BY WARREN FREY - A leading free enterprise advocate says unions are harming the public sector and the Canadian economy.
Catherine Swift, the board chair of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, was the keynote speaker at the Eighth International Open Shop Conference, held in Maui, Hawaii.
Her presentation was called: The Big Lie Revisited: How Modern Unions have<0x000a>Undermined Public Services.
Swift contended that although unions were a necessary force a century ago, their role in the greater economy has since radically changed.
“The pendulum has swung way too far in the other direction, to the point where they’re harming so much of the economy,” she said.
Swift said unions have stifled construction activity, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, where organized labour is most concentrated.
“We have things like limited procurement only to certain players, which cranks up costs for those projects for everyone,” she said.
Swift also cited Ontario’s College of Trades as a way for unions to “infiltrate and dominate more sectors of the economy.”
There is no need for more oversight, she said, adding that what needs to be done is to change journeyman ratios in order to get more workers into the system.
Swift also pointed to the mandatory union dues system in Canada as problematic.
“Employees that are working in a unionized workplace are forced by law to pay dues, and yet the unions can spend those dues however they want,” she said.
While union membership has dropped a dramatic 17 per cent in the private sector, Swift said, the public sector is still 80 per cent unionized.
“Ontario is very union friendly<0x2026> and what it has done is that we’ve had our debt doubled in the province and we have become a ‘have-not’ province,” she said.
She also cited the Ontario College of Trades as wanting to turn Ontario into Quebec, where “every single person on a construction site is forced to be in a union.”
Swift said she has represented and defended the small business community for years and that she believes unions have done real harm to that sector of the economy.
“You can’t do that forever. Small business is half the economy and you can’t keep hitting half the economy and not think you’re not going to have problems with your job creation and your wealth creation,” she said.
Swift said unions and big corporations are similar as they both are in favour of tax breaks for their organizations.
Unions are just another interest group, she said, and should not have advantages over other interest groups.
“The bottom line is that if a person or company has something good to sell, it will sell,” she said.
“If people were given a choice and didn’t have to pay them (union dues), their revenues would drop precipitously.”