The Supreme Court of Ontario has recently put an end to a David vs. Goliath battle over the spending of union dues. In a decision hailed by many as a step forward for freedom in Canada, Mr. Justice John White has ruled that a teacher’s union, the Ontario Public Servant Employees Union (OPSEU), must refund a portion of dues to non-union members who object to those monies being spent on political causes.
The David in this case is Merv Lavigne, a teacher from Haileybury, who brought his grievance to court after learning that his dues were being spent on many matters not related to collective bargaining of the administration of the collective agreement. He launched a constitutional challenge to the right of the union to use his dues for political parties and causes he doesn’t support. Specifically, Lavigne objected to his union’s support of a campaign against the Metro domed stadium, their disarmament campaigns, a pro-choice abortion campaign, and its contribution to the New Democratic Party.
Last year, in the first of a two-part judgment, Judge White ruled the compulsory dues check-off provision in the collective agreement between the union and Lavigne’s employer (the Ontario Council of Regents for Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology), violated his right of freedom of association as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights. Many predicted that this judgment would have a crippling effect on the union movement.
In the second part of the judgment, recently released, White ruled that unions must find a way to refund a portion of dues being spent on areas other than collective bargaining and the maintenance of the collective agreement. This newest ruling gives the unions a glimmer of hope; a key factor in the ruling is the fact that the onus would be on the non-union employee, not the union, to object and bring their grievances to an arbitration committee.
Nonetheless, this decision could be very important for those who do not want to support abortion via their union dues. (This happens quite often, as the larger unions have joined the “choice” bandwagon, and are supporting Morgentaler-style abortion “clinics” and abortion on demand).
Peter Howell, an observer of the union movement, and columnist for the Toronto Sun, recently discussed the Lavigne case in respect to abortion. He writes, “Many, many union members and more than a few union locals have objected to labor’s overwhelming support for…Morgentaler and other abortion advocates…Rather than railing against Lavigne, the National Citizen’s Coalition (who is financially backing Lavigne) and the courts, the House of Labor should…find a demonstrably fair way both to further its social ends and to assuage the consciences of sincere union members.”
Freedom of association is a fundamental right guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Judge White’s decision demonstrated great respect for that basic right. OPSEU spokesman John Ward, however, feels that the judgment is “fatally flawed.” He said that White’s ruling sets up a “horrendously complex and difficult procedure over an issue that involves very little money.”
It is unfortunate that Ward is not able to see beyond the dollar sign. It is a matter of basic freedom to abstain from feeding the abortion industry. Before the unions start bemoaning their ill fate, and, jumping to the appeal courts. Perhaps they should consider the fundamental rights of all the Merv Lavigne’s out there.