If you don’t hate unions, chances are someone close to you does. A relative, friend or neighbour, perhaps.
Union-bashing has been a favourite pastime since the age of the Industrial Revolution. These days, however, its popularity seems to know no bounds.
And that’s troubling, because no matter how over-sized or obstructionist or even corrupt some unions may become, the principle behind them should remain sacrosanct in any society that respects human dignity.
In the United States, unions are lame ducks. Last year, the state of Wisconsin stripped bargaining rights from its public-sector unions, rendering them impotent. Several states have since instigated so-called “right to work” laws, a euphemism for legislation that takes away the most fundamental tool unions possess: mandatory membership.
Canada has also seen a rise in anti-union policy under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Conservative government has repeatedly either legislated or threatened to legislate workers back to their jobs without a moment’s consideration.
Now, there’s Bill 377.
The controversial private member’s bill passed final reading in the House of Commons Wednesday by a margin of 147-135. Five government members voted against it.
The law forces all unions to disclose financial information to the public, including naming anyone who receives salaries or disbursements in excess of $100,000. That amount was raised from $5,000 in answer to privacy concerns.
“I think this is a significant privacy intrusion, and it seems highly disproportionate,” privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart told The Globe and Mail about the original bill.
And Stoddart still says the amendment is not good enough.
Imagine, for the moment, MPs were faced with a bill that forced political parties to disclose disbursements conducted outside campaign periods. That would include private contracts and salaries paid to fundraisers, pollsters and other operatives over the course of the year.
Imagine, even, that private companies were required to post finances in a similar manner.
One thing’s for sure: a lot more than five Tory MPs would be voting against it.
In short, on top of raising privacy concerns, the law is discriminatory. It could well face legal challenges on both fronts.
In this province, the hypocrisy would be even more stinging, since the Dunderdale government no longer discloses the full details of benefits to public appointees, let alone private ones.
The federal Conservatives and anti-union lobbyists argue the laws will increase transparency and uncover corruption in the union movement. That, of course, can be said about any sort of disclosure measure.
In truth, it’s just one more example of right-wing idealism driving legislation, with little or no thought given to balance and fairness.