Workers' Choice Essential: WRF Research Challenges Construction Union Monopoly in Ontario

September 1 st 2000

As tension mounts in Ontario on the labour relations front with the setback of Bill 69 and the introduction of Bill 139, the WRF's research on industrial relations innovation becomes increasingly relevant. In a recent front-page article in the Daily Commercial News (DCN), Michael Van Pelt, president of the WRF, suggests a different approach to that of the latest legislative efforts.

"Quite frankly, union monopolies are having a negative effect, and it's time to re-evaluate the monopoly," Van Pelt said in an interview. "The construction industry needs a more energetic, flexible industrial relations model." Van Pelt said that changing the rules to promote more competition among unions would invigorate the industry, encourage labour to embrace new technology, and lead to more aggressive recruitment of new workers.

There are a number of positive policy considerations that business groups, labour organizations, and governments would do well to adopt as the baseline for a future legislative consensus:

Gradual structural change. True reform is prevented by mere tinkering with the legislative status quo. At the same time, reform must be sensitive to the historical investment of the existing stakeholders in the industry.

Tolerance of diverse models. Reform must allow for different labour relations models (for example, craft representation, wall-to-wall representation, or nonunion) to exist side-by-side.

Freedom of association. A progressive scheme of labour relations must help shape a labour relations environment that stresses (and provides for) workers' freedom of association—the freedom to choose for themselves among different labour relations models, to choose what they believe serves them and their industry best.

Collective bargaining. Collective bargaining and trade union representation are important means for construction workers to participate in their industry and its development. The right to join and fully participate in a trade union is fundamental to a free and democratic society.

Competition improves member service quality. Legislation must reinforce the premise that healthy competition among trade unions—and their different ways of acting as labour relations participants—is a key ingredient of a competitive, market-oriented construction industry.

Sensitivity to economic effects. No reform should negatively influence job growth and investment.

If the construction industry is serious about long-term stability for its labour force and would like that stability to be supported through innovative solutions in law, they will have to be prepared for structural change. Sooner would be better than later!

 

Gideon Strauss was the editor of Comment from 2000 to 2010. He is currently Associate Professor of Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies, a graduate school of philosophy in Toronto, and a senior fellow with the Center for Public Justice in Washington DC. Gideon also facilitates vocational discipleship in churches in his native South Africa.

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