Le Blogue Broadbent

Canada's latest labour minister just like the old one

That was fast.

Just as news broke Wednesday that the union representing 3,000 workers at Canadian National Railway Co gave strike notice, meaning a strike could begin as early as Saturday, the Conservative government served notice it would be tabling back-to-work legislation.

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch stood in the foyer of the House of Commons to announce the government's plan to stop collective bargaining rights in its tracks.

This was fast, even by Conservative standards.

Since coming to power in 2006, the Harper government has tabled back-to-work legislation six times and used it four times to stymie the collective bargaining process and force workers back to work.

In this case, CN Rail and the Teamsters union reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday. Had they not, you can be sure Leitch would have acted on her threat.

Just ask employees of Air Canada (2012), Canadian Pacific (2012), Canada Post (2011), and CN Rail (2007). They were all stripped of their bargaining rights when the Conservatives let their employers off the hook. Why bargain when you know your friends in power will just order your employees back to work?

Leitch may not get her chance to kick around labour this time, now that a tentative deal has been reached. The Conservatives still have C-525 to do that.

The anti-union private member's bill, tabled by a Conservative backbencher and backed enthusiastically by Stephen Harper and his cabinet, is now at the committee stage in the House of Commons. The Conservatives seems poised to ram it through.

The bill borrows from Republican-style tactics in the United States to destabilize the labour movement and weaken the ability of unions to fight for fair wages and a shared prosperity.

C-525 proposes that a majority vote in favour of joining a union is no longer enough while letting a minority of the membership sign a petition to trigger a decertification vote. And by forcing a mandatory secret vote on employees who have already signed union cards, the bill makes the union certification process more difficult, allowing employers to intimidate employees.

This two-step process would put federal labour laws at odds with the rules in a number of Canada's provinces, where a "card check" of a majority of workers is enough to organize a union. 

Photo: waderUsed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.