Ontario Tory Leader Tim Hudak is right to retreat from ‘right-to-work’
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is right to retreat from his union bashing ‘right-to-work’ policy. But why did he adopt it in the first place?
Feb 23 2014. Editorial
At least he didn’t waffle and use weasel words. After weeks of obfuscation, Ontario Tory Leader Tim Hudak’s public abandonment of a key union-bashing policy was refreshingly direct.
“If we’re elected, we’re not going to do it,” he told a gathering of the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Friday. Hudak pledged to leave the so-called Rand Formula alone, retreating from his plan to kill it in order to strip organized labour of money and members.
No political leader wants to appear indecisive. And with a provincial election expected as soon as this spring, Hudak couldn’t have found it easy to flip-flop on this major party initiative. But he was right to give way.
His ill-judged policy opened divisions within Progressive Conservative ranks and fueled an aggressive push-back from organized labour. There was growing risk it could cost the party more votes that it earned. But that wasn’t the foremost reason to condemn it — Hudak’s plan was monumentally unfair to working people.
Ontario’s Rand Formula has served this province well for more than 65 years. Even former premier “Chainsaw Mike” Harris didn’t dare meddle with it. The formula requires employees in a unionized workplace to pay union dues, whether they want to be members or not. There’s no opting out since it wouldn’t be fair for free-riders to reap benefits from a union contract while contributing nothing to the organization bargaining on their behalf.
Hudak wanted to replace that measure with so-called “right-to-work” legislation, draining labour’s clout by allowing people in unionized workplaces to reject union membership and refuse to pay their dues. The policy was announced in 2012 and featured prominently in a secret Tory campaign blueprint drafted in case of an election last year. Now it’s officially dead.
Good riddance. Right-to-work laws are prominent in parts of the United States and tend to drive down wages in comparison to places where collective bargaining is safeguarded. It should come as no surprise that undermining the collective voice of unionized workers makes them less likely to be heard.
It was, frankly, appalling for Ontario’s official Opposition party to blatantly urge such a retrograde measure. Comparisons to the far-right U.S. Tea Party movement were not far wrong. Some Conservatives realized that and wisely urged retreat. At first, Hudak resisted. Dave Brister, the party’s former candidate in Essex, spoke out a bit too forcefully and was unceremoniously dumped. But now the Tory leader is doing what those internal critics advised and scrapping his misguided policy.
Union leaders, as well as some Liberals and New Democrats at Queen’s Park, accused Hudak of simply hiding his intention to pass right-to-work legislation. They warned that if a Hudak government is elected, this retrograde measure would still happen. But such concern seems overblown. It would be exceedingly difficult for Hudak to reverse himself on this, yet again, especially in the face of internal party resistance to a “right-to-work” law.
This type of measure is obviously no cure for Ontario’s economic ills. It would sap the income of working people. And there was no pressing call for such action before Hudak tossed it onto the political agenda, where it landed with a thud. In his speech on Friday he conceded that “not very many” employers and workers had expressed interest in a right-to-work law. Yet he pushed the idea forward anyway before reversing his unfortunate stance.
Give Hudak credit for finally seeing the light. But why was he so blind in the first place?
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