The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 15, 2017

Oh Canada: thanks for trying to eliminate our state RTW laws

By The Building Tradesman

Canada is known for its good beer, wide open spaces, interesting football games, and passion for hockey. 

It's also a nation that's a helluva lot more union-friendly than its neighbor to the south, a fact that's being played out as the U.S., Canada and Mexico go about preliminary discussions on re-writing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

According to a Sept. 5 report in the Toronto Globe and Mail,  "Canadian negotiators are demanding the United States roll back so-called 'right to work' laws – accused of gutting unions in some U.S. states by starving them of money – as part of the re-negotiation of the North American free-trade agreement. The request is part of a push by Ottawa to get the U.S. and Mexico to adopt higher labour standards under the deal."

The Canadian clause to eliminate statewide right-to-work laws - there are now 28 states that have them, including Michigan - was made "presumably in order to prevent poorly paid Americans from undercutting organized Canadian labor on wages," wrote Jordan Weissmann for The Slate. "Obviously, this is not what the Trump administration had in mind when it demanded our neighbors return to NAFTA’s negotiating table."

The Globe and Mail continued: "One source familiar with the discussions said Canada wants the United States to pass a federal law stopping state governments from enacting right-to-work legislation; the source said the United States has not agreed to such a request. Canada believes that lower labour standards in the United States and Mexico, including right to work, give those countries an unfair advantage in attracting jobs."

Right-to-work laws allow workers in a company or in a bargaining unit to enjoy the benefits of union membership without having to pay union dues, and they are notorious for lowering wages in states that have such laws.

There is just about zero chance that President Trump - who has said he "likes" right-to-work - or the great majority of the Republican-run Congress would go along with adopting a federal law that outlaws statewide right-to-work laws. In fact, the imposition of a nationwide right-to work law is not all that far-fetched with these lawmakers.  

Still, “I’m very pleased with the position the Canadian government is taking on labour standards,” said Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union. “Canada’s got two problems: The low wage rates in Mexico and the right-to-work states in the United States.”

Canada's workforce had a 31.8 percent unionization rate in 2016. For the U.S. last year, the public and private unionization rate was 10.7 percent.