The federal Conservative government is working to dismantle unions with new laws, making it increasingly difficult for unions to operate.
The most recent detriment to unions is Bill C-377. Passed on June 30th, 2015, the Bill forces unions to submit detailed information about their finances to the government each year.
Unions must report details of any executives or officers who earn more than $100,000 per year, details about spending, borrowing or accounts receivable, contracts over $5,000 (which includes 3rd-party vendors) and any money spent on lobbying, politics or other “non-labour related” union activities. This information is then made available to the public by the Minister of Revenue.
Bill C-377 has been called discriminatory, as corporations and other organizations are not confined to the same strict guidelines, but still receive substantial tax breaks. With unions and the Canadian Revenue Agency forced to deal with mounds of unnecessary paperwork, it’s also a costly venture at a time when austerity is at its height.
Bill C-377 arguably infringes on the rights of members, including freedom of association, freedom of expression, political rights, rights to confidentiality, personal and commercial privacy as well as solicitor privilege. The federal privacy commissioner has agreed, claiming the Bill is extreme. Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada Tom Mulcair has said the Bill is nothing more than a government business disguised as a private member’s bill and has promised to repeal it if elected into power this October.
In addition to undermining the rights of members, labour leaders fear that the Bill will ultimately result in the decline of union strength. One of the main issues of concern is that the release of sensitive financial information will give corporations and other organizations an unfair advantage when it comes to countering labour initiatives, especially during the bargaining process. If corporations are able to view the finances of a union going into bargaining, they are easily able to determine what that union’s financial limitations are and if the membership is capable of sustaining a strike, making it difficult for any union to support its members.
As unions are already transparent with their members about finances, Bill C-377 seemingly has no point; Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan says the Bill is nothing more than an attack on unions and plans to fight the Bill with the help of thousands of union members and supporters. Ryan says the Bill can be fought through educating members and appealing to union voters to ensure the Conservatives do not have the vote this federal election.