by the law.

8. Dated January 30, 2021 at https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/iiroc-trading-halt-nee-db-180300576.html

Tentative agreement reached between Unifor and VIA Rail

OTTAWA, ONJan. 30, 2021 /CNW/ – Unifor has reached a tentative contract with VIA Rail, in negotiations covering more than 2,000 rail workers.

VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)
VIA Rail train at the Belleville Station. (CNW Group/Unifor)

“My congratulations go to members and the bargaining committees who adapted to bargaining online through the pandemic, and remained committed to reaching a fair deal for all members [my emphasis] while VIA Rail faces truly unprecedented challenges,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We must highlight all the work done by our members to ensure safe, clean standards on board trains and also, to ensure that the trains are in impeccable condition for the safety of this critical transit infrastructure. In the current difficult circumstances, this collective agreement secures good unionized jobs in the sector for years to come.”

The agreement covers Unifor National Council 4000 and Unifor Local 100 members, who work as maintenance workers, on-board service personnel, chefs, sales agents and customer service staff at VIA Rail.

“Unifor members in rail have made incredible contributions to the industry, and advancements in workers rights and labour laws have been made possible with thanks to them. Our members are greatly affected by the pandemic, and Unifor has put all the necessary resources to support them and counter the attempts at concessions made by the employer,” said Renaud Gagné, Unifor Quebec Director.

The new 2-year contract replaced the collective agreement that expired on December 31, 2019. Contract talks began in October 2019 and were conducted in recent months remotely, with the assistance of mediators assigned by the federal government.

“I wish to thank our members for their support throughout the bargaining process. This is a good contract that will ensure fairness for members,” said Dave Kissack, President of Unifor’s Council 4000.

Zoltan Czippel, President of Local 100 echoed the message, adding that, “This deal represents the end of a long negotiation where the bargaining team put member’s priorities front and centre. I’m proud to recommend adoption.”

Details of the deal will only be released following ratification by members. Votes will be conducted in the coming weeks.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

 

9. Dated October 20, 2019 at https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/unifor-reaches-tentative-agreement-with-saskcrowns-853371456.html:

Unifor reaches tentative agreement with SaskCrowns

REGINA, Oct. 20, 2019 /CNW/ – Unifor bargaining committees have signed tentative agreements with SaskEnergy, SaskPower, SaskTel, SaskWater, DirectWest, and SecureTek, ending a 17-day strike by nearly 5,000 workers across the province.

“Solidarity and the support from Unifor members at all six Crowns along with those who joined our picket lines from across the province were key to achieving this agreement,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “I want to thank Ian Davidson, President, Unifor Local 649, Dave Kuntz, President, Unifor Local 1-S, Penny Matheson, President, Unifor Local 2-S and Doug Lang, President, Unifor Local 820 for showing tremendous resolve and leadership to stand together and fight back against the regressive Moe government mandate to achieve a fair collective agreement.” [my emphasis]

The details of the tentative agreements will be released following the ratification votes, which will be held this month.

Unifor members have been escalating strike action after the employers rejected the union’s offer to go to binding arbitration. On Saturday the Poplar River power plant in Coronach was behind reinforced picket lines that only granted access to essential services staff. Unifor members also picketed SaskTel dealers across the province asking customers to support locked out workers and take their business elsewhere.

“Unifor members proved that they are vital to their communities and the Saskatchewan economy,” said Chris MacDonald, Assistant to the National President.

“This was an historic and yet complicated round of bargaining and the bargaining committees will be recommending members ratify the tentative agreement reached today,” said Scott Doherty, Executive Assistant to the National President.

The members want to thank the public, and other unions and Unifor members across the country who showed support on picket lines in more than 80 locations.

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

SOURCE Unifor

10. Dated July1, 2019 at http://unifor1996-o.ca/unifor-demands-fair-restructuring-agreements-for-auto-parts-workers-impacted-by-gm-oshawa/:

Unifor demands fair restructuring agreements for auto parts workers impacted by GM Oshawa

ips_media_release_photo

TORONTO Unifor is reinforcing its demand for fair agreements [my emphasis] for workers negatively impacted by the discontinuation of vehicle production at General Motors Oshawa as the union enters discussions with multiple auto parts and service provider companies.

“As Unifor warned, thousands of additional independent parts and suppliers (IPS) workers are now facing job loss as a direct result of the assembly line closure at GM Oshawa,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias. “The workers deserve respect and support as operations are restructured or wound down. Unifor is determined to secure agreements that address important issues such as transition to retirement opportunities, financial support, and adjustment support.”

Vehicle manufacturing at Oshawa GM will start to wind down in late September and cease completely in December 2019. This will cause the closure of several independent parts suppliers. An estimated 1,700 Unifor members are facing job loss due to closure or restructuring.

“In every one of these workplaces, severance is a key issue. Workers facing job loss need a financial bridge as they transition. That is why we are demanding that all of these companies step up and provide enhanced severance for affected workers,” said Colin James, President of Unifor Local 222.

The majority of the job losses will occur at CEVA Logistics, Syncreon Supplier Park, Inteva, Oakley, Auto Warehousing, Marek Hospitality, Securitas, Robinson Solutions, Robinson Building Services and Lear Whitby.

On Sunday June 23, Lear Whitby workers, members of Unifor Local 222 in Oshawa, met with Local and National Union leadership to discuss concerns over pension eligibility, severance, and health care benefits.

“This is devastating to workers at companies like Lear Whitby where the vast majority of the workers are in their mid-fifties and have at least 30 years of service. The closure creates a massive problem as it currently prevents many of these members from reaching retirement eligibility under the pension plan. This issue highlights why we fought so hard to try to convince GM to keep building vehicles in Oshawa,” said Dias. “On the other end of the spectrum are companies like Oakley and CEVA where our members are younger and need access to adjustment centre funding as they try to transition to new employment.”

The union is actively engaged in negotiations with all involved employers as it calls on the companies to provide the necessary support for workers in all age groups.

Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU)

Introduction

This is the second part of a series on the ideology or rhetoric of unions when it comes to collective agreements. In the first part, I compiled a list of some of the claims of the largest national union in Canada–the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)–that collective agreements signed by its various local unions were somehow fair.

I planned on doing the same thing for the second largest Canadian union–Unifor (the largest private sector union)–but Smokey Thomas’ apologetic comments concerning Doug Ford inspired me to focus on his union rhetoric (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I have persistently pointed out in this blog that collective agreements are, generally, better than individual employment contracts. They provide more protection for workers and more benefits. On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of collective agreements in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers–something which unions rarely do. Furthermore, many of them use the rhetoric of “fair contracts,” and similar terms to hide the dictatorial nature of the employment relationship (for a description of that relationship, see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Smokey Thomas’ Union Rhetoric of a Fair Contract

I will just make a list of Mr. Thomas’ union rhetoric concerning fair contracts. This rhetoric can be compared to management rights clauses. One such clause is found in the following:  

 

Collective Agreement
between
Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of its_ Locals (various)
and
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

DURATION: January 1, 2019- December 31, 2022

ARTICLE 4- MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
4.01 The Union acknowledges that it is the exclusive right of the Employer to:

a) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

b) hire, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, appraise, train, develop, lay off and recall employees;

c) discipline and discharge employees for just cause, except that probationary employees may be discharged without cause;

d) generally manage the enterprise in which the Employer is engaged and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of operations, buildings, equipment and facilities, the services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment or cessation of operations and all other
rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

4.02 The Employer shall exercise the above rights in’ a manner consistent with the
expressed terms of the Collective Agreement.

Mr. Thomas, by calling collective agreements fair, by implication calls the right of management to dictate to workers covered by the collective agreement fair. However, to treat any worker as a mere means for employers’ purposes is to treat workers as things–and that is hardly fair (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Let us proceed with several statements made by Mr. Thomas concerning collective agreements. Most bold print are my emphases: : 

  1. Dated April 10, 2015. From   https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/r-e-p-e-a-t—-government-workers-protest-to-demand-a-fair-contract-517437241.html:

AURORA, ONApril 10, 2015 /CNW/ – Workers in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will hold an information picket over the government’s refusal to bargain a fair collective agreement.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that at the same time that the Wynne Liberals are slashing funding for much-needed public services, they are wasting billions on private sector contracts and spending billions more on corporate tax cuts.

“After years of austerity, Premier Kathleen Wynne is demanding that the public service accept more wage freezes, cutbacks and concessions,” Thomas said. “Government negotiators at the bargaining table appear they would rather push the OPS into a strike than negotiate a fair deal with their employees.”

2. Dated June 5, 2019. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-from-opseu-president-warren-smokey-thomas-on-the-introduction-of-a-public-sector-pay-bill-823871469.html): 

Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on the introduction of a public sector pay bill

 


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) 

Jun 05, 2019, 17:24 ET

TORONTOJune 5, 2019 /CNW/ – The bill introduced today capping wage settlements shows that Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.

3. Dated August 31, 2018. From https://nupge.ca/content/grca-members-ratify-contract-wage-increases-privatization-protection:  

GRCA members ratify contract with wage increases, privatization protection

Toronto (31 August 2018) — The members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) working at the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) have ratified a contract that includes significant wage increases, protection from contracting-out, and a number of other improvements.

Workers and the public win with this contract

“This is a great deal for our members, and great news for all the people in the communities they serve,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President 

“Everybody wins when workers are paid a decent and fair wage. And everybody wins when a local like this bargains language that will prevent their jobs from being contracted out or privatized,” Thomas said.

The roughly 150 members of Local 259 work at the GRCA as planners, assistant superintendents, and environmental officers.

Their new 4-year contract includes wage increases of between 6 and 14 per cent. It also includes language that prevents the employer from contracting-out their work, and improvements to time-off and on-call provisions. 

4. Dated early April, 2019. From  https://www.correctionsdivision.ca/2019/05/22/opseu-submission-on-public-sector-consultations/

In early April 2019, OPSEU’s leaders were invited by the deputy minister of the Treasury Board Secretariat to take part in a series of consultation meetings.  opseu_public_sector_consultation_submission.pdf

“The government is seeking your feedback on how to manage compensation growth in a way that results in wage settlements that are modest, reasonable, and sustainable,” the deputy minister wrote.

While completely opposed to any attempt to impose “modest” wage settlements outside of its members’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free and fair collective bargaining, OPSEU’s leaders chose to take part in the consultation sessions in good faith and good conscience. And without prejudice.

As leaders of an open, transparent, and democratic union with 155,000 members across Ontario, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida attended the sessions with a number of their members’ ideas about ensuring the sustainability of decent and fair compensation growth in the public sector.

5. Dated January 28, 2015. From https://sites.google.com/site/opseulocal599/:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     

January 28, 2015

Government forcing OPSEU towards a strike 

TORONTO – The union representing 35,000 frontline Ministry employees who work directly for the Ontario government announced today that bargaining representatives of the Ontario Government have taken a significant step towards forcing OPSEU members out on strike.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that instead of trying to bargain a fair contract with their employees, the government has initiated the process of negotiating Essential and Emergency Service (EES) Agreements, which by law must be completed prior to a legal strike or lockout.

6. Dated November 1, 2017. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/college-faculty-ready-to-bargain-as-employer-returns-to-table-654537183.html:

 

 

College faculty ready to bargain as employer returns to table 

TORONTONov. 1, 2017 /CNW/ – The union bargaining team for Ontario public college faculty is interested in what the College Employer Council has to say and ready to bargain when contract talks resume tomorrow, team chair JP Hornick says.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system,” she said. “We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.”

The mediator in the talks has called the parties back together to meet Thursday, November 2 for the first time since the strike by 12,000 faculty began October 16.

“This strike has highlighted the problems that come when an employer uses precarious work as a tool to cut costs,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “When faculty aren’t treated fairly, education suffers, and OPSEU members have stayed strong on the picket lines because they want colleges that are better for faculty and students alike.

7. Dated July 15, 2016. From https://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/07/15/ymca-workers-vote-to-join-opseu/wcm/47381266-1e5e-b122-ff7f-754415b71d4f

YMCA workers vote to join OPSEU

YMCA staff in employment and newcomer services have voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the union announced this week.

“This is great news for these hard-working employees,” Jeff Arbus, OPSEU regional vice-president, said in a release. “One of the many benefits they’ll enjoy with OPSEU membership is increased job security – something they badly need right now so they can better plan for the future.”

The July 7 vote means 36 full- and part-time staff in employment and newcomer services, not including administrative assistants, supervisors and those above the rank of supervisor, have been certified by OPSEU.

The result was good news not only for the new members, Arbus said, but also for the YMCA and its clients.

“When working conditions are improved, staff retention is increased and so is their experience and knowledge,” Arbus said. “The Y’s reputation as a prominent community partner will be enhanced, while clients will benefit even more from the help they receive.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the publicly funded programs at the Y are essential to the well-being of Ontario communities.

“An agency delivering them should be setting an example to the employers they work with by treating their employees with respect,” Thomas said “We’ll be sitting down with the employer and these employees to make sure their employment conditions are fair.

“I congratulate them for choosing OPSEU. We’re proud of our long track record when it comes to standing up to employers who don’t treat their workers with the respect they deserve.

For Mr. Thomas, it is possible to treat workers, who are employees (who subordinate their will to management as representatives of employers) in a fair manner. Mr. Thomas, like other social democrats, it is fair that, on the one hand, a class of employers exist and that a class of workers exist who must submit their will to the class of employers; such fairness, however, only arises for Mr. Thomas if this relation is embodied in a “free collective agreement.”

What does Mr. Thomas have to say about management rights? Nothing. He never once addresses the issue. He assumes that management has the right to dictate to workers as it see fits provided that a collective agreement has been obtained through “free collective bargaining.” Or perhaps he shares the same attitude towards collective bargaining and collective agreements as John Urkevich, former business agent to a union to which I belonged (AESES, or The Association of Employees Supporting Education ). I will quote from that post (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994). First. Mr. Urkevich:

After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.

I respond in my post to the above: 

This last sentence likely sums up the attitude of many union representatives. No, employees are not chattel, that is to say, they are not slaves, owned 24 hours a day. They are not required to work for a particular employer. No one forces them to work for a particular employer.

However, just as with the manipulative use of the word “if” above, Mr. Urkevitch uses the word “only” in order to minimize the importance of how much power management has over the lives of even unionized workers: “the employer only [my emphasis] has control over the how, what, and when….”

Mr. Urkevitch evidently does not think that “control over the how, what, and when” is “unjust or undignified.”

I do. (See above, referring to Kant and the money circuit of capital). Employers, by controlling “the how, what, and when”–control the lives of workers, which is undignified and unjust.

Union representatives, like Mr. Urkevich, however, obviously believe that it is just. They believe in the justice of the collective agreement, where “the employer only has control over the how, what, and when.”

Union representatives imply, often enough, that there is somehow something fair about collective agreements. No one seems to challenge them to explain what they mean by fair collective agreements.

I then quoted a statement from Mr. Thomas about fair contracts–and my post was dated Auguste 17, 2018, referring to a published item on May 24, 2018, that contained Mr. Thomas’ reference to union members getting a “fair contract.”

The radical left here in Toronto, for the most part, though, do not engage in any systematic criticism of the limitations of unions. Rather, they fall over themselves in trying to accommodate their own positions to the limitations of union reps in order to gain a “hearing” from the union reps. Their silence over the issue of management rights, for example, expresses their own limitations. 

But then again, Mr. Thomas now does the same thing with respect to Doug Ford, Conservative premier of Ontario. Perhaps he now does so because it had been confirmed that Ford will now permit paid sick days for essential workers who need to stay home because of posible exposure to the virus—something which the labour movement, community organizations and unions have been calling for for some time. That Ford recently tried to institute more police powers (see the previous post)–his apology notwithstanding since many police departments simply refused to comply with such expanded powers–is now forgiven and forgotten–as the many, many oppressive acts of his government over the last three years–all for the sake of paid sick days.

Is there really any wonder why the so-called left is in shambles? From being a critic of Ford to apologizing for Ford, Mr. Thomas is a good example of the real nature of not only union leadership in Canada but also the left in Canada. Mr. Thomas, like so many among the left, ultimately believe that the class power of employers is somehow fair. 

What do you think? 

Another Ideological Call for a Fair Contract–By CUPE 3902

I received the following in an email (https://weareuoft.com/e-action/):

Thanks for helping the members of CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] 3902, Unit 1, win a fair deal at the table! Our proposals are progressive and necessary to ensure good working conditions for our members and their students. Fill out the form below to send an email to UofT’s administration asking them to fairly consider our proposals! [my emphasis]

I have already commented a number of times about this cliché of a “fair deal,” “fair contract,” and so forth (see, for example, Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One, or The Silences of the Social-Democratic Left).

The persistent use of this cliché by union reps to defend their actions indicates the contradictory (and limited) nature of unions. On the one hand, unions function to limit the power of a particular employer; on the other hand, they also function to justify the continued existence of a class of employers (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Six: Unions and the Police).

By the way, I did send the email that CUPE 3902 wanted people to send to university management; it is necessary to support particular unions in their fight against particular employers–all the while criticizing the limitations of their rhetoric and actions.

Striking Brewery Workers and a Fair Deal or Contract (Collective Agreement): The Impossible Dream

I thought it might be useful to paste a short conservation I had on Facebook concerning locked-out brewery workers:

February 26 2021 at 1:50 p.m.

 

Thank you to everyone who has shown support for us during this lockout.
As essential workers, we were pretty shocked to be put out on the street since bargaining was progressing. Your solidarity is very important to us and will help us get back to the table with Molson Coors to negotiate a fair deal[my emphasis] for all of our members.

 

Keep the solidarity coming!

 

What is a fair deal? How can any collective agreement express a fair deal when workers (including brewery workers) are used as things for other people’s benefits?

 

 

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Author
Fred Harris

 i hear you, a fair deal would be a planned economy and a transition to socialism, but workers need means to keep from pauperization between revolutionary upsurges. I would also tend to think worker associations would still be relevant in a communist society to advocate for specific industries and sectors. But you are definitely hitting on something.

The issue is not that workers need to construct organizations of defense against the rapacious and oppressive power of employers; of course they need to do so. The issue is: Why is it that the reps in such defensive organizations time after time then turn around and claim that defensive measures (such as a collective agreement) are then idealized by claiming that all workers want is a fair contract.
On my blog recently, I posted a collection of quotes from CUPE reps that claimed that collective agreements were fair. I will, in the future, find and post similar claims by the next largest union–Unifor.

 

Socialists need to constantly criticize such idealization of collective agreements since fairness cannot be achieved in such terms.; it is an illusion.

 

Collective agreements are, certainly, in general better than no collective agreement–but fairness is not one of their characteristics.

 

Unless of course the implicit or explicit management clause is also fair–which requires workers to follow orders and transfer some of their decision-making power to the employer and reps of the employer. I have also provided on my blog many examples of management clauses that specify the general power of management in relation to work and workers.

Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One: The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

Since in this blog I have often referred to particular union reps referring to collective agreements as fair in some way, I thought it would be useful to provide further examples of this rhetoric to substantiate the view that unions function as ideologues for the continued existence of employers–even if the unions are independent of the power of particular employers and hence represent independently the workers in relation to the particular employer of the workers.

I will provide a series of examples from various unions in this series on their view of the fairness of collective agreements and collective bargaining, implied or expressed explicitly.

1. Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

  1. On February 20, 2020, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) published the following on its website (https://cupe.ca/union-offers-better-contingency-plan-city-toronto-negotiate-fair-contract).

Following the City of Toronto’s announcement on contingency plans for a possible labour disruption, CUPE 416 offered their own plan, one that respects all parties: negotiate a fair contract and avoid a labour dispute.

Nowhere does the webpage indicate what is meant by ‘fair contract.” The complaint against the City of Toronto as employer in relation to collective bargaining seems to have to do with the implied bad faith in bargaining–hence the reference to ‘respects all parties.” It is implied that the City of Toronto’s bargaining team does not respect the other party–the negotiating team and, by implication, the city of Toronto’s unionized workers. If only the city’s negotiating team would engage in real negotiations rather than aiming for a labour dispute from the beginning, then a fair contract could arise, it is implied:

“How does the City Manager stand up there and say the City respects its workers and looks out for the best interests of residents when they have been driving these talks toward a deadline and a dispute from the beginning?” said Eddie Mariconda, president of CUPE 416.

It is never questioned how treating human beings as costs could indicate an unfair situation as such:

 “They say that they want a contract that is affordable and sustainable. 416 members are already affordable and sustainable, and we deliver great services too.

City of Toronto workers are affordable–their costs are “reasonable.” How treating workers as costs is reasonable is never explained–it is assumed. Treating workers as costs reduces human beings to mere means to ends defined by others (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

It should be noted that CUPE is the largest Canadian union (from https://cupe.ca/cupe-largest-union-canada-and-we-keep-growing):

Canada’s largest labour union keeps on growing as today we announce our membership has reached 680,000 workers nationwide.

2. In the Collective Bargaining section of the CUPE website (https://cupe.ca/collective-bargaining) , we read:

Negotiating strong contracts for our members is what we do best. The solidarity of our members is the heart of our bargaining power, and makes gains possible. Together, we’ve built strong communities and achieved better wages, benefits, pensions and fair treatment, for workers.

It is implied that it is possible to be treated fairly despite the existence of the employer-employee relation. If, however, the employer-employee relation is inherently unfair, then CUPE’s reference to fair treatment (by means of, probably, collective bargaining and collective agreements) in effect justifies the continued oppression and exploitation of workers. After all, if workers are indeed fairly treated by means of collective bargaining, collective agreements and the existence of unions, then there is no need to aim for the abolition of the class power of employers. Furthermore, workers who work in unionized environments who still consider their treatment by the employer to be unfair–despite such treatment not breaching the collective agreement–would logically be subject to criticism by union reps or at least indifference.

3. On CUPE Local 79, it reads http://cupelocal79.org/bargaining/ (of course, this link may no longer exist once a collective agreement has been signed):

CUPE Local 79 is entering into negotiations with the City of Toronto in late 2019 as the four collective agreements expire on December 31, 2019. Our union is seeking a fair deal for City of Toronto employees who work hard every day to take care of Toronto.

4. Another webpage (https://cupe.on.ca/marchingforfairness/ ) has the following (no date):

We are asking the March of Dimes to support us in the work that we do by negotiating a fair contract that respects the residents of March of Dimes Independent Living and the support workers who empower them to live independent lives. Help us by sending a message to the March of Dimes to ask them to negotiate a fair contract of support service attendants.

5. Dated November 16, 2020, the following post implies that unionized workers not only desire fair treatment but actually obtained it by means of collective bargaining and the collective agreement (https://cupe.ca/new-collective-agreement-garda-employees):

New collective agreement for Garda employees

This Monday, the Syndicat des employé.e.s du transport de valeurs et des salles de comptage de Garda (SNCF-SCFP 3812) signed a new six-year collective agreement, which calls for wage increases of 14% for the period between 2018 to 2024.

“The union achieved the objectives it wanted, particularly with respect to salaries and full retroactivity for all employees and major adjustments to schedules and statutory holidays. We have adjusted to the health crisis and have held virtual general meetings, including a vote. The agreement achieved 73.5% support, reflective of the excellent work done by the bargaining committee,” declared Jocelyn Tremblay, a CUPE union representative and trustee of SNCF-SCFP 3812.

In addition to maintaining and even improving their purchasing power, the union is particularly proud of regaining several things they had negotiated after rejecting an initial tentative agreement in April 2019. The employees subsequently voted more than 83% in favour of resorting to pressure tactics up to and including an unlimited general strike.

“This mobilization on the part of employees enabled us to be heard at the bargaining table. These people showed management that they wanted a fair agreement in line with the efforts made on a daily basis for the company,” added CUPE union representative Marcin Kazmierczak.

SNCF-SCFP 3812 represents slightly more than 1000 members.

6. On June 30, 2020, we read, from the National President’s Report (https://cupe.ca/national-presidents-report-june-2020):

The only sector presently bargaining with government is the health care sector. At that table, the government’s opening proposals included eliminating any retroactivity for wages beyond the April 1, 2020 effective date. This was rejected and CUPE will continue to fight for a fair collective agreement [my emphasis] and a strong pension plan.

7. On August 21, 2020, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/solidarity-with-port-of-montreal-longshore-workers-cupe-ontario-salutes-the-announcement-of-a-truce/):

CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members salute the announcement of a truce agreed to today between striking longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, members of CUPE Local 375, and the Maritime Employers Association (MEA). Both parties announced during a joint press conference that they believe they can come to a negotiated collective agreement during the truce which will end on March 20, 2021.

On August 10th, the 1,125 longshore workers began strike action to defend their collective agreement after the employer, MEA, unilaterally changed working conditions.

The workers’ previous collective agreement expired on December 31, 2018 and, instead of negotiating a fair agreement [my emphasis], the employer had been attacking workers’ rights, threatening the use of replacement workers, and diverting ships to other ports, including those outside of Canada.

The MEA spent months attacking workers’ rights in the courts, making the case that all members of CUPE Local 375, working at the Port of Montreal, should not have the right to strike. But the longshore workers fought back, and the Canada Industrial Relations Board upheld their existing strike rights. This was an important victory, not only for longshore workers at the Port of Montreal, but for all working people in Canada.

Since the beginning of the strike, CUPE Local 375 members have offered to unload and move all cargo linked to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure community safety. Despite this, the employer has tried to use the pandemic as an excuse to threaten the use of replacement workers, otherwise known as scabs. This week, when it looked like the employer was going to enact the threat, the Local mobilized with other unions for mass solidarity picket which caused the employer to back down.

CUPE Ontario will act in steadfast solidarity with CUPE Local 375 until the parties reach a fair collective agreement that treats the Port of Montreal longshore workers with the respect they deserve. The members of CUPE Ontario will continue offering support and resources to defend Local 375 members’ rights and protect working conditions.

Fred Hahn, President

Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer

It may seem inappropriate to criticize those who defend workers from attacks of employers. Attacks from particular employers or a group of employers do indeed need to be criticized, and to that extent Fred Hahn’s and Candace Resnick’s critique of the Maritime Employers Association should be praised. On the other hand, the reference to “fair agreement” needs to be criticized. 

8. On November 4, 2019, we read (http://cupe1764.ca/help-brampton-caledon-community-living-workers-get-a-fair-contract/): 

Help Brampton-Caledon Community Living workers get a fair contract

We are the members of CUPE 966. We work hard every day to provide the quality care at Brampton-Caledon Community Living (BCCL). It can be difficult work, but we do it because we care about the individuals we support, and we love to make a difference for them and their families.

BCCL is attempting to make our jobs even more difficult by keeping workers in precarious, part-time positions. We just want to negotiate a fair contract that respects our physically demanding work and protects the services we provide. We believe that no worker should see their working conditions reduced. We do not want a strike, but we are being pushed that way.

Help us continue to provide quality care to the individuals we support by telling BCCL to negotiate a fair contract now! [my emphasis]

It may seem even more inappropriate to criticize those workers who are experiencing an attack by an employer. However, where does their idea of a “fair contract” come from? Have they been indoctrinated by CUPE (and other unions)? Do they really consider it possible to obtain a fair contract? Even if they do, what is their view of management rights? 

9. On another CUPE webpage, we read (https://cupe.on.ca/somethingspecial/):

10. We read, on December 2, 2015 (https://cupe2544.ca/with-deadline-looming-warden-woods-needs-to-get-serious-about-negotiating-a-fair-contract/): 

With deadline looming, Warden Woods needs to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair contract

With a strike deadline of December 13 rapidly approaching, the union representing workers at Warden Woods Community Centre urged management to ‘get serious’ about negotiating a fair collective agreement. [my emphasis]

“For more than a year, our members have been trying to negotiate a fair first contract [my emphasis] with Warden Woods, but I am extremely concerned that management needs to get serious about finishing the job,” said Barbara Garcia, President of Local 5218 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 5218).

“The community depends on, and expects, the vital services our members provide. We’re committed to this community, but Warden Woods’ management needs to demonstrate their commitment to getting the job done.

CUPE 5218 has been in negotiations with Warden Woods for over a year. While some progress towards securing a first contract has taken place, several items remain outstanding. Additionally, staff have not had a wage increase in eight years.

The countdown to a lockout or strike began when Warden Woods’ management declared an impasse last month.

“We are prepared to bargain for as long as it takes to secure a fair contract, but the employer’s actions have set us on a fast track to a work stoppage, unless they get serious about finishing the job of negotiating with us,” said Garcia.

“We have been extremely reasonable in offering good faith solutions we believe are fair to our members [my emphasis], protect vital public services the community depends on, and ensure the long-term viability of Warden Woods,” she added.

Warden Woods is a multi-service community agency based in Scarborough providing supports to seniors, youth and children. The 44 members of CUPE 5218 provide a wide range of programming and services at the main office, several satellite locations, and in people’s homes.

For more information, please contact:

Barbara Garcia
CUPE 5218 President
416-725-4437

Kevin Wilson
CUPE Communications
416-821-6641

The use of the term “fair” in “fair contract,” “fair treatment,” and “fair deal” is not accidental. The implication is that the goal of collective bargaining must not just to achieve a contract or collective agreement–but a fair contract or agreement. The goal of reaching a collective agreement is qualified constantly by the adjective “fair.” The natural question would be: In what way is it fair? What is meant by a “fair contract,” etc.?

Nowhere does CUPE explain what it means by a fair collective agreement or how it is possible given the power of employers as a class. Why is that? Why is it that the union often qualifies the contract or collective agreement as “fair?” Is it by accident, or is it a means to “sell” the collective agreement to its members?

Would it be more in the interests of workers to point out that the collective agreement is unfair–but it is the best that can be obtained under the circumstances (the power structure that currently exists)? Or would it be better to merely express the rhetoric of fair contracts, etc. without discussing what is meant by that?

Which is a reformist tactic? A tactic in the best interests of workers?

Transparency in Collective Bargaining: A Necessary but Insufficient Condition for Democratic and Rational Working-Class Practice

Rebecca Keetch wrote an article that was posted on the Socialist Project’s website on transparency and collective bargaining (https://socialistproject.ca/2020/09/canadian-auto-workers-fight-for-contract-transparency/). Ms. Keetch was a former GM worker at Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, and she is a member and activist of Green Jobs Oshawa.

Ms. Keetch advocates for transparent bargaining in a form similar to what I tried to do when I was a member of the negotiating committee for the support workers of the Prince George School District No. 57, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada (see Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). Not only must we present to our unionized fellow workers the proposals that we have tentatively negotiated but also what we have been unsuccessful in negotiating or had to modify in the process:

As bargaining at the Detroit Three automakers kicks off in Canada, union members are fighting back against a longstanding undemocratic contract ratification process. In an unprecedented development, the Solidarity Movement, a rank-and-file movement within Unifor, has launched a petition to demand full disclosure of the collective agreement before voting takes place. Since the launch in early August, more than 1,800 members have signed.

The petition calls on Unifor leadership to “provide full disclosure of the contents of the contract, five days before ratification, by publishing all revisions, additions, deletions, and changes to the contract, clearly marked, on the Unifor National website and the websites of the locals involved in ‘Detroit Three’ bargaining.” It also requests “that the ratification highlights include a clear statement of all money and benefits negotiated on behalf of union representatives and any money or benefits negotiated to be paid to the Locals and/or National Union.”

In the US, the United Auto Workers publishes the full contract with all changes on its website where Detroit Three members can read it before they go to their ratification/information meetings — a long-time demand of American union reformers. The UAW began posting the tentative Detroit Three contracts online in 2011.

This movement to create transparency is to be welcomed. Workers deserve to be able to see what negotiators have done on their behalf before making a decision on whether to ratify the collective agreement or to reject it. It is their lives, and they have a right to make decisions concerning its direction and quality as far as is humanly possible.

Ms. Keetch certainly is moving in a more democratic position when she writes:

The members’ concerns should be acknowledged, not simply dismissed. Real democracy means taking our lead from the members.

She then outlines the procedures used in typical undemocratic collective bargaining:

Historically, auto negotiations are secretive. Once contract demands are collected by leadership, workers are nearly shut out of bargaining, which takes place behind closed doors. At the completion of bargaining, information/ratification meetings are immediately scheduled.

As members enter the meeting, they are given a handout called a “Bargaining Report.” The Bargaining Report contains highlights of the tentative agreement and includes messages from the national president and other leaders encouraging ratification. Union leadership and staff make a presentation on the highlights of the agreement. Members are given limited time and opportunity to ask questions and no opportunity to meaningfully discuss the agreement with each other before being required to vote. Historically, voting has taken place at the information meeting.

She then argues that the Constitution of Unifor is supposed to be democratic and that it is necessary for it be in reality democratic rather than just formally:

Democracy In The Constitution

The Unifor constitution makes it clear that Unifor is intended to be a democratic organization and that the members are meant to control the union. Article 2, Section 1 states, “Unifor is a voluntary organization that belongs to its members. It is controlled by members and driven by members. Its role is to serve their collective interests in the workplace and in our communities. The life of Unifor is shaped by the essential ingredient of democratic participation. Democratic values are the foundation of all that we do. Our commitment to the principles and practices of democratic unionism define who we are and are reflected in our rules, structures, and processes.”

Our constitution cannot just be words on paper. If union leadership doesn’t live and breathe to empower and engage the membership, if leadership limits worker agency, participation, discussion, and debate, then the inevitable outcome is a weak, disempowered membership that can’t fight back when the bosses are trying to walk all over us.

Unifor members are often told to just trust our leadership. But ratifying a collective agreement isn’t about rubberstamping whatever the leadership brings. If that were the case, why would we even go to the time and trouble of having a ratification vote? With technology today, it couldn’t be cheaper or easier to make the contract available ahead of ratification.

The democratization of the collective bargaining process at the level of the local is certainly necessary. However, even if it were democratized, the result would not overcome limitations which Ms. Keetch does not address.

She makes the following claim:

Though the collective agreement is one of the most important documents to shape a worker’s life, Canadian auto workers at General Motors, Fiat-Chrysler, and Ford are not allowed to see it before we are asked to ratify it. Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, represents nearly 17,000 auto workers at the Detroit Three.

Technically, as a document, the collective agreement does indeed shape a worker’s life–by limiting what the employer can do. From a worker’s perspective, it is, on the one hand, a a tool for limiting the power of management and, on the other, an expression of monetary remuneration and benefits for transferring the power of control over the worker’s life, temporarily, to the employer.

Ms. Keetch’s critique of the collective bargaining process is more advanced than Brian Forbes’ implicit defense of typical collective-bargaining procedures (see the article “Critique of Collective-Bargaining Models in Canada” found in the Publications and Writings section of this blog) since Mr. Forbes fails to criticize the traditional anti-democratic model of collective bargaining.

However, what if you democratize a process in the context of a situation that is undemocratic? Ms. Keetch nowhere explores the limitations as such of the collective bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement in the context of a class of employers. How does this context “shape a worker’s life?” Is this context more or less important than the collective agreement?

Readers who have read some of my posts will already know my answer: the context of a class of employers and the associated economic and political structures influences workers’ lives much more than any collective agreement. The level of influence of this context can be seen explicitly seen in various managements rights’ clauses in collective agreements (see, for example, Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia or Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario). This lack of reference to this class situation will at most enable particular workers working for particular employers to limit their particular employer’s power in the best way possible without moving towards threatening the power of employers as a class.

Transparency is not only necessary at the level of the particular employer but at the macro level of the class economy. Mr. Keetch’s reference to democracy needs to involve both micro and macro level transparency if workers are to make rational decisions concerning the working lives and the purpose of their organizations.

At the micro level, even if there were complete transparency during collective bargaining, how would workers decide on what to do if they took no or little account of the macro structure that involves treating them as impersonal means for impersonal ends (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Should there not be open discussion about the kind of economy that exists in order for workers to make rational decisions about the adequacy of collective agreements in meeting their lives, both inside and outside work? To exclude transparency in the wider situation is like looking at the hand and treating it as if it were the whole body. The hand may look to be in perfect condition, but not when linked to a body that has invasive cancer in the bladder, or rectal cancer or metastatic liver cancer.

Nor can any collective agreement be considered a fair contract without considering the context of exploitation and oppression characteristic of the general situation of workers–whether in the public or private sectors (see various posts on management rights in both the public and private sectors on this blog. See also such posts as Employers as Dictators, Part One , The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One and The Rate of Exploitation of Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part Two, Or: Intensified Oppression and Exploitation).

It is thus questionable whether collective bargaining can really be transparent if the wider picture of the general economic and political structure is excluded. If the purpose of transparency of the collective-bargaining process at the micro level is to ensure that workers make democratic and rational decisions concerning their lives, it is necessary to move towards macro transparency.

The purpose of this blog is, in part, to move in that direction. If others wish to do so as well, they are most welcome to do so on this blog or by providing links to their own blogs or other resources.

The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process

Relatively recently,  Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), wrote an article praising collective bargaining:

Collective bargaining is good for everyone

December 23, 2019

By Hassan Yussuff, as published in the Globe and Mail.  

The holidays aren’t solely about gift-giving and spreading good cheer. Many workers find themselves having to walk a picket line around this time of year.

Everywhere you look these days, teachers, public transit workers, railway and refinery workers seem to be involved in some kind of job action as contracts expire and end-of-year negotiations fail.

It can be frustrating for those affected and may even seem unfair that workers disadvantage the public in pursuit of better working conditions and better wages.

But make no mistake, collective bargaining is a fundamental right that helps ensure workers are getting their fair share. This is especially true when we consistently see certain governments, shareholders and corporate CEOs squeezing workers in order to improve their own bottom lines. “Without the right to pursue workplace goals collectively, workers may be left essentially powerless in dealing with their employer or influencing their employment conditions,” reads a 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling upholding the right of RCMP officers to unionize.

Unsurprising that some employers, private interest groups and opinion shapers insist on back-to-work legislation whenever a group of workers flexes collective muscle. But the reality is that work stoppages are a rarity—with almost all collective agreements in Canada reached and renewed without a strike or lockout.

In fact, strikes and lockouts happen far less frequently today than in the past. Days lost to work stoppages in federal private-sector, where CN Rail workers recently struck for several days, are well below levels reached earlier this decade. For instance, in 2019, monthly work stoppages recently dipped to a low of 13 for the entire country. This is well below 2017 and 2018 averages.

Collective bargaining is functioning exactly as intended. Workers leverage their collective strength in order to influence the terms and conditions of their employment. Their efforts to stand up for themselves will often have a ripple effect, improving conditions for non-unionized workers in related industries as well as for the people they serve. When teachers oppose larger class sizes and rail engineers insist on safety improvements, the public directly benefits, too.

The significantly low unemployment rate is also contributing to renewed confidence among workers. More discouraged workers and those overcoming barriers to employment have been able to find work. The number of underemployed workers, like part-timers who prefer but can’t find full-time hours, have ebbed.

This is long overdue. For a decade, young people have been graduating into a high unemployment job market with limited prospects. Women and newcomers to Canada have struggled with a shortage of decent jobs.  While joblessness remains far too high in oil-producing provinces and the Atlantic region (in Alberta, it hovers at a shocking 20% for males under the age of 25), there are gains elsewhere. In Ontario, Quebec and BC, the improving job market has allowed wages to tick up – finally. Since mid-year, wage growth has begun to pick up, averaging over 4%.

During the last ten years of sluggish growth, high unemployment and weak wage gains, typical workers in Canada have seen very little improvement in their wages, adjusted for inflation. Flat earnings are partly responsible for the fact that debt as a share of household disposable income has doubled in the past 25 years. Furthermore, fewer workers even belong to a union at all which often translates in lower earnings and fewer benefits and little recourse to improve matters. Compounded with the rise of the gig economy and with more companies outsourcing work, it’s that much harder for workers to unionize as we are seeing at corporations like IBM and Amazon.

In the meantime, Canada’s top corporate CEOs were paid nearly 200 times what the average worker made in 2017. In 2018, quarterly operating profits reached a post-recession high. Workers have spent the ‘recovery’ simply fighting to hold onto what they have.

It’s not just unions that welcome a stronger labour market and decent wage gains. The Bank of Canada also thinks it’s a good idea. Because inflation remains well under control, it has hesitated to raise interest rates. That’s a good strategy because it helps reduce inequality and strengthens the ability of households to cope with debt, food and shelter costs.

We must all recognize that even when work stoppages do happen, they are simply evidence that the collective bargaining process is working. Despite occasional work-to-rule and walk-outs, this is actually a very good thing because it ensures workers still have a say – as they should.

To be sure, it is generally preferable for workers and their representatives to participate in collective bargaining in order to obtain a collective agreement, but the idealization of the process and the resulting collective agreement, as well as the exaggeration of the fairness of the process and the resulting collective agreement, simply ignores the reality of the power of employers and their representatives (management).

In the article, Mr. Yussuff implies that, through the collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement, workers can obtain their “fair share.” Mr. Yussuff provides no evidence of this. A fair share is presented only in terms of shaping the collective working conditions and wages of workers but not in actually controlling those collective working conditions by those who actually do the work–economic democracy or socialism (see the series of posts on what socialism would like on this blog). Mr. Yussuff ignores the implicit or explicit management rights’ clauses in collective agreements (see numerous examples of explicit management rights’ clauses in collective agreements on this blog, for example, Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario).

There is obviously a pattern that often shows up in social-democratic rhetoric–how marvelous collective bargaining and collective agreements are (see my criticism of Jane McAlevey’s idealization of the collective bargaining process and the resulting collective agreement on this blog) as well as my review of her book in the Publications and Writings Section of this blog) .

It is interesting that Mr. Yussuff also tries to “sell” collective bargaining and collective agreements by implying that the proper functioning of collective bargaining and collective agreements results in fewer strikes:

In fact, strikes and lockouts happen far less frequently today than in the past. Days lost to work stoppages in federal private-sector, where CN Rail workers recently struck for several days, are well below levels reached earlier this decade. For instance, in 2019, monthly work stoppages recently dipped to a low of 13 for the entire country. This is well below 2017 and 2018 averages.

Collective bargaining is functioning exactly as intended.

At least Ms. McAlevey considers strike activity to often be necessary to back up the collective bargaining process whereas Mr. Yussuff’s more conservative stance considers strikes to be a last-ditch effort to be avoided if at all possible. On the other hand, both her and Mr. Yussuff consider the collective-bargaining process to be somehow capable of realizing fairness at the workplace. How this is in fact the case no trade unionist has ever explained to me in the face of the power of the class of employers.

Mr. Yussuff’s idea that workers should have a say minimizes the need for workers to have the say in their work lives–in conjunction with local communities–and not “a say”–as if they were condemned forever as a junior “partner” in the capitalist corporation.

The conservatism of the Canadian labour movement is astounding–but the left here in Toronto (and probably elsewhere) remain silent about such conservatism–since they share the same assumption of the legitimacy of the collective-bargaining process and collective agreements.