Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sharks in the water

CLAC lobbyists circle the Saskatchewan legislature licking their lips at the thought of getting into a jurisdiction previously off limits. Consider the unseemly haste in which the Saskatchewan Party is working to let them through the fence.
Bill 80 would open the door to unions — such as the CLAC and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers — that couldn’t previously unionize construction companies in Saskatchewan. A union could also organize a company on a multi-trade or “wall to wall” basis as practised by the CLAC, so everyone at a location could potentially be under the same union.

Paul deJong, the prairies director of the CLAC, told the committee the bill will create “fair competition” among unions and accused the building trades unions that oppose the legislation as wanting to stifle that.

“They want to preserve an unfair monopoly. They don’t want competition. They don’t want construction employees to have a choice,” he told the committee.

But deJong also faced questioning by the NDP’s Andy Iwanchuk about the CLAC’s relationship with Alberta-based construction giant Ledcor CMI Ltd. as the union representing all of the company’s hourly workers.

“Now, when Ledcor opens another division to deal with any particular kind of element of construction or in another jurisdiction, the workers who are hired by them say, ‘CLAC has represented the Ledcor workers across Canada,’ and we get that phone call and we move forward,” said deJong.

Last week, Ledcor’s Tom Brown told the committee the company had essentially been prevented from coming to Saskatchewan by existing construction industry legislation because it keeps out the CLAC.

Brown said the company had a strong relationship with the union because of its wall-to-wall certification and the fact that its collective agreements do not require subcontractors to be unionized by the CLAC.

But the Christian Labour Association of Canada isn’t regarded so favourably by the majority of the union movement.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich accused the CLAC of “anti-democratic practices” such as conducting ratification votes before a wage schedule is negotiated, permitting management to take part in union meetings and enticing employees with interest-free payday loans.

He said research done by the Canadian Labour Congress showed that in some jurisdictions, 25 to 40 per cent of agreements involving the CLAC are voluntary recognition agreements from employers that don’t want legitimate trade unions.

“Bill 80 is designed to prevent workers working for non-unionized employers from certifying that employer. Bill 80 will diminish the ability of employees on a construction site from organizing and forming a union,” said Hubich.

“Bill 80 does this by allowing a company, for example a contractor from outside the province, to strike an agreement with an employer-friendly union, sign an agreement with them and anyone who works for that employer will have to work for that union chosen by that employer.”

But deJong said there are myths being perpetuated about the CLAC because it does not take the “adversarial” approach of other unions.

Saskatchewan workers should do themselves a favour and investigate what kind of creature their government is considering letting off the leash in Saskatchewan. The Finning case is instructive.

Finning decided to construct a new Component Rebuild Centre (CRC) in 2001 and restructure operations through a complex series of transactions in 2003-2004.

The restructuring included an investment of $87 million for a new plant and an agreement to contract out the work carried out by Finning Canada at the CRC.

O.E.M. Remanufacturing Company Inc. was created during the amalgamation of three related companies on Jan.1, 2004.

In the transfer, OEM evaded the existing contract with the IAMAW and signed a contract with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).

Finning was aided in their effort to take their workers union away and replace it with CLAC which management had quietly negotiated a sweetheart deal with, by the Alberta Labour Relations Board which in an extraordinary display of blatant bias, over-ruled the conclusion of its own arbitration panel and tore up the Finning workers contract with their original union by fiat. Fortunately they were overturned in an unprecedented rebuke by the Alberta Court of Appeals.
EDMONTON, Oct. 18 /CNW/ - In an important and strongly-worded decision released yesterday, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned a controversial Labour Relations Board (LRB) decision which allowed Finning International in 2005 to rid itself of a union collective agreement by establishing a new company for part of its operations. At the time the decision was considered by many to fly in the face of available evidence.
"This is an important decision by the three Justices of the Court of Appeal," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "It reverses a terrible decision by the Alberta Labour Relations Board (LRB). Finning had created a new blueprint for union busting, and the LRB was letting them get away with it. Thankfully the Court of Appeal saw through it and has stopped it."
The unanimous decision pertains to a dispute in 2005, in which Finning International created a new entity, OEM Remanufacturing, to take over Finning's component rebuilding operations. In the transfer OEM evaded the existing contract with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and instead signed a contract with the Christian Labour Association of Canada(CLAC).
An original LRB decision ruled OEM was a successor to Finning and that the two companies were, in fact, a common employer. Normally this would have meant that IAM would have maintained its status as official bargaining agent and the workers would have been protected by the existing IAM collective agreement with Finning.
Two months later, adopting a highly unusual procedure, the Labour Relations Board reconsidered the decision at the request of the employer. In that reconsideration, a five-person "superpanel" consisting of the LRB Chair Mark Asbell, two Vice-Chairs and two Board members overturned the original ruling. IAM then appealed to the courts.
"It was a thinly-veiled attempt to bust our union, and we were determined to fight it," says IAM Lodge 99 President Bob MacKinnon. "This is an important day for us, the Machinists, and for all unionized workers. It is also a great day for the democratic process: the Court has recognized that where workers have voted to be represented by a union, that decision must be respected by employers in Alberta."
When you combine the efforts of a bosses union, corrupt management, business friendly government and an in the tank labour board the cards end up stacked firmly against workers. Saskatchewan workers and progressives should consider Bill 80 a mortal threat and respond accordingly.

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