Fraser Forum

Canada should follow U.S. example and give workers more choice

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Canadians should be aware of a recent landmark Supreme Court decision in the United States (Janus v. AFSCME) that will give American workers more choice by allowing workers in the government sector (federal, state and local) to decide whether they pay union dues or opt out altogether.

Indeed, there’s growing momentum in the U.S. to increase worker choice. Meanwhile, Canada has made no progress in industries under either federal or provincial jurisdiction. This is to the detriment of Canadian workers because increased worker choice encourages union leaders to be more accountable to dues-paying members and helps foster job opportunities and a stronger economy.

In Canada, workers can be required to join a union and pay full union dues as a condition of employment, despite the fact that union dues are often spent on activities—such as political causes—which workers may disagree with. Notably, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that full mandatory union dues are constitutional.

By contrast, the minimum standard in the U.S. is that workers are not required to join a union and can only be forced to pay dues related to representation with their employer. Indeed, unionized workers in the U.S. can opt out of paying union dues used to finance political activities (i.e. donations to political parties).

Additionally, a growing number of U.S. states have expanded on federal law, allowing workers to opt out of paying union dues altogether. Since 2012, six states have passed so called “right-to-work” laws that allow for full opt-outs. Missouri recently became the 28th state to pass a right-to-work law, although implementation is on hold pending a referendum. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision now means government-sector workers throughout the country are now right-to-work.

With these developments, Canada is falling further behind the U.S. in guaranteeing worker choice. And this is a problem for several reasons.

For starters, again, the U.S. experience suggests that union leaders become more accountable and responsive to their members when workers have more choice. With increased worker choice, union leaders must convince workers the union provides value that justifies the cost of dues. In other words, union leaders can’t take financial support of workers for granted, and they have a stronger incentive to be more accountable and responsive to dues-paying workers. A recent American study found that union workers in right-to-work states pay dues that are, on average, 14 per cent to 15 per cent less than union members in states with less worker choice. It also found that salaries of union executives tend to be lower in right-to-work states.

Interestingly, some union leaders in the U.S. have already prepared for the Supreme Court’s decision by pushing for their organization to become more grassroots and responsive to their membership.

Although opponents of worker choice laws argue they undermine the ability of unions to represent workers, survey results show that unionized workers in right-to-work states are as satisfied with the effectiveness of union representation as unionized workers in other states.

Additionally, a growing body of research shows worker choice laws lead to increased job opportunities and a more robust economy. According to a recent study that examined data from 1977 to 2010, worker choice laws in the U.S. were associated with a 1.8 per cent increase in state-level economic output and a one per cent increase in employment levels.

Canadian workers would gain a lot if we followed the U.S. example of guaranteeing workers more choice. The benefits include more accountable union organizations, greater opportunities and a stronger economy.


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