Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Merit Contractors, trade unions, the goose and the gander

Peter Pilarski, vice president of Merit Contractors, has an interesting op-ed piece in the Calgary Herald this morning. His complaint is that 43 “union bosses” bought Progressive Conservative memberships, attended the PC convention two weeks back and then voted against a resolution that affected union members (more on this in a moment). According to Pilarski, this was somehow objectionable because these trade unionists tried “to influence (the meeting’s) outcome to their advantage.

Let’s set aside how buying a PC membership and casting a vote on a policy resolution, seems pretty much a poster-case for how democracy works and ponder how else the “union bosses” might have advocated for a policy position that is in the interests of their members.

Perhaps the private sector can give us some inspiration?

Hey, I know, let's think back to this spring when a series of emails between the Construction Competitiveness Coalition (a “union” which Merit Contractors is a member of) and the Conservative Party was unearthed. According to Global News:
In the emails, a member of the coalition refers to meetings with Alison Redford in 2011 before she won the Tory party leadership. It notes that “at that meeting she expressed strong support for our objectives and promised quick action when elected. This was further underscored by commitments published in the PC election platform."
(These objectives were significant changes in the labour law thatwould advantage construction employers.)
Other emails following her victory in the 2012 provincial election say the coalition was eager for another meeting with Redford on the labour file.

One of the emails to the executive director of Redford’s Calgary office calls his group a high-powered coalition of senior construction executives, including the presidents of PCL Construction and Ledcor.

“We both made major contributions to Ms. Redford’s leadership campaign and to the PC election campaign fund. Other members of the coalition were also significant supporters of both the premier and the PC party,” wrote Ledcor executive Tom Brown.

“There will be considerable disappointment and possibly misgivings within our coalition if I do not have something to report next week.”
In the words of Star Trek's George Takei, "Eau my!"

So, a private-sector solution can attempt to seek favourable public policy through donations. (This is, in fact, how the Construction Competitiveness Coalition characterizes its behaviour:
Paul de Jong, a spokesman for the Construction Competitiveness Coalition, said its member companies have done nothing wrong. He said any financial support a company may give to the Tories is part of its obligation as a stakeholder in the province’s future.)
But trade unionists should be ashamed to vote at a PC policy convention? Charitably, then, we might characterize Pilarski's position as a bit of a double-standard.

Pilarski’s op-ed then segues into praising union “transparency” legislation that is currently in vogue with conservative governments. The basic argument here is that, since unions get preferred tax treatment (dues are deductable, among other things), unions must then meet a higher standard of disclosure. Never mind that such disclosure will be financially crippling for unions and that unions are already directly accountable to their members via their constitutions. Regulation is good for unions, say conservatives.

Yet it is interesting that consistent logic is (again) not applied to the private sector. Companies get preferred tax treatment (e.g., being able to deduct expenses like creative sentences imposed for killing workers). Yet there is no sense that they should be held to exceptional levels of account (although note how Merit Contractors might well get caught by such legislation).

Again, we seem to have two standards that, (and it must be a coincidence) advantage private companies and punish workers and their associations.


-- Bob Barnetson

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