Wicked attack on Canada's labour unions

Monday, April 02, 2012

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

“NEFARIOUS” IS DEFINED IN THE Oxford dictionary as “wicked or criminal.” I would define the federal government’s Bill C-377 as nefarious. Bill C-377 is politely entitled An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (Labour Organizations). The bill was introduced by MP Russ Hiebert from South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale.

Tom Sigurdson, BCBT Executive DirectorHiebert argues that unions need to be more transparent in all financial transactions in order to be more accountable. The reasoning is that union members receive tax benefits because their dues are tax deductible. So, the bill would allow anyone to see the detailed expenditures of every local union. Heibert’s proposed bill is similar to the legislation that requires charities to report their financial transactions, he said. And yet, this bill requires unions to disclose significantly more information than any charity or, for that matter, any corporation that gets a tax break. Hiebert knows that seven provinces already have reporting requirements. B.C. is one of them.

However, he seemingly ignores the fact that all union members are entitled to see the audited financial statements of their union local at any time. Many local unions affiliated to the BC Building Trades Council publish and distribute their audited statements to their members through their newsletters. Other local unions arrange mutually convenient times for members to come in and review the statements.

There is already full disclosure — to members. And let’s make it clear: union members, not the government, should direct their local union.

The anti-union merit shop contractors have long wanted access to union financial statements. They want to know:

  • how much money there is in their pension funds
  • what’s in their training funds
  • what have they budgeted for their health and welfare plans
  • how much is in their strike funds
  • what they donate to charities
  • what they’ve set aside for political lobbying
  • how much is allocated for market recovery funds
  • how much is spent on union promotion

They want to know the finite details of our organizational operations so they can accelerate their attacks. Bill C-377 is modeled on American disclosure legislation. Anti-union advocates have fundamentally changed workers’ rights over the last three decades. Unions are required to file disclosure statements which number in the hundreds of pages—for each union! And the cost of filing those papers is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Canadian Building and Construction Trades Department, which does not administer pension, health and welfare, training or strike funds, estimates it would cost $175,000 to prepare its statements.

What will it cost your local union? Bill C-377 requires disclosure for all transactions and disbursements over the combined total amount of $5,000 made to any member from any trust.That means any member (or family member) who has health and welfare claims of more than $5,000 in a year will have his or her information publicly disclosed.

This bill is not about transparency, accountability and disclosure. It is about the continued downward spiral of skills, wages and benefits that the anti-union contractors started 30 years ago.

We should be doing more to develop skills and bring about better wages and conditions. Instead we have a Member of Parliament assisting the anti-union contractors in an exercise that is both shameful and nefarious.

BC Building Trades

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