NDP pushes for union-bolstering moves on Labour Day

The provincial NDP announced today that it is calling for two measures that the party says will make it easier for people to join a union.
Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher's Federation celebrate Labour Day in Hamilton in 2014. This year, the NDP announced two measures it is seeking to implement to make it easier for people to join a union. (Flannery Dean)

The provincial NDP announced today that it is calling for two measures that the party says will make it easier for people to join a union.

The NDP says it will push for card check certification and first contract arbitration legislation — a move NDP leader Andrea Horwath heralded as a move towards better pay, jobs and benefits.

Horwath is making the announcement today at Labour Day parades in Toronto and Hamilton.

"We've been watching as the quality of work has eroded in this province," Horwath told CBC News.

"We can't continue going on as if there isn't a major problem here."

The first measure, card check certification, is a proposal that any workplace can unionize when 55 per cent of workers at a workplace sign a card stating they want to join a union.

It was the standard in Ontario from 1950 to 1995, when it was removed by the Mike Harris government.

The Liberals partially restored the practice in 2005 — but only for construction workplaces, the NDP says.

The second proposal, first contract arbitration, would allow newly unionized workplaces an automatic right to binding arbitration within 60 days of forming a bargaining unit.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath says these moves will help people "find a pathway into the middle class." (CBC)

Ontario's current Labour Relations Act does allow for binding arbitration when a first collective agreement can't be reached, but only at the discretion of the Minister.

Horwath maintained that the "best pathway for people into the middle class" is to join a union, and that these measures would help facilitate that.

Unionization rates in Canada have steadily fallen since the 1980s.

According to Statistics Canada data, 37.6 per cent of Canadian workers were unionized in 1981, compared to 28.8 per cent in 2014.

That decrease was most evident among men, falling from just over 42 per cent in 1981 to just 27 per cent in 2014. Statistics Canada says this was "especially pronounced in the 25-to-34 and 35-to-44 age groups."

Statistics Canada attributes this partially to an employment shift from industries with high unionization rates like construction and manufacturing to industries with lower rates, like retail.

Unionization rates for women, however, have stayed relatively stable in that same time period at around 30 per cent.

Unionization rates also differ massively in the public and private sectors. From 1999 to 2014, public sector unionization rates grew from 70.4 per cent to 71.3 per cent, while private sector rates fell from 18.1 per cent to 15.2 per cent over the same years.

Horwath says that in some circles, unions are still feared — but she maintains it's the best way to make a decent living, pointing to the "strong labour roots" of the city.

"I grew up in a unionized city and a unionized household," she said.