On the Road to Freedom
Since the big splash surrounding the release of Canadians and Unions: A National Survey of Current Attitudes, the WRF freedom of association project has been less visible in the mainstream media but has gained exposure in strategic areas. Staff have been raising awareness among targeted groups of individuals, preparing for future projects, and contributing our perspective on current government initiatives (like B.C.'s Bill 44) which seek to curtail workers' rights to choose to join or not join a union.
The bus stops here
On May 5, WRF Project Director Ray Pennings addressed bus line owners from across Canada at the 1997 Western Canadian Motor Coach Association Conference in Kelowna, B.C. His speech, "Why Management and Labour Will Be Compelled to Stop Fighting," was well received and subsequently published in Canadian Speeches: Issues of the Day.
Construction blocks the road
In June, an incident involving a group of workers from Blenheim (near Chatham, Ontario) was brought to our attention, and then released to the media to illustrate the pervasiveness of the union monopoly mindset in many parts of the construction industry. The workers, from Handy Brothers Construction, went to a job site where they were set to construct part of a new ethanol plant that Handy Brothers had successfully bid on. When they arrived, the general contractor, Fluor Daniel, informed them that they would not be permitted to work on the job since they didn't belong to the right union.
Since 1968, workers at Handy Brothers have been represented by Construction Workers Local 53, an affiliate of the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC). CLAC is a registered trade union which has chosen not to be affiliated with mainline union organizations, largely because of their compulsory membership practices.
Paying for the ticket
As you may remember, WRF's freedom of association project is funded by contributions from interested individuals, business, labour, and a grant from the Donner Canadian Foundation. We are currently preparing an application for the renewal of our grant funding for the next two years. During those years, we expect to continue publicizing incidents where individual's freedom of association rights have been compromised, and to bring them to the attention of a wider audience.
We are also proposing a study of some anti-competitive activities in the Ontario construction industry and a study of the positive effects of trade union plurality in the Alberta energy and construction sectors. In year three, we would like to hold a major conference on freedom of association in industrial relations, expecting that this will expose academics to an issue they are likely not aware of, thus fostering further academic study of the issue.
Are we there yet?
Besides these scheduled projects, we expect to undertake additional initiatives as issues arise and as funding becomes available. Much work still needs to be done to bring this issue to light, but as we continue down the road, each kilometre traveled brings us closer to a land where workers join unions by choice, not by coercion.