Let’s face it—for the vast majority of us, Labour Day represents that last day of vacation season, where we cling to the vestiges of a fading summer for one more day. We follow the time- honoured traditions of cramming highways, campgrounds, and parks before we return to our routine.
We live in an era where workers’ rights are often taken for granted and the significance of Labour Day has been relegated to the annals of history. We would be well-served to take a look back and acknowledge the many sacrifices made by early pioneers in the labour movement who paved a path for all of society.
Regardless of where we find ourselves on the political spectrum, few, if any, would disagree with the victories won on behalf of employees who were once coerced to work twelve-hour days, seven days a week; nor would we argue with the eradication of child labour. On these points, employers and employees, center, left and right, can all agree and affirm the advancements of an enlightened society.
Fast forward to 2019. I believe the honest pioneers of the early labour movement who were motivated by values such as inclusion and justice for all, would find themselves disturbed with the tactics employed by the mainstream labour movement today, particularly the private sector unions in our province along with their friends in government. Gone are the ideals of advancing society for all. They have been replaced with the “values” of exclusivity, political pay-offs and advantage for a chosen few.
Witness the recent NDP Building Trades Unions unholy alliance in the tax-payer funded public construction sector.
Since the 1970s, private sector union density has fallen by half. Clearly, their message is not resonating with the workers of today. In the construction sector, traditional craft unions represent a mere 15% of the workforce.
That has not stopped the NDP from attempting to legislate the traditional unions back into relevance. To their profound discredit, the NDP has found a cure for falling private sector union density. The government has engaged in outright collusion by providing the traditional craft unions with a monopoly over designated public infrastructure projects, valued in the billions of dollars.
Let’s be very clear about what this means. British Columbian construction workers—85% of whom have opted to find a career outside of the traditional craft unions, cannot work on some of the largest public infrastructure projects in BC unless they opt to become a member and pay dues to these government-selected unions. This happened with no public consultation, no employee input, no decision on which union might best represent them and no say on the negotiated terms and conditions.
Now, the government and their cozy craft union allies have made much to do about the “community benefits agreements” that flow out of this. However, an ounce of scrutiny reveals that all the noted benefits ranging from Indigenous engagement to apprenticeship targets and increasing women in trades, can be, and are being, accomplished through commercial contracts between project owners and participating contractors.
These are extremely important social and community issues that warrant our continued attention and most certainty will not be advanced by invoking an exclusive labour monopoly.
Whether through the current constitutional challenge that has been launched by a coalition of concerned industry groups, or through increased public scrutiny, collusion of this magnitude, to the detriment of all, but a chosen few, cannot be tolerated.
On this Labour Day, all British Columbians should take a few moments to celebrate our historical achievements. As an employer or an employee, a union worker or a non-union worker, we should affirm the balance that has been brought to labour-management relationships over the course of many decades.
We should also take the time to ask questions about how the traditional labour movement along with its allies in government, are conducting themselves today, most notably their intent in the construction sector to deny workers an historical and fundamental right to choose whether or not to unionize, and if so, to choose a which union might best represent them.
Ken Baerg is the Executive Director of Canada Works, the Council of Progressive Canadian Unions, a collaboration of leading labour unions – large and small, active in all sectors of the economy who share a passion for advancing positive, partnership-based labour relations that fosters shared prosperity through partnership, innovation and choice.
- Ken Baerg wrote about the NDP government’s Community Benefit Agreements – and the removal of the right to choose – in January.
- No beating around the bush: Norm Streu straight-up called Community Benefit Agreements a lie.
- Suzanne Anton on the legal challenge against Community Benefit Agreements, and why the NDP doesn’t want the case to reach the Supreme Court.