It’s ‘outrageous’ that union dues are used for political campaigns

Time to change the law that requires workers to pay union dues to support political causes, says Plant

The headline news this morning is that the BCTF plans to campaign to unseat the government in the next election. A timely opportunity to remind ourselves of the extraordinary advantage that unions in British Columbia enjoy when it comes to politics. Unlike any other organization in our society, a union can compel bargaining unit employees to contribute to support political causes.

That’s right. If you are an employee in a workplace that has been organized by a union, you are required by law to pay dues to the union, and the union is permitted by law to use those funds for political advocacy. To make donations to political parties, take out ads in support of political parties, all of it. This is not just the way the BCTF membership rules work; it’s the way the BC Labour Relations Code works.

So to put this in the context of today’s announcement, thousands of teachers who are members and supporters of the BC Liberal Party woke up today to discover that their union plans to require them to pay for a political campaign against the party and government they support.

In a word, that is outrageous.

It’s all the more troublesome when, as is the case here, we are talking about a public sector union, whose members are paid by tax dollars. That means the BCTF campaign against the BC Liberals will effectively be paid for by tax dollars. Your tax dollars. My tax dollars.

I am not aware of any other organization in society that gets this advantage. I am not arguing here against the compulsory payment of union dues for labour relations purposes. That’s a good issue for another day. I can at least understand the logic behind requiring all bargaining unit employees to pay dues to support the union that bargains on their behalf so that it can do the work of bargaining. But there is no valid labour relations purpose in requiring an employee to pay dues to a union so that it can launch a political campaign.

In my view, that’s a violation of one of our most fundamental and cherished freedoms – the right to decide for ourselves who we want to support politically.

I’m sorry to say that during my time in government we did nothing to remove this legal obligation. But luckily, there is a bill on the order papers of the BC Legislature right now that would do that very thing. It’s Bill M 210 – 2011, the Workers’ Dues Transparency and Rights Act. Introduced by John Rustad, the BC Liberal MLA for Nechako Lakes.

Here’s what it does. It amends the Labour Relations Code by requiring trade unions to establish a separate labour relations account for the purpose of collecting monies and paying for the core activities in support of their members. It defines those core activities broadly to include all labour relations activities, and then it provides that union dues can only be used for those activities.

Passing this act would protect the democratic rights of all workers to support whichever political party they want to – as an expression of their own choice, not the decision made in a union head office – without in any way compromising the ability of unions to represent the labour relations interests of its members. It strikes exactly the right balance. It is timely, and it is overdue for enactment.

Note to BC House Leader: why not call this bill for second reading debate when the House resumes on April 16?

To be clear, I am not opposed to political advocacy by the labour movement. If an organization that is not a union – say, the BC Federation of Labour – established a political action fund supported by voluntary contributions, that's not a problem. (I leave for another day whether we should embrace a more radical reform of political donations.) My objection is to the fact that unions are legally authorized to compel their members to contribute financially to political causes.

– post by Geoff Plant

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  • Thought of The Day

    “Just like a case of ‘QED – Quod Erat Demonstrandum’ …Latin for ‘which was to be demonstrated’ or in my opinion, ‘as was to be expected’!”

    Now who would not have thought of this? Not me. 🙂
    When local non-profits, charities, foundations… were observed “advocating” and putting together “public campaigns” against the very projects our Local/ Provincial/ Federal governments were trying to promote, for the well being and in the interest of all Canadians, when foreign monies coming from powerful “Philanthropic” $US dispensers, were laundered for decades in Canada, no wonder that powerful union agitators took notice.

    In retrospect, all these union leaders would have made great fruit fly biologists…
    So it’s business as usual in BC. Who knew, eh?

    I don’t care much about this BC Liberal Government, I think it needs to go, very bad decisions on their part, fishy sales of public assets, some of them borderline criminal; Premier Christy Clark… Unethical, Unelectable, Unaccountable… as some T-shirts say, and I agree… but, in the case of BCTF vs Kids/ Parents/ Government, I cannot!

    They want to topple this Government? This Authority Figure? A Government that followed that of the Bingo Boy and the Fast Ferry Deck Fellow? Don’t make me laugh. That’s what they are trying to teach the kids? Our kids? My kids, your kids?

    What’s the lesson here? That the kids can talk back at their parents, and do not complete the chores for which they were paid their allowance; that they could shout at them and try to kick them out the door of their own house, from feeling ‘abused’ with not being let to watch TV, or play computer games?
    Cause, from where I’m standing that’s what I see they do!
    And after they succeed toppling the Liberals, ahem, replacing them with what? With Andy Pee and Dix The Absent Minded Forger… Adrian The Sleight Of Hand Ticket Trickster?
    God forbid, if that would not pan out too well … the Look Mama I’m An MLA But All I Want To Play Is Mayor aka Juice Boy Resurrected?

    I’m not even going to bring the Third Party into the equation, as with the latest defection from BC Liberal John Van Dongen, followed by his new found BC Conservative affection, they are starting to look like a BC Liberals – Lite. (And we all know what happened to COPE Lite vs COPE Classic, right?)

    The Level of Education in BC is nosediving, loosing altitude, in a free fall for all for more than six months, the hell with it, who needs to count and speak anyway, we have no money left and body language is 80% of communication, right?
    I don’t know about you but lately I’ve noticed some personal changes, I’ve started to grow facial hair, body hair, everywhere hair, kind of scratchy, I’m into insects now, love them, and I could eat an armful of tropical fruits in one sitting, in my favorite spot, up there, in the Banana tree… my little Republic.

    We live in Vancooh ooh ooh eee eee eee aah aah aah…

  • Bill

    The Bill doesn’t go far enough – membership in the union itself should be optional but payment of the dues for labour relations would be mandatory. As well, employers should be able to utilize replacement workers in the event of a strike.

    A more balance labour relations environment would only be positive in attracting investment in new businesses to BC.

  • tf

    I ask Mr. Plant if he also finds it outrageous that the member fees collected by Philip Hochstein for the Independent Contractors & Business Association paid him to oppose the HST petition in court? Or to buy 3rd party attack ads against the NDP??
    Or how about the advertisements paid for by the “charitable” Fraser Institute as it backs the privatization of public assets? It goes on…

    Hypocrisy – thy name is politician covering your … back.

    • Bill

      The difference is a builder can choose not to join the Association and still conduct its business. And no one has to contribute to the Fraser Institute to earn their livelihood. Not so in a union environment, particularly like the BCTF where if you want to teach in the public school system you have no choice.

  • I’m always amazed at what seems “outrageous” to people on the right when it comes to unions. When a person takes on a job in a unionized environment, they’re joining with a company and a union. They aren’t simply having a relationship with the employer while the union lurks in the background, a unionized workplace is supposed to be as union-oriented as it is employer-oriented. When you deliberately join a unionized workplace, it’s like joining any other member-funded democratic organization, you pay for the organization’s functioning and you get a vote.

    If you don’t want your local to support a particular political party, you can go to your local meeting and say “I have a motion, it reads as follows “Whereas it is outrageous for our union to consider one political party better than others and to support it, therefore be it resolved that Local X not financially support any political party” and if it passes that’s great. Or you could say “I have a motion to send to national convention..” and see if you can get the whole union not to support political parties. If your fellow union members (I won’t call them ‘brothers and sisters’ so as not to induce nausea) don’t like the idea of not supporting a political party and the motion fails, then you can try again next year. What’s wrong with this? It’s how democratic member-financed organizations work.

    The only thing I feel someone could say to this argument is that a person in a union job is “forced to pay union dues” or “forced to be in a union”. Again, that’s the nature of a unionized job, nobody is forcing a person to take a unionized job, but when you take one you’re in a unionized environment, you’re a member of a democratic organization that makes joint decisions like any other organization. Taking a union job and then complaining that you’re in a union that’s making joint decisions according to what the majority of its members want is bizarre. It’s no different than becoming a teacher and then complaining that you don’t like kids, such is the job.

    • Bill

      So it is perfectly acceptable to take away a persons right to choose whether or not to financially support a particular political party if that is a condition of their employment and if they don’t like it then they shouldn’t take that job. Then you should have no problem if the government decides to take away the right to form a union in the public sector. After all, the government is democratically elected and an individual can always choose not to apply for a job in the public sector if being in a union is important to them.

      • Yes, if someone doesn’t want to risk having part of their union dues going to the political choice of the majority of union members, then a union job is not for them. A majority of workers in a workplace are able to decide to form or join a union so they can make these kind of decisions together and make those decisions binding on the group like any other organization and that’s essentially what a union is, it’s nothing sinister. There are many union and non-union jobs to choose from.

        I don’t feel the government banning unionization in the public sector (which would be illegal) is analogous as you would have a situation where the vast majority of workers may want to stay unionized and the government wouldn’t let them, that would be undemocratic. If the majority of workers in a business or government field want to not have a union they can decertify, and if a majority don’t want the union to support a party then it won’t.

  • Gentleman Jack

    This tripe in the era of tax-funded commercials to “catapult the propaganda” toward the electorate. Clearly this is a case of “don’t ____, the Government doesn’t like competition.”

  • Chris Budgell

    As a former union conscript (a more accurate term than “member”) I agree that donations to political causes should not fall within the purvue of the union (effectively the union executive).

    However this initiative from the Liberals – at this time – smells like an opportunistic gambit. I just looked at the wording of the bill on Hansard and it appears to be the work of the professional drafters employed by the Government (not by the Legislature). MLA John Rustad didn’t write this. It was conceived by a team.

    Why now when the Liberals have been in power for over a decade and are facing the prospect of a major defeat in just over a year?

    If they put it in, what do they think the NDP will do if they win the next election? I’m not saying it’s a certainty they’d repeal it, but the unions would want to see te business community equally constrained? Maybe the end result would be a major curtailing of all donations to political parties (which I’d enthusiastically support).

    There’s more to this than meets the eye.

  • red

    Do publicly traded corporations check with their shareholders before making corporate donations to political parties.