Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The "right to organize" must also include the right NOT to join

A week old, but a valid point.

Nipissing University conferred an honorary doctorate on Mike Harris as planned. Previous to this, the teachers unions let it be known that their members may (interesting word, that) punish Nipissing education students by not allowing them to complete practicums in their classrooms. As soon as their bluff was called, the backpedaling begins:

Ken Coran, head of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, put out a press release last week staking out an entirely sensible position: “Our members, both active and retired, still hold strong memories of the bitter legacy left behind by Mr. Harris. However, they respect the right of an institution to confer an honourary degree … [we] would never penalize any students for the decision made by [their] university.”

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, has also elaborated upon his earlier statements. It was his comments that had set off the firestorm, after he was quoted saying that his members might not place Nipissing students. When reached by phone on Monday, Mr. Hammond was quick to clarify that he and EFTO’s leadership are opposed to punishing students for the choices Nipissing freely made. While stressing that his union is democratic body and that any proposed resolution would have to be voted on, he said his comments were theoretical and taken out of context. He took pains to make clear that any resolution to retaliate against Nipissing would not find much support.
So this comes down to the point. CLEARLY the union leadership were speaking against the wishes of some of their members, and CLEARLY, the union was bluffing as (at least in Saskatchewan) the hiring and assignment mechanism rests with the school board and not the teachers themselves. In essence, the union was trying to force the university to make a decision to not confer the degree.

But that leads me to a question - does this necessarily mean that the rank and file members wanted this done? Does that necessarily mean that the rank and file members even agreed with this? Why do the rank and file members have to suffer this treatment by their union leadership?

What I'm getting down to, is why can't employees choose not to be part of the union when it does something they don't agree with? Why can't union members refuse to pay their dues when their money is being spent on things they don't agree with? What recourse do union members have when their dues are supporting initiatives that they don't?

Currently in Saskatchewan, the laws are skewed (yes, even now) to the assumption that there is only one way to exercise your "freedom to associate", and that assumption is that if a union is available, then you want to belong to it. But freedom of association doesn't necessarily mean that. It means that you are free to associate if you so choose. I'm not surprised that someone hasn't taken that one to the Supreme Court to reinforce that right not to associate - few would want to spend their own time, money and good will with their coworkers in order to enforce that right. Add to that the fact that no government in their right mind would go to court on their own, and you have the current system in place - where unions can make idle threats, they can exhort, cajole their members and the management, they can act as acrimonious as they want, and it doesn't make a difference because once they have you, you're stuck for the duration of your employment in that job.

Perhaps that will be the first thing the next Saskatchewan government will accomplish - moving the laws closer to fair for all.

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