Rank and File News Update, December 17, 2012

Commend the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for their ongoing solidarity work at home and abroad 

Please support the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and their international solidarity work. CUPW has come under attack for sending delegates to the 2012 World Social Forum – Free Palestine. Emails can be sent to Dave Bleakney, dbleakney@cupw-sttp.org (Put “Endorse” in Subject line).

WSF CUPW Solidarity Declaration FINAL

Labour unions support hunger striker Theresa Spence, urge federal government to meet

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has now been on hunger strike for nearly a week, and she has still received no direct response to her demand for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Many people have written, demonstrated and fasted to show their solidarity with Chief Spence. Yesterday, the Assembly of First Nations issued an urgent open letter to the prime minister, calling for a meeting. Today, two of the larger labour unions in Canada have written the following letter of support.

Rabble.ca, December 17, 2012

Ontario Teachers

Half of Ontario public elementary school teachers walk out: ‘Super Tuesday’ 1-day strikes involve 35,000 teachers

December 18, 2012

Thousands of public elementary teachers are taking part in day-long strikes in the Greater Toronto Area today in opposition of controversial legislation that gives the government the right to claw back benefits, freeze pay and quash future job actions.

Tuesday’s strikes, dubbed by some as “Super Tuesday,” will be the teachers’ single biggest day of action in a series of one-day rotating strikes that began last week.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario has given three days’ notice for each of the single-day strikes.

But Tuesday is the biggest day of strikes so far, involving public elementary schools in Toronto, Durham Region, Peel Region, Greater Essex County, Lambton-Kent, Grand Erie, Near North and Waterloo Region.

More than 35,000 teachers will be involved in Tuesday’s walkouts, or nearly half of the more than 76,000 teachers and education professionals that ETFO represents.

Read the full story at CBC.ca.

ETFO Limestone Locals to Stage One-Day Strike on Thursday December 20

December 17, 2012

Limestone public elementary teachers and occasional teachers will stage a one-day strike this Thursday December 20 to continue sending the government a message that Bill 115 is severely impeding local collective bargaining.

“To date, the education minister has yet to do anything to assist local school boards in pursuing fair and respectful negotiations with our members,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). “She can end the chaos she has created by repealing Bill 115 and letting local bargaining proceed without interference.”

“We are having to take strike action because this government has refused to listen to anyone except their own voices for a long time,” said Mike Lumb, president of the Limestone Teacher Local. “By taking away local autonomy and imposing Bill 115, the minister has severely impeded our goal of fair and respectful talks with our board.”

“As difficult and inconvenient as a strike may be, the minister can’t abolish our democratic rights and expect things to be business as usual,” added Ken Gee, president of Limestone Occasional Teacher Local. “Bill 115 is an unprecedented attack on the rights of educators. We’re taking a stand so that it doesn’t happen to others.”

During a vote on September 18, 2012, the locals received overwhelming mandates for strike action from their members. The locals moved into a legal strike position on December 13, 2012. Prior to that, they received no board reports through the conciliator appointed by the Ministry of Labour to resolve their bargaining impasse with Limestone District School Board.

See ETFO/FEEO for more information.

Right-to-Work legislation spreads in the United States

Right to Work Looms in Michigan

Alix Gould-Werth, December 7, 2012

Michigan unionists rallied and lobbied in the state capital yesterday to prevent right-to-work legislation. A bill has passed the House and Senate, and fear is that the governor will sign the bill during the lame-duck session. Republicans will lose five seats once the new legislature is seated in January, making defeat of right to work much more likely then.Capitol police evicted some protesters yesterday, with arrests and Mace, and closed the building.Here a member of one Michigan union explains how a state that was considered a union bastion came to this point.

Earlier this year I stood on a street corner, holding a clipboard for Proposal 2 and hoping that Michigan would be a trailblazer: the first state to make union rights constitutional rights. Today, I’m filling my tank for the drive to the state Capitol in Lansing, with the apprehension that Michigan will become the 24th state to end unionization as we know it.

See Labornotes.org for the full article.

Right-to-work Nevada a rare bright spot for labor

Nicholas Riccardi

The future of the American labor movement may lie just off the Las Vegas Strip, inside a squat building huddled in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino.

That’s the home of the Culinary Workers Local 226, a fast-growing union of hotel and casino employees that has thrived despite being in a right-to-work state and a region devastated by the real estate crash.

More than 90 percent of Culinary’s 60,000 predominantly immigrant workers opt to be dues-paying members, even though Nevada law says they cannot be forced to pay unions for their services.

As a result, housekeepers in most Strip hotels start at $16 an hour with free health care and a pension. Culinary’s track record gives a dispirited labor movement some hope even as it hemorrhages workers and reels from the approval of a right-to-work law last week in union-strong Michigan.

“National unions need to look at what some of the folks out here have done,” said Billy Vassiliadis, former chair of the Nevada Democratic Party. In a right-to-work state that for years was relatively conservative, “they had to be smart. They had to be nimble.”

As a result, he said, “labor here is a big pillar in the political debate.”

But that’s less true on a national scale. American labor has been on a downward trajectory for decades: Unions represented 30 percent of the workforce when the federal government first began tracking membership in the early 1980s. Now they represent less than 12 percent.

See Salon.com to continue reading.

Why Milton Friedman Opposed Right-To-Work

By Martin Fridson, December 14, 2012

Supporters of right-to-work laws cast the issue in terms of individual rights. They will have to confront the fact that Milton Friedman, an acknowledged champion of human freedom, consistently opposed outlawing contracts that compel employees to pay dues to unions. 

Background
On December 11 the governor of Michigan, a bastion of organized labor, signed a right-to-work law.  Along with similar measures previously enacted in 23 other states, the legislation prohibits contracts that make payment of union dues a condition of employment.

The media coverage has loosely referred to such contracts as “closed-shop” arrangements. As Michael Kinsleyrecently explained, however, that term properly refers to contracts that make employment conditional on union membership.

True closed-shop contracts are already prohibited by federal law, on the grounds that they violate the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association.

Michigan’s action exercised the option offered to states by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 to outlaw “agency shops,” in which employees need not belong to a union but must pay union dues. The agency shop was devised to solve the free rider problem, i.e., the ability of a non-union-member to derive the benefits of membership without sharing the cost of obtaining those benefits.

See Forbes.com to continue reading.

Bill C-377 Passes, December 12, 2012

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government passes bill forcing unions to open their books

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives overwhelmed NDP and Liberal opposition Wednesday to pass legislation that will force labour unions to make full details of their finances and spending public.

The bill, brought forward by an individual MP but supported by the Harper government, will require labour organizations to provide extensive details, such as the salaries of top union leaders, to the Canada Revenue Agency, which will publish the information on its website.

British Columbia Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s bill was approved in the Commons by a vote of 147 to 135.

Opposition MPs and unions have slammed Bill C-377 as a discriminatory attack against organized labour that subjects unions to tougher disclosure requirements than other organizations financed by tax-deductible membership dues.

And critics say forcing unions to open their books to tax authorities violates constitutional and privacy rights.

“It will be thrown down by the courts, I have no doubt about that,” NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said before the vote Wednesday.

“This is an attempt by the Conservatives to break down the system of representation and protection of workers’ rights in Canada,” he said. The bill is just “red meat” for the Conservatives’ right-wing base, Mulcair added.

See the Toronto Star to continue reading.

Walkom: It’s not the political right that’s killing unions

Thomas Walkom, December 12, 2012

For the conservative right, trashing unions is great sport.

The fun just keeps happening. On Wednesday evening, Conservative MPs (with the exception of five brave souls) pushed Bill C-377 through the Commons. It’s designed to tie unions up in red tape and — its backers hope — embarrass labour’s leadership.

A day earlier, Michigan’s Republican-dominated legislature rammed through a so-called right-to-work law aimed at weakening unions in that state.

And Ontario Conservative leader, the rollicking Tim Hudak, says if his party wins power he’ll scrap what’s known as the Rand formula — which requires all employees represented by unions to pay dues.

Meanwhile, Conservative backbench MP Pierre Poilievre is agitating for Canadian right-to-work measures that would hamstring unions under federal jurisdiction, particularly those that represent public sector workers.

All of this comes as Conservatives and their media allies rage non-stop against what they call union bosses.

In the Commons last week, backbench Conservatives levelled almost as many attacks on “union bosses” for sins they didn’t commit as they did on the New Democrats for their non-existent support of a carbon tax.

So it’s no wonder that the unions are worried. This federal government has a hate on for organized labour. And if Hudak wins in Ontario, the hate could spread.

But labour’s real problems go far beyond the provocations of the right. Indeed, what little research does exist suggests that right-to-work laws have little effect.

One classic study, published in the 1975 Journal of Political Economy, concluded that the effect of U.S. right-to-work laws was mainly symbolic and that other factors better explain why unions have had such a tough time in places like the U.S. south.

Another piece earlier this year by the publication Investors Business Daily came to similar conclusions. It noted that the rate of unionization among employees in the right-to-work state of Nevada, for instance, is well above that of many pro-union jurisdictions and exceeds even the national average.

What’s really killing unions is not the political right. It is that, for too many workers, organized labour is no longer relevant.

See the Toronto Star to continue reading.

Who’s looking out for Tim Hortons’ temporary foreign workers?

Fabiola Carletti and Janet Davison, December 12, 2012

Erik Flores came to Canada full of optimism that his new job at a Tim Hortons franchise near Regina would open doors to a “beautiful life.”

Instead, the 21-year-old from Mexico says he found himself walking to work in the snow and living in a basement with five other Mexican men.

The job at Tim Hortons didn’t work out, and today he is waiting for a work permit under Saskatchewan’s provincial nominee program. The whole experience, he says, left him feeling used and exploited.

As more and more Canadian employers, ranging from fast-food outlets to skilled trades, turn to temporary foreign workers like Flores, questions are being raised over who is making sure the immigrants are treated fairly while they’re in the country.

See CBC.ca to continue reading.

 

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