Time to Rein in the Unions

Canadian unions under fire for supporting Hamas: calls for reform in financial transparency and member choice. Photo: Flicker


Labour unions have had a very comfortable time in Canada for decades, but recent events have confirmed that it is past time to rein in their extracurricular activities. Most Canadians have been appalled by the pro-Hamas stance that many unions have been actively demonstrating in the wake of the horrific October 7 massacre by Hamas in Israel. Some of the most vocal unions have been public sector unions such as CUPE, which are financed exclusively with our tax dollars. Many union members are appalled by the stance that has been taken by their union to which they are forced by law to pay dues but have absolutely no agreement with their pro-Hamas position. One can only imagine the frustration of Jewish union members who are legally required to pay dues to unions that are supporting their violent and murderous enemies. 

Sadly, the position taken by unions in response to the current Middle East conflict is nothing new. For decades, unions have supported such ridiculous things as funding flotillas to Gaza and promoting BDS (Boycott, divest and sanction Israel) policies with the dues of their members, with zero permission from their members to do so. The more recent union support of the Hamas atrocities is merely the most repulsive example of union support for terrorists. 

The way many developed countries handle this kind of situation is to legislate that union dues that are required by law can only be spent on collective bargaining activities, not various political causes that union leaders favour. To conform with this type of law, unions have to be transparent with their financial statements so that any funds spent on political activities are separated and dues for this purpose can only be levied with the union members’ agreement with the political activities. Other countries simply make union dues voluntary, so that employees can decide if being a member of a union is beneficial or not. This is the best solution as unions in these situations need to earn their keep and convince their members they are worth supporting. In such circumstances, unions would not dare to support extreme causes like Hamas and would have to focus on measures that actually were beneficial to their members.

Canadian unions fight furiously against any form of financial transparency, which should in itself raise suspicions about how they are spending members’ funds. Stephen Harper’s government passed legislation to require financial transparency from unions – which should be a no-brainer considering how union dues are mandatory in Canada. This is especially true for public sector unions, as we taxpayers are compelled by law to pay the taxes that finance government unions. When the Trudeau Liberals were elected, one of their first actions was to reverse the requirement for unions to be transparent about their finances, to the detriment of every private sector taxpayer in Canada. 

For union members who disagree with the union’s position on issues such as support for Hamas, there is another option. Canada’s laws permit employees to choose a charity to which they can contribute the same amount of union dues instead of giving those funds to the union. The process for doing so is inordinately complicated however, and geared to discourage people from using this option as it is so difficult to navigate. Our Canadian governments have for years been too beholden to unions at the expense of the majority of Canadians who are not unionized and don’t want to be, and that needs to change. 

Most Canadians are also not aware that the overwhelming representation of unions in workplaces today is in the public sector. This wasn’t always the case, as decades ago private sector unionization was dominant. But today, only about 13 per cent of the private sector is unionized, compared to 80 per cent of government. Unions in the private sector have failed to adapt to trends such as globalization and the impact of technology. But in government, unions are guaranteed a monopoly position to extort taxpayers endlessly, and that is exactly what they are doing. The 80 per cent of Canadians who do not work for government should be incensed at this situation where government employees earn more than their private sector counterparts, and have better pensions and other benefits than the taxpayers who support them. 

The unacceptable stance taken by many Canadian unions in relation to the Israel-Hamas war provides a perfect opportunity to make positive changes to the laws that govern the unions so that their members have more input into union affairs. It would be refreshing to see some labour lawyers well-informed about current laws take up the cause of employees who want to refuse to pay unions for the political activities with which members disagree.  Canada has been far too generous to unions that have become a drag on our finances and the productivity of our economy. It’s time to seize the opportunity to make positive change. 

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