by Graham Lane
Published by the Winnipeg Sun, November 10, 2017
The Pallister government did ‘right’ when it brought back the secret ballot for certification of a union. Early in the NDP’s long reign, unions were rewarded for supporting the party by a repeal of the labour law requiring secret ballots. Absence of a secret ballot allowed unions to get an employer union-certified just by signing up 65% of workers – no meeting, no ballot, not even a ‘show of hands’ needed.
One of Manitoba’s then-longest operating electric contractors was ‘secretly’ unionized through the sign-up process. Without a meeting, without a secret ballot, it was unknowingly unionized through certification by the Labour Board. Regretting having signed cards, electricians tried to ‘take back’ their ‘vote’, but to no avail.
The firm had been unionized and the owners were shocked. Regret came into play as the workers wrote to the Labour Board repudiating their action. Pressure on the Labour Board did nothing, and the owners closed their door. My brother-in-law, a forty-year veteran with the firm, lost his job. He and his spouse, my only sibling, ended up moving to B.C. Had an open meeting been allowed and secret ballot held, no doubt that firm would still be in business.
Manitoba might be the worst province when it comes to keeping the cost of new infrastructure reasonable. Knowledgeable sources estimate that public infrastructure projects come in 30% higher than economically justifiable. The ‘excess’ cost is one of the many reasons our provincial and municipal taxes are so high. With Manitoba’s infrastructure deficit (roads, buildings and utility requirements) exceeding $10 billion, ‘wasting’ 30% is but an extra and ‘quiet’ tax on all of us.
Part of the problem is bureaucracy, evident with the City of Winnipeg and the Province. First, costs are pushed up by excessively detailed requirements, high process costs, and delays for permits and inspections. The problem is also the union centric structure of labour laws, regulations and governmental practices. Unlike free-market labour rules, which would have owners offering wages to workers relevant to their abilities and productivity, the provincial Labour Board establishes minimum wages for the construction trades (in force whether a firm is profitable or not, unionized or not). Another problem, finally being addressed by the Pallister government, was public work going only to unionized firms.
A Labour Board committee (involving union, management and public representatives) meet to review labour issues, including amending the schedules of minimum wages for the trades. Minimum wages are set for a lengthy list of construction trades (electricians, plumbers, labourers, apprentices), and, oddly, security guards. Whether the worker has year-round assured work (say, an employee of a university) or not, the minimum hourly wage schedule applies.
Another controversial matter is the arbitration processes when a worker seeks redress for claimed mistreatment. An aggrieved worker can have h/her situation before a multiple number of adjudicators – WCB, WS&H, Human Rights, Employment Services – at the same time. The result: enormous legal and other costs for employers and long delays resulting in anxiety and delayed needed services for workers. One of the adjudicating bodies should address all issues that arise. The Labour Board seems to be the logical choice.
I have but touched the surface of many labour matters requiring reform. More later.
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