Which Way, Canadian Unions?

January 1 st 1984

Canadian unions have recently been forced to take a much more moderate approach to wage demands. Six Ontario construction unions have accepted a wage freeze for this year, with a modest increase for next year. In Alberta, organized sheet metal workers accepted a 15 per cent wage reduction in November. Behind this move is the concern about competition from non-union firms and especially the fear that unionized contractors may soon be able to set up "doublebreasted" companies Legislation to this effect, now under consideration by the Alberta Legislature, would allow unionized firms to to set up non-union companies and thereby evade their legal responsibilities under existing collective agreements.

Is Profit Sharing a Good Alternative?

Employee ownership of companies is held up as a possible avenue for redirecting labour-management relation's. Finance Minister Marc Lalonde has hinted at including an employee stock option plan in the spring 1984 budget. This move has been qreeted with mixed reactions from unions and companies.

In its submission to the Macdonald Royal Commission on the Canadian economy, the Business Council on National Issues, comprising some of Canada's largest and most powerful corporations, advocates voluntary profit sharing for employees as a means to improve labour relations and productivity. The council's brief states: "It is our belief that businesses should be encouraged to increase employees' stake in their companies, for this is likely to result in higher productivity and better labor-management relations." But Ron Lang of the Canadian Labour Congress believes stock options hinder collecti ve bargaining and lower wages. "The main beneficiary of such a plan is the corporation. They get the tax break" (Vancouver Sun, November 26, 1983).

In a recent Toronto Star column (December 12, 1983), Mr. Ed Finn, information officer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, spoke out strongly against a worker ownership scheme if it does not include voting rights by workers Finn pointed out that, in Canada, a number of trade unionists are talking about investing their members' trusteed pension plans (estimated at $30 billion) in corporations as a means to obtain co-management status. Mr. Finn concluded: "Having come to realize that the real power in our economic system lies in the control of large amounts of capital, the unions aren't going to be satisfied with a stock ownership plan that merely gives the illusion of financial power. They'll insist on the real thing."

The Real Thing, or . . .?

A remarkable experiment in labour-management cooperation is underway on the traditionally adversarial labour scene in British Columbia. Employees of the Greenhills coal mine located in the East Kootenays of B.C. have formed a local workers' association instead of joining one of the international mining unions. The Greenhills Employees' Association and Westar Mining Ltd. of Vancouver (a subsidiary of the B.C. Resources Investment Corporation) have decided to put aside the antagonism between labour and management and work together as a team. Said the association's president, Eric Cable, "I don't see a dichotomy. I see the company as a group of employees with a common goal."

Other companies are closely watching the new arranqement at the Greenhills mine, and would, no doubt, be delighted to see the new trend spread. Unions, however, are well aware of the challenge to their position posed by such associations. Fred Alaggia, business representative for the mining division of Local 115 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (the union that lost certification at the mine) predicts that the life of the Greenhills Workers' Association will be brief because it will not have the power to stop erosions in the agreement.

 

Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.

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