Collective Bargaining—Canadian Style
It is no secret that, for a number of years now, Canada has had one of the worst industrial relations records of all Western nations. We've heard many pronouncements in the last few months about prosperity, unity, and cooperation, but none of it will happen until individuals and groups display a willingness to work together for their mutual well-being. The political and economic well-being of a nation is also vitally affected by labour-management relations. Fortunately, there are signs of a change for the better, and in many situations labour and management are learning to accept each other as people who need one another.
In spite of Canada's poor track record, there are happy signs that, with the joint effort of all concerned, dramatic improvements are possible. One good example is the impressive turnaround over the past year at Budd Canada Inc. in Kitchener, Ont. In 1979 alone there were 68 illegal work stoppages at Budd, and it was clear that the long-term viability of the plant was at stake. In November 1983, the company and the union (UAW) agreed to work at fostering an attitude of mutual respect and to implement an employee involvement scheme. Since that time, the work atmosphere has become pleasant, employment has risen from 1 ,000 to 1 ,500 and the factory operation has risen from 55% to 84% capacity. (See R. Eade, "Dignity in workplace led to turnaround of Budd's labor strife," The Financial Post, May 12, 1984, p. 6; and W. Lilley, "Over the Volcano," Canadian Business, September 1984, pp. 91-100.)
It is regrettable that even in the face of such strong evidence of the benefits of cooperation, most spokesmen for the mainline labour movement, as well as many on the management side, are determined to perpetuate the old adversary system.
Continuing trouble in British Columbia
The major labour confrontation in B.C. these days involves an ongoing dispute about the right of non-union companies and workers to work on the 1986 Expo site in Vancouver. In late August unionized construction workers again walked off their jobs at this site in protest against the employment of non-union and lower paid workers there. The B.C. Labour Relations Board ordered the workers back via an interim back-to-work order effective until August 30, and it continues to hear arguments in the dispute. The B.C. Building Trades Council insists that the issue is one of job protection and equity in wages. But the more important issue involved is the freedom of workers to work without being forced to join or support a union. The B.C. unions' long-standing practice of forcing their rule on unwilling workers is now being challenged. It's about time.
Victoria and Vancouver commuters have had a hard time getting around because the bus drivers, members of the Canadian Independent Transit Union, have been on strike since mid-3une. On August 22, 1800 transit workers voted 90% against ending the dispute with their employer, and insist they've actually been "locked out." A special government-appointed mediator will hand down his non-binding decision in early September.
Collective bargaining as usual
On August 26, the United Auto Workers union received an overwhelming strike mandate from its members employed at General Motors and Ford in Canada. The workers will be in a legal strike position on September 14, the expiry date of their current collective agreement. Bob White, national director of the union, said: "A strike mandate is part of the bargaining process. It tells management we're serious about negotiating. ... I can't speculate at this time [on whether a strike can be averted]. We haven't even got the bargaining process properly going yet" (The Toronto Sun, August 27, 1984, p. 13). The union wants to retrieve benefits it surrendered in the 1982 contract and obtain additional benefits and a wage increase.
Thus it's back to collective bargaining as usual for the UAW. They correctly point out that, since the hard times suffered a few years ago, the three North American auto giants have booked impressive profit figures. But this should be balanced with the knowledge that the automobile companies are currently protected from offshore competition by quotas on Japanese car imports. Secondly, the auto industry soon must invest heavily in new plants, technology and equipment or it will face the same difficulties now plaguing the U.S. steel industry (and the clamour for protection against outside competition will continue). It's clear that now is the time for management and unions to agree to take a long-term view and work together to build a healthy North American automobile industry. Instead, the UAW continues to insist that the immediate interests of the members be given priority. But in the long run, this policy will be self-defeating. Brace yourself for more automobile import quotas, directed especially at the efficient Japanese manufacturers, and for higher prices for North American cars.