Unions Should Not Play Politics

Commentary, Joseph Quesnel, Workplace

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Last week, representatives from organized labour accused an American corporation of telling its employees how to vote.

They have asked federal regulators to investigate whether company officials with Wal-Mart broke the law by "dissuading" store managers from supporting a proposed labour law that would make it easier to unionize. Apparently, according to the unions, discussing this law at the stores is tantamount to telling Wal-Mart employees how to vote. These managers, the labour groups argue, are really being told to not vote for U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama as Democrats support the proposed law.

To clear the air, let me establish that I do agree that companies should not be telling their employees how to vote. That is a private decision. From all accounts of this particular situation, store managers were being told of the consequences of this bill for their jobs. That is not the same thing as being told who to vote for. The problem is that this scenario drips with irony.

For decades, both American and Canadian unions have been so obviously politicized that these labour groups should be embarrassed to even raise the issue.

Unions have become so joined at the hip to leftist political parties, whether the Democratic Party in the United States, or the New Democrats in Canada, that their accusations are laughable.

Unions in Canada publicly post their affiliations with the NDP on their website. They send union workers to work on the campaigns of left-wing candidates. They take positions on divisive political issues with no mandate from their membership and they send money to all sorts of clearly political causes that not all their members support.

The first and only time I was unionized was against my will. I was hired as a teaching assistant at Carleton University while studying for my master’s degree. Accepting this position required me be a member of a CUPE local. Granted that CUPE is probably one of the most politicized of Canada’s unions, I felt for union members everywhere who had to endure having their job become completely politicized without their consent. I am sure for the ardent left-wing activists, this was fine. I do not begrudge their rights to their space, but the problem was that they did it on my dime and against my will.

Unlike what union leaders preach, individual union members hold very different opinions on a wide range of opinions. I saw it at CUPE. But, this was lost on the leadership and still continues to be.

At the start of our first meeting, a top official quipped that he was "so happy" that so many of us were on the left side of the room. To make a point, I got up and moved to the right.

Both unions and management should be able to discuss with members or workers how proposed legislation would affect them in their job.

That is part of their job. If Wal-Mart did more than that in the above case, they should be disciplined.

The question is how can unions get away with their overt political partisanship for so long?

In 2007, the European Union outlawed the use of dues from unionized non-members for political activities. It’s time we in North America took notice.