Inclement weather

By Robyn Benson 


The days are getting colder, and shorter, and, as if by coincidence, most of us have just set our clocks back at the same time as the Conservative Party Convention wrapped up on the weekend.
That was quite the little 1950s-fest they had in Calgary. In among guns, pipelines, making prison inmates pay room and board, and supporting the alleged right of religious organizations to discriminate against LGBT folks, there was the whole Conservative anti-labour agenda in all its dubious glory.
Conservative delegates voted to change party policy on a range of motions that would push for federal employees to be switched to a different pension plan, claw back federal employees’ benefits, increase requirements on unions to report how they spend their money and allow union members to opt out in part or altogether.

So there, in one fell swoop, is the Conservative Party’s battle-plan. Fueled by Fraser Institute and Canadian Federation of Independent Business rubbish, and the tripe dished up by Terrence Oakey’s anti-union “Merit” lobby group, Conservatives will attempt to con the Canadian public once again: union-busting is going to make everybody better off, they’ll tell us, and punishing public sector workers in the meantime is just good public policy—even if there is no evidence to back up the notion that they do better than unionized employees in the private sector.
This isn’t about the facts—those just get in the way of a good old-fashioned anti-union scapegoating. Expect Bill C-377 this Fall, back for a second tour. And Bill C-525, which would allow a minority of workers to decertify a union, or keep one from being organized. And then the crowning achievement of any conservative ideologue—the abolition of the Rand formula, replacing it with Deep South “right to work (for less)” laws.
It’s all coming. Don’t have any illusions about that. The Conservatives certainly don’t.
Meanwhile, this is what federal public workers are now facing, with Bill C-4, now before the House. I met with Treasury Board President Tony Clement last week to propose that he withdraw his changes from the bill, and that instead the unions meet with the employer to consult constructively on new Public Service labour legislation.
This has been the approach both sides have taken until now in conducting everyday labour relations; cooperation where possible has been the rule with previous Treasury Board presidents, including the late Reg Alcock and, more recently, Vic Toews. My suggestion to Clement was that we look at the draft labour legislation together, in that same spirit, and discuss our positive proposals in that context.
We got nowhere with Clement. He stated bluntly that he had no intention of consulting with us, and that he wanted all his changes in place for the next round of collective bargaining—in fact, by Christmas. In the face of that, I let the Minister know in very clear language indeed that we would be zealously representing our members in the workplace, we would protect their health and safety rights at all costs, and we would not accept concessions at the bargaining table.
Here is what Clement had to say about that meeting later on: “That’s also the meeting where you claimed co-governance with Parliament. Takes ‘union boss’ to a whole new level.”
I didn’t say any such thing, of course. I referred, as noted, to labour relations in the recent past, and stressed the idea of consultation—working with the employer to resolve problems together. But Clement is not a person who places much stock in cooperation. And after our meeting, lacking even a veneer of professionalism, he proceeded to misrepresent and name-call on Twitter.
Not a sterling example of how to conduct labour relations in the Public Service or anywhere else, to put it mildly, but it’s what we have to deal with these days—sneering, contempt, and everywhere bad faith. Fighting back is now our only option, and fight back we will.
A cold winter is coming, and the storms are already brewing. Anyone still wondering why we called our blogsite “Headwinds?”

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