“Right To Work” Law – What Is It?

There is increasing chatter in the news and on television ads referring to “Right to Work” laws coming to Canada and/or Ontario.  I thought I would take a few moments to explain what this term, “Right to Work”, really means. These laws have not been passed and are only a theory at this point.

DISCLAIMER:  It is common knowledge that I was a Chief Steward for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for over 11 years.  I would like to state that this blog is neither For or Against Unions in workplaces. My aim here is to clarify what the Right to Work law is, and the possible impact this type of law would have in Ontario.

What it is NOT: Right to Work laws do not give workers any entitlement to employment or jobs.

What it IS:  Right to Work laws allow workers “the right” to be employed in Union positions (even closed shops, like the IBEW) without requiring them to pay the dues or be a member under the Union’s agreement with the Employer.  This means that the worker receives all the wages, benefits and support provided in the Collective Agreement, but they are not bound to strike (if applicable in the workplace) or support the Union in any way.

What is the IMPACT?

For Workers:  If you have a Union in your workplace, this law would allow both new AND existing workers to opt out of dues payment to and membership in the Union.  It means that some workers will pay dues, and some won’t, but all of them will receive the same wages, benefits, grievance processes, and anything else provided in the agreement.

For Employers:  It could be a big headache to keep track of who does and does not pay dues.   Employers could be required to pay for extras like grievance arbitration for the employees. Also, there could be an increase in “workplace personality conflicts” between those who support the Union and those who don’t.

Personally, I don’t believe that Right to Work laws are needed in Ontario.   There is legislation in place to ensure that workers can have their dues amount redirected to a Charity (Religious Grounds for Exemption) and the “Modified Rand Formula” which states that a worker may be required to pay the dues, but does not need to be a member of the Union, to be covered by the Collective Agreement provisions.

What happens when enough workers opt out and they (perhaps unintentionally) decertify their Union due to lack of membership in the workplace?  Some employers will be nice and keep the existing wages and benefits in place, but some will not.

This topic is of concern to all, and I hope that everyone pays attention when our lawmakers begin discussions.  Whatever your opinion is, make sure you are heard.