COLUMN: Lilley – Union bosses want workers in the dark

- December 21st, 2012

Long-overdue look at where union dues go

Brian Lilley

Parliament gave a present to unionized Canadians last week, but the Grinches that are Canada’s union bosses hope to steal it away before their members and dues payers unwrap it.

Just before breaking for Christmas, the House of Commons passed Bill C-377 which will force unions in this country to open their books. It’s estimated unions collect $4 billion to $5 billion in tax-free money with no public accountability.

While union bosses hate the idea and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against it, a 2011 Nanos poll showed 86% of unionized Canadians like the idea and want to know what’s going on with their union dues.

Rather than accept the will of Parliament and the workers who pay them, union leaders promised to fight the bill in the courts, a move that could see millions more spent to keep the public and many dues payers in the dark.

I’ve been in a unionized job more than once in my working life. My mother was a union member and a shop steward, my sister is still in a unionized job. My late father was a member of the Boilermakers union his whole career.

I can tell you first-hand that union members and non-members want to know where the money is going.

The other day, I found out Newton B. Jones, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers president, earned $600,000 in salary and perks in 2011. McClatchy Newspapers reports Jones’ salary increased by 67% over the last few years. Several relatives of Jones are on the union payroll and do very well with generous, six-figure salaries.

Funny, my father saw his pension, held and managed by that union, cut by hundreds of dollars per month before he died last December. It’s the economy and things aren’t going, so well he and other pensioners were told.

Seems things are just fine for Jones and his family.

I’m able to know this because America has long had the kind of disclosure laws that should be coming to Canada. American public disclosure began in the 1950s with a Senate bill called the Kennedy-Ervin Act. Then Democratic Sen. John F. Kennedy led the charge for public disclosure. As president, his administration’s implementation was overseen by his brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy.

Big labour’s leader George Meany, the head of the American Federation of Labour, supported the legislation.

Compare that to the reaction from Canada’s union bosses at having to reveal how they spend billions in tax-free union dues and other revenues.

“It’s about destroying the labour movement and it’s about destroying the middle class,” said CAW president Ken Lewenza.

The largest union of federal government workers, PSAC, called the bill “another attack on public services,” and Ken Georgetti, who heads up the Canadian Labour Congress, called the bill “disgusting.”

But what is truly disgusting is that Canada’s union leaders think their dues payers and the tax-subsidizing public deserve less information about how union money is spent than their Canadian unions already report in the U.S.

European nations and Australia also have public disclosure.

Opponents of the bill want the public, but specifically their dues payers, to believe this bill is an attack on unions.

It’s not.

But it is an attack on the unprecedented powers and privileges union bosses have to collect and spend, safe from the prying eyes of the people they take the money from.

As my father used to say at union meetings, show us where the money is going.

Categories: Politics

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13 comments

  1. D MacDonald says:

    I do not know why union bosses in Canada have so much trouble with this bill. The international unions that head quartered in the USA like the boilermakers or pipefitters have to make reports to the USA gov. I agree that people just like your fathers pension have not been what they should be because of what the union leaders have done with money over the years like trips to warm places in the winter to golf and talk about pension plan. Every union member I have talked to about this bill say it is about time they suits that run the unions come clean.

  2. Brian says:

    Brian,
    Any union member has free access, protected by law, to access the accounts of her or her union, at any time.
    Will you, in the interest of balance, also press for business and professional lobby groups to also disclose their expenditures for the general public? Surely it makes sense that if unions are required to let the general public know where their money is spent it would only be right that we know where the Fraser Institute or the Canadian taxpayer federation spends its members’ money?
    Yes, we know that unions support political candidates and programs. How about their campaign expenditures?

  3. Casey Shortridge says:

    As a member of a building trade union, I think this is a terrible law. I have access to all my union’s financial information, as a member. I know what my Business manager gets paid, what we spend on training, etc. I just don’t think that the general public needs access to this information. I don’t see the Canadian Medical Assn., the Society of Professional Engineers or the legal professionals having to disclose the financial details of their associations to the general public at their expense. It seems a little odd that of all the “Associations” around, only unions are being required to generate this kind of documentation. Especially when you think of how revealing how much you spend on training or how much money is in your strike fund could affect how you compete with non-union companies or how you collectively bargain. How’s this – I’m a member of a union, I contributed my income to those funds, and I’d like my privacy respected, and not have the sum total of those funds revealed to the public at large. And certainly not at my expense. Where do you think the funds required to pay people to generate this kind of documentation comes from? I guess I have to earn it and contribute it. Why?

  4. Jen says:

    NDP get their money from the unions and they have the nerve to attack other big business that do not take money from the workers.

  5. bob says:

    Now when they report how there money is spent .Certain rags that claim that they are professional journalists interested in reporting only facts will spin the facts so that they can get the members upset . Thus the next step “the right to work legislation” Members can get the benefits that the union got them and not have to pay for them. Weakening and deviding the union members .
    On another note why don’t we get the right to pay taxes . We get the benefits and don’t have to pay for them

  6. Sue McIntyre says:

    Obviously Brian, you have never been in a union. Union members have access to all of the finances and the membership has to approve any spending! This is worker money, not tax dollars! I can’t believe I am even talking to someone about this that has not done the research! We have the right to support who we want as a group and we have a right to free speech. When you are talking about a union such as the one I belong to, the average wage across Ontario for our members is $46,000. Boy are we rich! Why do you not start reporting on management wages and spending…..we do not see much of that from you and your program!

  7. lastred01 says:

    Some of a couple key and important points that have not been brought up and should are these. This Bill-is only going after certain unions because the Police and Hospitals are not included in this bill, but they are Union, so why is that?

    Now as far as anything that is over 5000.00 dollars automatically has to be put up on a public website for all too see, Has nothing to do the top dogs of whatever union they are running. This has to do with privacy laws which is obviously being thrown out the window, Any competitor or business can now see our business plans, our bids, and how we are able to acquire contracts for work. That’s how you have a competitive edge in business, now this new bill, it’s retarded

    Finally which is really nobody’s business but they want to change that with this bill, if your union and you have any high medical bills, or your partner needs expensive treatment, it will now be posted on this site for the whole Internet to read everything about what’s going on in your personal life. That’s not right and its nobody’s business

    Like I said in the beginning though I just find it odd that although Hospitals are Union, Police Force is Union, and everything else that is a government establishment does not have to abide by this new rule. It’s the real working unions that build and put this county together are the ones that are being punished. It’s not over by any means that’s for sure

  8. ETFO member says:

    As an ETFO member, I support this bill. I have no idea where my union fees are going and what pays for what (regarding salaries, programs, building costs). I have never been offered a printout of my union’s costs. If I did find something objectionable (and I have), I have no way of communicating my findings with other members as the union heads control all means of communication with members.

    Large unions are exploiting the naiveté of their members (who, unlike union heads also work at jobs during the week and are too busy to comb through accountancy books) and siphoning off money for clique issues that members have no say in supporting. The Islamophobia workshop paid for by teachers by ETFO is one example. Why am I paying for this? How many members understand what they’re paying for?

  9. Jim Powell says:

    How about doing the same thing with all “unions” such as the Canadian Medical Association, the various bar associations, etc. These all collect monies from their members with the stated purpose of representing the interests of members — don’t we also deserve to see how they spend their money?

  10. Action one says:

    It has always been a longstanding jab by unions to critisize management for their outrageous salaries…seems this boiler maker union head isnt any different. If I was a union paying person( i was in the past) I would want to know that my dues were being spent to further the cause of the union rather than lining the pockets of the union executive as well as their families.

  11. Kelly Glen says:

    You have obviously bought into this “union busting” schedule that Mr Stephen Harper is mandating. It has to be a blanket policy. That would include Police, hospitals etc. All unions should be included. We can see the writing on the wall! Look at what Steven Harper is doing with the sale of Nexen. He’s selling our Canadian oil from under our feet! The application for 200 temporary foreign (Chinese) workers to work at a mine in B.C, in which a Canadian wouldn’t be employed at for over 4 and a 1/2 years! He’s taking “our” oil, and our jobs, while clouding the issue with mindless rhetoric about an open book union spending policy, that any union member already has access to!

  12. J Biseau says:

    I am ashamed to say that I am a CUPE member and in my opinion I would rather not be. I have a union that is bought and paid for by the Government. We have no assistance from them at all.

    In fact we have to hire our own lawyers in order to get a fair deal when it comes to issues that our Union should be handling. All we seem to get from them is the run around. Passed from one shop steward to another and nothing is done, it is all swept under the rug.

    They should be accountable for the dues collected, considering they are collecting dues for services not provided.

  13. Enough already says:

    Unions cry for transparency for the people, then fight for the right to hide their books from the people.

    What are they hiding?

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