COLUMN: The political irony of union strife

SOUTH DUNDAS — Is it not ironic that the very unions which supported Kathleen Wynne and the provincial Liberal party during the 2014 election, are, one year later, protesting the actions of that party in power? It is not just one union which has been hit with this irony either, but on many fronts.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) spent $1.3 million in third-party election advertising in 2014, campaigning directly and in-directly against a Progressive Conservative government in Queen’s Park. Nearly 16 per cent of the $8.4 million in third-party election spending in 2014.

What has that $1.3 million gotten ETFO? Instead of a party which was mostly upfront about the intentions to cut jobs, ETFO helped elect a party which lied to their members and the union executives.  Now a year later, instead of the union getting what they wanted, by supporting and drinking the progressive Wynne “Koolaid”, the union members get strife. Job action, work-to-rule, and potentially a general strike action.

Talk to a front-line teacher and ask them if they really want to be wearing the ETFO buttons in classrooms, or have to watch what they do or don’t do so as not to cross a union rule. Teachers were hired to teach and most who are there, want to do that job, not deal with union politics or any politics. The only benefit to all of this is that the provincial EQAO standardized testing has been postponed and likely will not be administered.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is another example. The IBEW is a member of the Working Families Coalition, which is a “broad-based” group of citizens all who are against the “mean-spirited right wing”. Working Families spent $2.7 million in third-party advertising, which did not “support” Wynne, but certainly went against the Hudak PC’s. Now IBEW members face potential workplace change with the plan to privatize up to 60 per cent of the provincial utility, Hydro One.

Same with another Working Families member union, the Ontario Nurses Association. ONA members across the province have been seeing individuals facing job uncertainty as hospital budgets are stretched thin and the first place to cut is personnel. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) announced 40-50 nurses will lose their jobs just in the last week.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, another member of Working Families. Same issues. UNIFOR, also a member of Working Families, facing job cuts affecting their members everywhere in Ontario’s public service.

For unions which painted the 100,000 job cut plan of Hudak as a disaster, it certainly looks like the unions are not getting what they bargained for from the horse they did back, the Kathleen Wynne-led Liberal government. It is almost as if they were lied to, misled up the garden path, sold a bad bill-of-goods.

The rank and file members of these unions, should remember this when they vote in the next provincial election. Those same union members should also remember who the leadership of their respective unions are, and vote accordingly during their union elections. It is one thing for a union to advocate for their members, to fight for fair treatment of the workers they represent. It is another to straddle the fine-line of advocacy politics.

In the case of Ontario’s public service unions, they crossed that line and backed a party with a track record of biting the hand that feeds it.

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