Labourers’ International Union of North AmericaSeries Part 1 – LiUNA’s pushback and Bill C-377

Many unions operating in Canada were disturbed by the previous federal government’s Bill C-377, a contentious bill demanding unions disclose all financial transactions over $5,000, including the names of the individual persons or companies paid by a union.

The Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) has about half a million members, including about 100,000 in Canada, and is one of North America’s oldest and most powerful unions.

When Bill C-377 was proposed, LiUNA took action, including push back towards the Conservative government of the time, combined with strong advocacy for workers’ rights.

As far as contract disclosure, some of what the bill proposed is what LiUNA was already doing, but union leaders drew the line at some particularly odious requirements, including publicly posting individual names.

That was seen as infringing on the privacy rights of union members and their families, possibly subjecting them to unreasonable search and seizure, and the bill also eroded collective bargaining rights. Often described as a battle of ideology, with the Conservative government appearing to take an adversarial anti-union stance, LiUNA and other unions felt the bill could be the thin edge of a wedge. The concern was that all the gains made by labour unions could clearly be wiped away by a change in legislation.

Consequently, Joseph Mancinelli, LiUNA’s International Vice-president and Regional Manager for Central and Eastern Canada, spoke up, coalescing and uniting forces and actively pursuing all available channels. It quickly became apparent that Parliament had circumvented the Senate, breaking a century of tradition, and Mancinelli argued that the ideological battle ignored the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “This differential treatment is unfair and privileges competing interests that are against labour organizations,” he said. “And it violates the spirit of the Charter.”

Mancinelli brought those views to a Parliamentary Committee hearing Ottawa, where he said, “LiUNA families across Canada are concerned that Bill C-377 is fundamentally flawed.” In a long presentation he said the bill would cause members and families to incur significant costs, and it would also intrude on their privacy and erode their freedom of association and expression. Worse, it seemed discriminatory. “It will discriminate against their labour organization simply because it is a union,” Mancinelli said. “Bill C-377 exclusively targets labour organizations. The disclosures mandated by the bill will prejudice labour unions and their trust funds, resulting in a singling out of labour organizations and giving an unfair advantage to anti- union groups and other similar associations that are exempt from the bill’s disclosure provisions.”

Another problem was with the federal government becoming involved in labour issues in the first place. Normally labour laws and codes are regulated at the provincial level, but by stating the bill was to aid the Canada Revenue Agency, that was circumvented. This was upsetting to union leaders, who normally can direct advocacy towards provincial leaders, but now had to worry about federal interference thinly disguised as a CRA issue.

It wasn’t only the government in power that advocacy was directed toward. A federal election was brewing and it was prudent to impress on potential winners, the Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP, the need to change this legislation.

In the end, a Liberal government was formed, and one of its earliest actions was to repeal Bill C-377. Union representatives stated they were happy with the outcome of their advocacy. They are also encouraged by promised investments in infrastructure, which will provide jobs for labourers.

So what future advocacy does LiUNA plan?

High on the list is advocacy aimed at current leadership campaigns, both the upcoming federal Conservative and NDP leadership races, and also provincially.

There is also considerable concern about proposed trade deals—the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). What LiUNA wants is a seat at the table, to make sure its members’ points of view are heard and included.

The responsibility of unions to monitor government regulations, economic changes and movement in policy directions never ends. LiUNA will remain vigilant.