Right to Work (for much less)

Canadian Pacific’s Peter Edwards: Unions Created The Middle Class

The Huffington Post Canada 01/18/14 02:35 PM ET

Now here’s something you don’t see every day: A senior exec ata major Canadian company defending unions.

That’s whathappened ata recentroundtable discussion on the future of organized labour put together by Canadian HR Reporter,when Canadian Pacific’s vice-president for human resources and labour relations, Peter Edwards, credited unions with the creation of the modern middle class.

“When youtalktoanyone remotely connected tothe world, they understand the role of unions providing whatwe have today,”he said.

“They’re a key driver in the creation of the middle-class, for the reduction of work hours, paid vacation,all sorts of benefits thatwe all enjoy.”

Edwards made his comments last month, butthey didn’tget much attention until the BroadbentInstitute’s PressProgress blog flagged it.Edwards suggested unions are suffering from an identity crisis as the economy shifts away from manufacturing, their traditional stronghold.

“There is a certain image they’re predominantly blue collar, or they’re governmentworkers. And gee, I’m neither of those, sowhere do I fitin? Where are the people thatare like me? And whatcan you offer me in the future?”

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Others on the panel noted thatunions in Canada are ata crucial crossroads. The “elephant in the room,”said labour lawyer Jamie Knight,is the rise of “right-to-work”states in the U.S.,where union members are given the choice notto pay union dues,a move critics say has undermined unions and driven down wages.

Knightnoted thatOntario’s Progressive Conservative party has adopted “right-to-work”as party policy,and given the minority governmentsituation in the province, the PCs could soon be in a position tomake this policy.

“It’s going toplay out in the nextOntarioelection,and there’s a realpossibility the nextgovernmentof Ontario will be formed by a partythatproposes tofollow the recent example of Michigan, which is a primarycompetitor for Ontariojobs.”

ButTed Mallett,vice-president and chief economistof the Canadian Federation of IndependentBusiness, said he doesn’tsee the decline of unions as “a problem that necessarilyneeds solving.

“We’re nottalking abouta PR problem, we are talking about the generalpublic having a fundamentally different view of the workplace than unions,”he said.

ArecentHarris-Decima surveycarried outfor the Canadian Association of UniversityTeachers found two-thirds of Canadians oppose right-to-workrules.