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Political lobbying doesn't help CUPE member interests

Howard Levitt, Political lobbying doesn't help CUPE member interests, Financial Post, January 14, 2009

Source: Financial Post

CUPE president oversteps mandate

Is Sid Ryan an incorrigible anti-semite? Does it matter? Other than to his friends and family, it shouldn't. But as president of the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, his opinions, however bizzare, are meaningful.

Like any Canadian union, CUPE can spend its members' dues and taxpayers' subsidies on its president's idionsyncratic political, arguably racist, peccadillos. The problem is all union members are required by labour relations legislation provincially and federally to contribute money to their unions, whether or not they support its goals.

The right of unions to use these dues as they wish was challenged, and the Supreme Court of Canada upheld that right, saying political initiatives might be used to advance members' interests, in the same way as, or more effectively than, through collective bargaining.

While this argument primarily applies to actions such as supporting sympathetic politicians or political initiatives that create jobs for their members, by the law of unintended consequences, this ruling permits unions to squander dues on things, such as Mr. Ryan's boycott of Israeli professors.

CUPE's initiative, as well as a resolution by the Canadian Union of Public Workers (the postal union) supporting divestment from and the boycott of Israeli products, obviously has nothing to do with their members' interests in obtaining higher wages and better working conditions.

Theoretically, Ryan's resolution must be adopted by CUPE as a whole at its convention. However, such conventions are usually attended by a core group of activists, many of whom are appointed by their Union Locals to attend. So it stands to reason, if they want paid time off to attend further conventions, they had best vote in favour of the resolutions of those appointing them.

Unfortunately, unions also are subsidized by taxpayers through various forms, including tax exemptions. That means Mr. Ryan and his ilk are spending our money, too, on political hobby horses.

Increasingly, activist shareholders and regulatory bodies are providing controls over spurious misadventures by the custodians of corporations' money, with relief coming from the courts. There is no reason unions should be treated differently. If anything, union members require greater protection than do boards of directors and shareholders.

Since unions generally represent employees at hundreds or thousands of companies, those at any one place have limited influence in opposing policies. It would require an organizing effort beyond the ability of most to remove Mr. Ryan and union leaders like him. Union members, dissatisfied with their leadership can decertifiy themselves and either join another union or operate without union representation.

Taxpayers can conduct a boycott of companies whose unions support causes they oppose, unless those companies denounce that initiative, as Canada Post quickly did last year when CUPW passed its Israeli boycott resolution. This strategy won't work with public sector unions, such as CUPE.

However, the government, for its part, should treat unions as they do corporations and pass legislation permitting membership to challenge actions that don't promote their wages and benefits.

Similarly, unions should be required to fully disclose how members dues are spent -- imposing an era of transparency and accountability upon the still Machiavellian, largely unregulated, regime of union-member relations. Then, whatever Mr. Ryan and CUPE leader-ships' views were, it would be less likely they be imposed on their members and Canadians. If Mr. Ryan then wanted to compare Israel's actions to that of Nazis, it would be unfortunate, but relatively innocuous.

Howard Levitt, counsel to Lang Michener LLP, is an employment lawyer practising in eight provinces and author of The Law of Dismissal for Human Resources Professionals. He can be reached at hlevitt@langmichener.ca

Press Releases

The CUPE proposals and clarification, (Jan 5, Jan 13, Jan 14)
CUPE 3902 (local branch), Executive Statement, (rejecting boycott proposal)
Canadian Graduate Students, Petition Against the Proposed CUPE Ontario Boycott of Israeli Academics and Institutions
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), petition
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), press release
B'nai Brith Canada, CUPE-National must address blatant discrimination by its Ontario affiliate, Press Release, January 6, 2009
B'nai Brith Canada, Why is CUPE National still silent on Hamas terrorism, Press Release, January 13 2009

News Reports

Union at Ontario Universities Proposes Boycott of Israeli Professors, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 6, 2009
Sid Ryan's bigotry, National Post, 6 January 2009
Bob Dale, Ottawa needs to proscribe CUPE's anti-Israel agenda, The National Post, January 06, 2009
Sid Ryan keeps digging, National Post, 7 January 2009
Tamas Virag, Local Jews slam union ban idea, The Edmonton Sun, January 7, 2008
Kate Dubinski, Western rejects CUPE call for boycott, The London Free Press, January 8, 2009
CUPE should stay out of politics, Calgary Herald, January 08, 2009
Vanessa Kortekaas, CUPE Ontario leader apologizes for 'Nazi' reference, The Ottawa Citizen, January 8, 2009
Jessica Ireland, Ryan's Israel stance creates rift in CUPE, The Windsor Star, January 09, 2009
Susan Martinuk, Racism is behind push to ban Israeli scholars, The Calgary Herald, January 09, 2009
James Cowan, Right to fight?, National Post, January 10, 2009
Michael Coren, Lecture for a union, Toronto Sun, 10th January 2009
Oren Gross, CUPE Ontario's proposed boycott of Israeli academics is just plain anti-Semitic, The Globe and Mail, January 13, 2009
Kenyon Wallace, Ryan rebuked by national CUPE head, Toronto Star, 14 January 2009
Howard Levitt, Political lobbying doesn't help CUPE member interests, Financial Post, January 14, 2009
Joe Howell, CUPE Ontario proposes to ban Israeli academics from campuses, The Strand, 15 January 2009
Ryan’s rage, Editorial, Canadian Jewish News, January 15, 2009
Murray Teitel, A waste of CUPE's money, Toronto Sun, 15 January 2009
Sid Ryan must go, National Post, 16 January 2009

Responces, Blogs, Newsletters

CUPE Shows Their Colours, Pelalusa Blog, January 05, 2009
CUPE Wants HM Government to Condemn Israel, Dr Roy's Thoughts, January 05, 2009
Israel Academic Boycott Urged by Canada Labor Leader, ZWord Blog, January 06, 2009
CUPE’s Latest Gimmick: Just Plain Wrong, BlogUT (A blog by University of Toronto Students), January 6, 2009
Scratch A Leftist Labour Union, Small Dead Animals, January 06, 2009
CUPE asks that Israeli professors be blacklisted, Keyes, January 06, 2009
CUPE: Ban Israeli academics, The Shotgun Blog, January 07, 2009

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