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Time to end union subsidies

January 26, 2018
Time to end union subsidies

Imagine walking through a flea market and asking a seller about the cost of a vintage record player he is selling.

But before telling you the price, the seller demands $10 as his “negotiation fee.” Why on earth should you have to spend your own time negotiating and pay for the seller’s time?

If you think this scenario seems odd, then you may wish to ask your politicians why governments often subsidize government employee unions during labour negotiations?

If you look at government union contracts posted online you’ll often find clauses that allow certain government employees to take paid time during the workday for union work – negotiating contracts, union committee work, etc. Sometimes the contracts require unions to reimburse the government for time employees spend on those activities but other times they do not.

One extreme example of taxpayers subsidizing a union comes from City of Winnipeg where the city currently pays 60 per cent of the salary of the local firefighters union president – even though he is on leave running the union full-time (he made $116,342 in salary in 2016). Incredibly, prior to 2014, the City of Winnipeg paid his full salary.

The recent story led many, including some on council, to wonder why the city was paying the union president to negotiate against the city?

Over the past several years, the full-time union president has even tweeted about travelling to other cities to help other firefighter unions negotiate – Toronto, Edmonton and Brandon to name a few. Were Winnipeg taxpayers paying for his salary then as well?

Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show the City of Calgary has also been picking up the tab for union activities.

Calgary doesn’t subsidize any one union representative to the same degree that Winnipeg does, but a freedom of information response shows the city did subsidize 2,715 hours of union work (across four different unions) in 2016, costing taxpayers $95,800 (up from $88,663 in 2015).

We also filed an information request with the City of Edmonton as some of their union contracts suggest select employees are allowed to do union work during the workday. However, we’re still waiting to see if the city is able to provide a cost estimate for these activities.

As you consider these examples, and ponder if your local governments are subsidizing union activities, ask yourself this – why are taxpayers funding union activities in the first place?

Unions in Canada benefit tremendously from the fact our labour laws require union members to pay a small fortune in mandatory dues each year. Some experts estimate that unions receive billions of dollars each year through these dues.

These dollars are then used to hire staff, publish newsletters and fund political causes – such as the millions unions spend during elections to help elect politicians that are likely to agree to generous union contracts.

Accountability would be improved if union members at least paid for their side of the bargaining table and taxpayers paid for the government’s side. Such a move would free up savings for governments to use on core services that benefit all taxpayers.

Try asking your local politicians about any union activities that taxpayers may be subsidizing. Better yet, ask them what they’re doing about the situation.


Colin Craig is the Interim Alberta Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation    
This column was published by Sun media (Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun) on January 26, 2018


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