Dr. Dawg

Solidarity to meet Godzilla

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union leader stereotype.jpg

Standing aloof in giant ignorance, the Conservative government is about to backdoor an anti-union bill that addresses a non-existent problem.

The Conservatives are set to take another hit at labour organizations, this time through a private member’s bill designed to force Canada’s unions to open their books to the public.

This follows recent union-busting initiatives that now extend well beyond the public sector.

But in this case, it’s all optics for the red-meat base. Because union books have always been open.

I thought I might entertain readers with an account of the process of budget-setting at my old union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. As the VP in charge of finance for a couple of rounds, I still bear the scars.

Every three years the PSAC holds its Convention, defined in the Constitution as the supreme governing body of the union. Before that happens, committees meet to go over resolutions to Convention, and, in addition, the Finance Committee sets a proposed budget for the next three-year cycle.

The Components of the PSAC tend to send their sharpest folks to the Finance Committee. Some are accountants in real life. As Chair way back when, I was assisted by Finance staff, as we were slowly toasted and grilled by the Committee over a period of several days.

Not a single line item escaped scrutiny. All documents requested were produced, meaning a lot of sleepless nights for the staff. We had already submitted audited financial statements and a host of other materials. At the end of the meeting we were all buried in paper. The default assumption (given that a small dues increase was usually sought by the union) was that there was fat—sorry, gravy—and the questioning in some cases was barely civil.

At the end of the process, we had a budget proposal for Convention supported by a majority—but by no means all—of the Committee.

Then came Convention. The most memorable time for me was being on stage under the Klieg lights for literally two and a half days, being peppered with questions from the delegates. They had the audited statements in hand, a proposed budget and a rationale.

Open the books? There were times during that interrogation when I felt like opening my veins.

But, at the end, transparency and accountability yielded informed decisions. The delegates had the materials, and the press in attendance did too. I don’t know how more open it would have been possible to be.

On the vexed question of union contributions to political and social causes, which is at the heart of all this Conservative angst, the delegates have also been able to say yea or nay to that. I’ve taken part in several spirited Convention debates on the subject. The union executives in place after Convention are bound by Convention decisions.

The Charter protects the dues check-off, and raising this matter now is all smoke and mirrors. The Merv Lavigne case put an end to that nonsense.

Every union, of course, has its own process in place. But I’ve had the privilege of attending the Conventions of other unions, and the delegates, for the most part a savvy bunch, would greet any attempt to conceal anything to do with finances with a floor revolt.

Most Canadians have no idea how unions spend their money, or what accountability frameworks are in place. They have an image of the “union boss”—carefully nurtured by rags like the Sun—free-spending from endless slush funds to which exploited members have been forced to contribute. The cartoon above, from a so-called “right to work” site, pretty well sums it up.

It’s a lie.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on October 3, 2011 3:12 PM.

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