Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher has sent media across the country a letter-to-the-editor regarding Bill C-377. The legislation is presently before a House of Commons finance committee. If passed, the legislation will increase operating costs for unions and pension and benefit plans.

The letter is on the iPolitics.ca website. Click here to read.

Following is the text of the letter.

Dear Editor:

As business manager of Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, one of the largest construction unions in Ontario, I am writing to express my concerns over legislation called Bill C-377 that’s presently being studied by a House of Commons finance committee.

The legislation, known as An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (Labour Organizations), will result in excessive paperwork for our union, increase administrative costs for our pension and benefit plans by up to 20 per cent, and intrude on the privacy of our employees.

Bill C-377 will undermine our union and create red tape that will significantly add to our operating costs. It will also increase costs for government as an unnecessary, huge bureaucracy will be needed to administer the Bill C-377 reporting requirements.

The legislation was introduced as a private member’s bill by Conservative B.C. MP Russ Hiebert. The bill purports to force trade unions like ours to become more transparent and accountable, but it’s really a nudge-nudge, wink-wink attempt to take a run at labour.

The legislation is offensive to unions and the staff of our union. Specifically, it will require Local 793 and 25,000 other local unions, as well as pension, benefit and health and welfare trusts, to report salaries of staff as well as any payments in excess of $5,000. This information will be posted on a Canada Revenue Agency website for all to see.

This is truly Orwellian-type legislation that will usher in an era where there is no privacy and too much government control.

The bill would require administrators of pension and benefit plans or other trusts to disclose personal details of plan members and beneficiaries and send them to Ottawa for publication.

For example, a widow who receives a cheque for over $5,000 in life insurance benefits would have his or her name disclosed on a public website for everyone to see.

I fail to see how this would serve the public interest.

Why for example, would the federal government want to know how much money an individual union member gets back from his or her dental plan as reimbursement for braces for a child?

There are already enough checks and balances in place to ensure that unions are accountable to their members. Unions issue financial reports that are readily available to members and they’re subject to internal audits, which are filed with provincial authorities.

The justification for this bill has been that unions need to be scrutinized more closely because members can deduct dues from the income on their tax forms. However, the legislation would not apply to groups like employer associations, and medical and bar associations, whose members deduct professional fees from their federal taxes as employment expenses.

Curiously, such organizations fall outside the scope of this legislation. Why is that? If unions are targeted, why are other groups off the hook?

By the same token, why would corporations that get tax benefits for investing in new equipment not have to abide by the same disclosure requirements as unions would have to under Bill C-377?

It is blatantly unfair for government to make special rules for organizations like unions that might not support the Conservative agenda.

Groups like Merit Canada and the National Citizens Coalition that support the Conservatives are not required to disclose their financials.

In reality, this legislation is an attempt by the Conservatives to silence their critics.

Privately, Conservative MPs have told us that Bill C-377 is being proposed because the federal government is concerned with the success of the Working Families Coalition in Ontario. The Coalition was supported by a number of provincial unions, including Local 793.

The provincial Tories challenged the legality of the Working Families Coalition before the courts on two occasions – and they lost both times. Bill C-377, then, is really about paying back the unions for the success of this legal third-party organization here in Ontario.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Merit Canada, which represents open shop construction associations, is the real force behind this legislation. Merit is the same group that successfully lobbied the government last year to repeal the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act and eliminate federal fair wages for construction. Merit Canada president Terrance Oakey has bragged publicly about his unprecedented access to government.

Media reports suggest that the prime minister’s chief of staff and director of planning have both met with Oakey and MP Hiebert to discuss the legislation. On Oct. 23, Oakey met with Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s chief of staff, and Alykhan Velshi, the prime minister’s director of planning. Hiebert was also at the meeting.

Curiously, though, Merit fails to publicly disclose any financial information and will not be required to by this bill if it passes.

Unfortunately, Conservative politicians aren’t speaking out against this odious legislation. They should follow the lead of Brent Rathgeber, Conservative MP for Edmonton-St. Albert, who has stated he can not support Bill C-377.

Rathgeber, a lawyer, recently stated in a blog on his website that both the scope and the breadth of the legislation is causing him some trouble.

“Where is the public interest in any of this disclosure?” he asks in the article.

I find it ironic that the Conservative government decided to scrap the long-gun registry because it infringed upon the privacy of gun owners but is intent on passing Bill C-377, which would violate the privacy rights of unionized workers.

The Canadian Bar Association has said that the legislation is “problematic from a constitutional and a privacy perspective” and believes it is inappropriate for it to be brought forward as amendments to taxation legislation.

In a democracy like ours, unions must be able to operate without government interference. Sadly, however, it appears that the Conservatives have singled out unions for special consideration because they were brazen enough to take part in the political process. The message, it seems, is that organizations that tow the line have no need to worry.

At times, democracies can be an inconvenience for governments. However, in order for a true democracy to work, all types of groups must be included, and that includes unions, women’s rights or environmental groups. I find it troubling that unions are being singled out with this legislation just because they disagree with the ruling Conservative party.

The Conservatives have no right to target unions simply because they have a different point of view. Bill C-377 is neither reasonable nor fair, and, quite simply, it should be axed.

Mike Gallagher
Business Manager
Local 793, International Union of Operating Engineers
905-469-9299, ext. 2202