rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Another salvo in Conservative government's war against working people: Bill C-525

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a supporting member of rabble.ca.

Yesterday the Conservatives launched another salvo in their war against working people.

Conservative backbencher Blaine Calkins unveiled a private members bill (C-525) that will make it far harder to form a new union and much easier to decertify an existing one. 

The legislation will eliminate so-called automatic card check in the federally-regulated sector (telecommunications, banking, transportation etc.). For decades, union certification under the Canada Labour Code has operated this way: a majority (50 per cent +1) of the members of a workforce are required to sign membership cards and pay $5 to certify the union. Bill C-525 proposes to eliminate this model for federally-regulated sectors.

In its place, the union certification process would require 45 per cent of the members of a bargaining unit to sign cards and once this is reached the Labour Board would call a secret-ballot vote.

There are good reasons why the card-check model has been practiced in federally-regulated sectors. For one, it can be difficult to organize votes for bargaining units spread across the country and transport sector employees are regularly in different places. More importantly, the card-check process protects workers from intimidation. It's widely understood -- confirmed by many academic studies -- that secret-ballot workplace votes reduce union certification as they give employers an opportunity to intimidate employees through compulsory anti-union meetings and implicit threats of job loss.

Not only would C-525 lead to greater employer intimidation, it heavily slants certification votes against unions. In a reversal of long-standing voting traditions, Bill C-525 would require unions receive more than 50 percent of members votes of the proposed bargaining unit rather than 50 per cent of votes cast. This means that those who don't vote (maybe because they were on vacation or the employer dissuaded them) are effectively deemed to have voted against unionization. No provincial labour code has this type of provision.  

As the president of the Canadian Auto Workers Ken Lewenza pointed out, "If this same distorted standard of democracy were applied to federal MPs, there would not be a single Conservative member sitting in the 
House of Commons today. There is no MP in Canada who was elected by over 50 per cent of the voting-age adults in their riding. Why on earth should this test apply to unions, but not MPs?"

The same anti-union bias is at play during a decertification vote. Over 50 per cent of the bargaining unit would have to cast a ballot -- regardless of turnout -- in favor of the union to prevent decertification. This will allow a decertification without majority support.

The Conservatives' hostility to organized workers is so strong that they've launched this latest attack even before the Senate has voted on another one of their anti-union private members bills. Currently before the upper chamber, Bill C-377 (An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (labour organizations)) would require every trade union and labour trust to file a public information return with the Canada Revenue Agency on all expenditures over $5,000. It also mandates that labour organizations detail the percentage of time they dedicate to political and lobbying activities.

While they've justified this burdensome bill on the grounds that union dues are tax-deductible, the Conservatives are not requiring other professional associations with the same tax status, such as the Canadian Medical Association or Law Societies, to follow the terms of Bill C-377.

In another front in their open war on organized workers, since gaining a majority the Conservatives have repeatedly intervened in labour negotiations on behalf of employers. Harper's Conservatives have used back-to-work legislation to end labour disputes five times in two years (Air Canada in June 2011, September 2011 and March 2012, Canada Post in June 2011 and Canadian Pacific in May 2012). Last month the government's move to restrict Canada Post workers' right to strike was condemned by the International Labour Organization.

In what would be an even more radical attack on collective bargaining, the forthcoming Conservative party convention will debate a series of resolutions that would effectively eliminate unions' financial security and the so-called Rand formula. One proposal explicitly calls for a U.S. style right to work legislation to allow optional union membership.

Beyond organized labour, the Conservatives have tried to suppress Canadian workers' wages and conditions by expanding the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, driving down public-sector work conditions and curtailing Employment Insurance benefits.

Bill C-525 needs to be seen in the context of the government's low-wage strategy. It's the latest step in the Conservatives' bid to reduce workers' power to the benefit of the business class.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.