Union transparency bill could lead to right-to-work legislation in Canada

It hasn't been the best of weeks for the labour movement in North America.

On Tuesday, the Governor of Michigan signed into law a contentious right-to-work bill which ultimately makes the payment of union dues voluntary for most union workers in that State.

And, on Wednesday, the Harper government could pass anti-labour legislation that could change the way unions conduct themselves in this country.

According to the Globe and Mail, the Tories have fast tracked Bill C-377 — a private members bill introduced by MP Russ Hierbert which would require all Canadian labour unions to publicly disclose their financial statements or risk losing their tax exempt status.

"Private members' bills usually move very slowly through Parliament, but the Prime Minister's Office has had the bill amended and sent to the Senate, speeding up the late stages.

The list of proposed information that [unions would have to disclose] includes a balance sheet of assets and liabilities, a statement of income and expenditures, a detailed list of all transactions over $5,000 (raised to $100,000 under the proposed amendments) and a limited breakdown of payments to employees, including salaries, stipends, bonuses, gifts and a record of the percentage of time dedicated to political and lobbying activities."

Supporters of the proposed measure say that it will ensure greater accountability and transparency among Canada's unions; opponents argue that this is another example of the Conservative government's attempt to bully their nemesis: 'big labour.'

[ Related: How unions spend money not taxpayer's business, says Edmonton Tory MP ]

"Our financial records have always been open to our members and if Russ Hiebert knew anything about unions, he would know this," Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti said in a press release when the Bill was first introduced last Fall.

"This is simply a distraction from the real issues facing our country."

Whether or not Hiebert's Bill passes, there seems to be a recognition that the battle between the Harper government and the unions is far from over.

Since coming into power in 2006, the Tories have tabled six back-to-work bills and are in the midst of cutting 29,600 public sector union jobs between now and 2015.

Could right-to-work be next?

In September, Tory MP, Pierre Poilievre, hinted at it, telling the Ottawa Citizen that he plans to lobby his Conservative colleagues for new laws that will allow public servants to opt out of paying union dues.

[ Related: Canada could be next for right-to-work legislation, opposition parties warn ]

And, according to the Canadian Press, the Liberals and the NDP are already raising the alarm bells:

"The Michigan law is likely to eventually have a ripple effect on other jurisdictions, including Canada, said New Democrat labour critic Alexandre Boulerice.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae warned that the Rand formula could be next to come under attack in Canada."

This battle between the Tories and the unions is — as they say — to be continued.