Okay. I think it will be less than that, but we'll see.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee, for the opportunity to participate in this important study.
The Canadian LabourWatch Association was founded in the year 2000. Our mandate is to help working Canadians who may not want to become or remain unionized.
We'll address the committee's topic from two vantage points. First, closed tendering is inherently discriminatory and should be brought to an end. Second, taxpayers are not getting the best value for their federal tax dollars that fund any federal, provincial, or municipal construction work on which union-free workers, and in some cases unionized workers from certain unions, have been barred by law from working.
It is hard to believe that in a country like Canada in the year 2013, open tendering is not a reality for all of Canada's construction workers, particularly the significant majority of them who are not unionized.
Conservative Prime Minister Diefenbaker's bill of rights was followed by Prime Minister Trudeau's charter. Over the decades, human rights codes have spread across this country. Legislation, such as labour codes, regulating unionization has codified the right to join a union.
The Canada Labour Code and, from a government unionized worker point of view, the Public Service Labour Relations Act have very similar provisions regulating employer conduct when hiring employees. It is simply illegal for an employer to refuse to employ a person because he or she is a union member.
For example, subparagraph 94(3)(a)(i) states in part:
||(3) No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall
||(a) refuse to employ or to continue to employ or suspend, transfer, lay off or otherwise discriminate against any person with respect to employment...or any other term or condition of employment...because the person
||(i) is...a member...of a trade union....
Tendering schemes, funded by all taxpayers, whether unionized or union-free, have the exact opposite outcome. Workers who are union-free are discriminated against in a way workers who are unionized or are union members are not, in the other direction. It is even more shocking that union-free working Canadians who are also taxpayers cannot work on projects they fund as taxpayers simply because they're not unionized.
Canada is now the only nation left on earth that allows forced union membership and forced union dues for non-bargaining purposes, such as politics, social causes, including causes outside of the borders of this country, to be a condition of employment. In Canada, employers and unions can agree to require unionized employees to become and remain members of the union as a condition of employment. Any nation that ever allowed such coercive practices has outlawed them. Many nations never ever allowed them to exist.
Closed tendering, however it is arrived at, is simply a branch of this discriminatory bias in favour of union leaders who have more money and more power. Taxpayers and working Canadians, discriminated against in such a scenario, are the losers. It is intellectually dishonest to say that we believe in rights and freedoms, and that we oppose coercion, bullying, and discrimination, only to turn around and say that a certain class of Canadian need not apply for work.
Canadian human rights cover a range of grounds, from those that come to us by birth—the colour of our skin or our national origin—to those that, arguably, are a choice, such as marital status or religion. Closed tendering is the equivalent of saying, “Sorry, because you're not single, or because you're not married, or you're not a member of any religion or you're not a member of a certain religion, you cannot work at certain job sites.”
The solution is very simple. Require that federal tax dollars funding construction work be open to any employer regardless of the unionization status of its employees.
I will now turn to the second area I wish to focus on, value for dollars.
As far as I know, 2003 is the last time the Canadian Labour Congress made its research on attitudes to unionization public. While they claim some pockets of what they saw as positive news and attitudes of unionized employees toward union leaders, they wrote as follows:
||However, private sector union members have registered a significant drop in satisfaction with both national and local leadership. For national leadership, “satisfied” responses have dropped from 73% in 1993 to only 61% today. Views on local leadership among private sector workers have shown an even sharper drop—from 76% a decade ago to 61% today.
Let me reinforce that this is the research of the union-funded Canadian Labour Congress.
Over the years, several labour board chairs across Canada have advised me that the number-one filing before their labour board, year after year after year, is a complaint by unionized Canadians against their union leaders. Because unions, employers, and labour boards find these complaints difficult to deal with, what we have as an outcome is the three most powerful players lined up against the unionized employee and 95% to 99% of unionized employee complaints summarily dismissed by Canada's labour boards.
Hewitt Associates did a presentation at a major human resources conference in 2004 that assessed survey responses from 120,000 employees in Canada. Hewitt analyzed the data based on who was and was not unionized. They split their data into three groups: highly engaged, somewhat engaged, and non-engaged. The highly engaged group dropped from 66% engagement for the union-free to 55% if unionized. Equally telling, non-engaged scores were 13% among unionized respondents but only 6% among union-free, so there was a much smaller quotient of people who were not at all engaged in their work, according to this research of 120,000 Canadian employees.
In 2010, Gallup looked at engagement and productivity in the United States. As with Hewitt's work in Canada, unionized engagement scores were lower. In this U.S. research, they found that the engagement scores were 7 points lower and productivity levels among unionized Americans were 6% lower.
I'm now going to touch on two anecdotal items from my 30 years in the world of human resources and dealing with unions. At conferences attended by union stewards, I have heard, on numerous occasions, a lament that they are tired of protecting poor performers who simply should have been let go. This is also one of the public's perceptions of union leaders, that they protect people who should be let go from their jobs on a performance basis.
The close family relative of this reality is the legion stories from the unionized workplaces where energetic, high-performing new hires are pressured by the longer-serving old guard to slow down. I have lost count of how many times I have heard or read such observations.
Finally, in the world of construction unions in particular, there is a dysfunctional division of work that is anti-productive. It's the “It's not my job” refrain. Building trades leaders are zealous in protecting and fighting over their turf generally, and on job sites specifically. The rigid work demarcations live on from another era that needs to be put behind us. Unions collect money and funds that are used to subsidize unionized employers whose bids are higher, in part because of these lower productivity levels, lower engagement levels, and lower excellence levels.
These MERFs or STABs, as these funds are known in the industry, exist across this country. Their existence and growth, in many cases funded by the taxpayer, are further proof that taxpayers are on the losing end of these schemes. From my review of the last proceedings of this committee, the inflated price of infrastructure in Canada as a result of these policies arising from publicly available documents has already been discussed.
The City of Hamilton staff report estimates increased costs would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The City of Montreal report noted that costs on overall infrastructure were 30% to 40% more expensive, and on sewer and aqueduct projects 85% more expensive.
All Canadians, including unionized Canadians, deserve better than the status quo.
The way “duty of fair representation” complaints work is that an employer makes a decision in the workplace. The employee wishes to grieve the employer's decision. The union might not pursue the grievance, or it might drop the grievance, or it might negotiate a solution to the grievance.
What sometimes goes on at these meetings is that the employer and the union sit down and deal with, for example, 10 grievances, and they make a deal. On some grievances, the union and the employer agree that these won't be pursued, but that the ones will. It's probably like some of the deals that are made to move legislation through the House in terms of how things are going to happen, let's say, in a minority Parliament, in particular.
When the employee is turned down at any stage, they may decide to complain that their union has not fairly represented them, so they file a complaint with the labour board, called a “duty of fair representation” complaint.
The employer doesn't want the employee to succeed at the labour board because they want the decision to be found to be correct. They're glad that the union didn't take them on and pursue it all the way through to arbitration and to getting a decision.
Because there are so many of these now—they are the number one complaint the labour boards are dealing with—they're clogging their system. In fact, labour board chairs have approached LabourWatch and have asked us if there is anything we could do, as an organization, to put content on our website to try to influence unionized Canadians to file fewer such complaints.
The Advance Cutting and Coring Ltd. case in 2001 took a look at Quebec's forced-unionization scheme, where every construction worker ultimately must join one of five unions or you don't pound nails or do construction work. The Supreme Court then took at look at the specific Quebec scheme to see if it violated the charter. They said it violated the charter, five to four, because they said, eight to one, there is a freedom under Canada's Charter of Rights to not be forced into membership. In the end, one judge switched sides and they decided under section 1 of the charter to justify the charter violation of forcing people into the unions “given the history of union violence in Quebec”.
So it began at Expo '67, and it continued at James Bay in the 1970s. A former prime minister, then a labour lawyer, Mr. Mulroney, was part of the Cliche commission, which ultimately upheld and cemented this scheme that is intended to try to stop violence in Quebec. Now, in the news recently in Quebec is a union guy named Rambo from the FTQ who has been threatening people and is going through labour board proceedings, criminal proceedings. Frankly, it's not funny at all, because people were beat up at Expo '67 and James Bay. I talked to Quebec union people who work in this sector who still say if you work in the wrong part of the province, even from the wrong part of one of the unions where you sign cards, your tires are slashed, or some guy jumps into your truck at the job site and rides back with you to the hotel to make sure you know they're there.
Do you know what our Supreme Court said? It said that violence works. They abrogated our charter rights with a decision written by Mr. LeBel from Quebec, reviewing the history of union violence in Quebec. Violence on construction sites associated with building-trade unions, whether it's what goes on with the labourers in Toronto and Hamilton or what goes on in Quebec, is a problem. I think it's also one of the reasons we don't have the productivity and the excellence....
It is all a part of this forced-membership, closed-tendering club. It needs to end.
I'm sure Mr. Sullivan will like to find out that this particular situation was a result of a sub-sub-sub-subcontractor and had nothing to do with the main contractor of the job, who indeed was a unionized builder who provided hundreds and thousands of union jobs. This was like a small wart on a very large and well-run contract.
Mr. Mortimer, thank you for coming.
I was fortunate to live through the days of the Glen Clark government in British Columbia, the NDP government that decided they were going to build the Island Highway. As you may know, if you have done the research or were there, Mr. Clark's government put out an edict that no non-union company would be permitted to bid on the Island Highway.
That decision was challenged, and he had to reverse it, to the extent that any non-union contractor who bid was required to pay exactly what the union shops were paying or would not be allowed to bid.
There went the small, family-run operations that could do a better job for less money and that were used to being quite successful through being able to do so.
The argument, of course, is that because the job cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than it would have normally cost, had we had open tendering or open bidding complete with performance bonds, etc., from both sides, it was a very irresponsible thing to do.
I certainly agree with that argument, because I was a taxpayer in British Columbia and still am.
The basis of what you're saying today, when you wipe away the rhetoric we have heard from the other side—with the exception of that of our future mayor of Montreal, who is going to clean up all the mess over there—is that you believe that companies, whether union or non-union, should be permitted to bid on infrastructure contracts, and particularly on government-funded jobs, provided they can provide the appropriate bonding and performance promises and would be held to the terms of the contract.
That both sides, union and non-union, should be allowed to bid is the bottom line. It has nothing to do with whether one works better than the other; it's just that they must have a chance to bid.
One of the reasons some of my constituents tell me they belong to construction trade unions is that they are safer and they feel safer. I walked by a construction site yesterday—I asked and they said they were non-union—where they were jackhammering and not wearing any hearing protection. I commented and they said they don't have to.
They do under the law in Ontario if they're in a unionized workplace. Part of what the union does is ensure that the laws are upheld. Many of the people in my riding belong to Local 183 of the Labourers' Union, which has represented union members for many, many years on construction sites. They do it in a manner that is safe.
We had a swing stage collapse here in Toronto a couple of years ago in which four workers were killed. It was a non-union, non-represented worksite where corners were cut in order to get jobs done quicker, and of course it collapsed. It was a stage that should have only held four people; they put six on it and there were only safety lines for two. Four workers were killed as a result of the neglect of a contractor.
The population in my riding, many of whom came here from Portugal many years ago and are well trained in construction, want to work safely. That's part of what the issue becomes when we compare cases of corner-cutting, which goes on quite a bit on the non-union construction side. They don't have any overseers. Part of what a union does is help to regulate the tensions between an employer and an employee, which always exist.
There can be tensions when an employee says he wants to work safely. The worker wants to abide by the labour code and work safely, and the employer tells him he's not going to work there anymore. In a unionized workplace, that can't happen. That's part of what we're dealing with. I wondered if you had any comments for the thousands of workers in my riding who depend upon the safety that comes from being in a unionized workplace.
In fact, Mr. Oakey, from Merit Canada, who testified recently before our committee, was able to substantiate that this is a fairly widespread situation throughout Canada.
I’ll follow up on my colleague, Mr. Harris's question on MERFs. The acronym MERF is market enhancement recovery fund, and STABs are stabilization funds, sometimes also called JTFs, job targeting funds.
In Alberta's case, since the 2008 reforms to MERFs came in, they're now called, interestingly enough, membership development funds, but they have the same function.
Are these funds used in situations of open tendering, where unionized work is competing against non-unionized work for contracts?