With the passage of legislation in Michigan to make it a so-called “right to work” state, PC leader Tim Hudak and several of his caucus have jumped on the idea of doing the same here.

It’s a grand sounding concept.

It infers that people have a right to work in Ontario but are somehow being denied that right.

The concept, in reality, is much different.

Actually, “right to work” is an American idea, affirmed in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act that amended the National Labor (sic) Relations Act.

It allows employees in a unionized workplace to choose to forego paying union dues, yet still get the wages and the benefits derived from the collective bargaining agreements bargained by the union.  In other words, they can get the benefits even though they are not paying the costs.

Unions call them “free riders.”

The political right supports “right to work” (RTW) legislation because companies do not want to deal with unions, nor favour paying the higher wages and benefits they win.

The right believes, correctly, that if union dues are voluntary, many people will stop paying them (why pay for what you can get for free?) thus cutting off union resources so they cannot bargain or organize effectively. Union membership will drop, further weakening unions.

And in fact, in the U.S., all of this is exactly what has happened.

Mr. Hudak has a problem here in Canada, however: the so-called “Rand Formula” in Ontario, a compromise ruling by Justice Ivan Rand in1946.

Contrary to what some uninformed PC’s have been telling people, the Rand Formula does not force anyone to belong to a union.

It does however say that someone who benefits from wage increases and benefits derived from a union, such as collective bargaining, they must pay union dues – the opposite of the Taft-Hartley Act.

Hence, if you go to work in a unionized workplace where you necessarily benefit from the wages and benefits negotiated by the union for you, you must pay union dues.

In other words, Justice Rand said there should be no “free riders.”

This is what Mr. Hudak wants changed.

Mr. Hudak says this will mean more prosperity for “hard-working families,” who will be able to keep more of their pay in their own pockets rather than pay union dues.

He is also demanding that salaries of union staff and elected leaders be made public, along with any monies they spend on political activities.

Let’s be absolutely clear here.

Unions are democratic organizations that come to represent employees in a workplace only after a majority of employees have voted in favour of joining.

Almost all unions already report the financial information Mr. Hudak is requesting to their members every year. Their members would rise up against them if they didn’t.

Unions are also private organizations, funded with the private dues of their members – just like the conservative-friendly Albany Club in Toronto, the National Citizens’ Coalition, the Canadian Federation of Small Business or the Ontario Taxpayers’ Federation.

They are not public agencies like the LCBO or Ontario Lottery and Gaming.

And though union dues are tax deductible, so are the costs of business entertainment for companies.

Many businesses make tax-deductible political donations.

And most glaring of all, political parties such as the one Mr. Hudak leads are heavily subsidized by public money, as donations are tax-deductible. Yet, taxpayers have no say in their money going to support his party or any other.

Mr. Hudak is not demanding any of these make their finances, nor what they spend on political activities, known publicly.

He is certainly not refusing money from taxpayers who don’t want the taxes they pay going to subsidize donations to his party.

So why is Mr. Hudak asking for special rules and limitations on just one private organization – unions?

It’s easy to deduce.

After the last election in 2011, Mr. Hudak and those around him blamed advertising by the Working Families (WF), a group financed by union funds, for his defeat. (Full disclosure #1: WF advertised on ontarionewswatch.com during the campaign; Full disclosure #2: I also wrote a story decrying the WF ad and those of the Liberals, Tories and NDP for lack of truth in advertising.)

Again, the night the PC’S under his leadership lost the Kitchener-Waterloo by election in what was widely seen as a safe Tory seat (held for 22 years by Elizabeth Witmer,) he blamed “big union money.”

Mr. Hudak thereby attempted to deflect blame away from his leadership for both those losses.

The PC’s took the WF to court several times to have their funding of political causes declared unlawful.  The courts ruled against the Conservatives each time.

And what Mr. Hudak isn’t telling you is that employees – union members, in, for instance the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) – voted democratically by a 75% margin to use their own money – their dues – to campaign against Mr. Hudak in the 2011 election through supporting the WF.

Contrast that with a PC policy platform voted on by exactly no one in that party before the last election.

Contrast it with the accusations flying in the party that Mr. Hudak and PC party president Richard Ciano deliberately disallowed valid candidates to contest the PC nomination in Brant riding and handpicked Phil Gillies as the PC candidate for the next election instead.

The concern about democracy seems somewhat selective and it’s difficult to not believe there are those around Mr. Hudak who believe it’s “payback time” for the unions.

But back to the “right to work” idea itself for Ontario.

PC deputy leader Christine Elliott  says “right to work” legislation will mean more jobs in Ontario, and higher paying ones to boot.

If that were the case, “right to work” would make perfect sense.

But let’s look at the facts.

In the U.S., counting Michigan’s vote last week, 24 states now have “right to work” legislation on their books.

Hard statistics are difficult to come by, but according to the Economic Policy Institute:

“The effect on the average worker—unionized or not—of working in a right-to-work state is to earn approximately $1,500 less per year than a similar worker in a state without such a law.”

Even the Wall Street Journal says “States that bar mandatory union dues tend towards more jobs but lower wages.”

That may be a choice that Ontarians are willing to make.

But they need to be told the true facts.

Far from “modernizing” labour relations, as Mr. Hudak puts it, he is actually taking them back to the thinking behind the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act in the U.S. and before the Rand Formula decision of 1946 here in Canada.

“Right to work” is just the latest salvo against unions by the PC leader and his campaign team, made up of some of the most prominent members of Mike Harris’ Whiz Kids.

But this group always has always tended to use a whipping boy that they say has it better than everyone else, and shouldn’t.  The aim is to stir resentment and translate that into a vote for Mr. Hudak.

This time it’s unions.

In 1995 it was welfare recipients; in1997 it was teachers; in 2003 it was criminals (remember Ernie Eves in handcuffs with barbed wire?); in 2011 it was putting prisoners on chain gangs and “foreign workers.” This same group has run all the PC campaigns except 2007 since Mike Harris came to office in 1995 and their fingerprints are unmistakable.

Looked at from this perspective, Mr. Hudak’s crusade against unions has nothing to do with “modernizing,” but rather is part of a tired old songbook.

By Susanna Kelley

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