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February 13, 2014

BLOG: CFIB board chair Catherine Swift on "The big lie revisited: how modern unions have undermined public services" at IOSC8

Canadian Federation of Independent Business board chair Catherine Swift was the keynote speaker for the 8th International Open Shop Conference's (IOSC8's) full day of sessions at the Grand Wailea in Maui, Hawaii on Feb. 13.

Her talk was entitled "The big lie revisited: how modern unions have undermined public services."

Swift began by saying that a century ago, when the union first emerged, it was a necessary factor in the economy.

However, she said the role of unions, as well as the larger economy, has changed greatly in more recent times.

Swift maintained that unions now exert a negative effect on the economy and society. She pointed out that it is much easier to unionize an office than to decertify.

She said that in a union office or shop, employers are reluctant to hire people because having to let them go is more difficult.

Swift said minimum wage has no impact on the poor, since they aren’t working, and actually worsens the plight of the working poor.

She said union members do benefit because, if the minimum wage goes up, so do their wages.

Swift pointed to Quebec and Ontario as the two most heavily unionized provinces, and singled out Quebec as the most heavily regulated in terms of union protection.

She 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, but what needs to be done is to change journeyman ratios to get more workers into the system.

Swift said unions also have successfully restricted procurement policies in Ontario, limiting the ability of some businesses to bid on projects, which also drives up the cost of the projects.

Swift referred to mandatory union dues as another problem with unions, and said employees should have a choice in the matter.

She said Canada is the only industrialized country that uses the “forced dues” system.

Swift said the United States is much more transparent about how unions are financed.

The public sector was unionized in the 1960s, and while union membership has dropped dramatically in the private sector at 17 per cent, the public sector is 80 per cent unionized.

In the United States, the government is only 40 per cent unionized, with the private sector at seven per cent.

If there were comparable wages in the public and private sector, Swift said, “we would have billions to put into government programs.”

Swift said unions and big corporations are similar, as they both are in favorr 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. If people we’re given a choice and didn’t have to pay them, their revenues would drop precipitously,” she said.

Demographic trends meant that large pensions were once sustainable, but with large numbers of baby boomers retiring, this will no longer be the case, she said.

Let us know what you think of this story, or any story or video on our website. Send emails to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

The Journal of Commerce is at the 8th International Open Shop Conference and BizCon 2014, which are being held jointly in Hawaii. Keep reading the Journal of Commerce for more stories and live blogs from the event.

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