Could the union-busting efforts currently afoot in some U.S. states catch on in Canada? An Alberta union leader fears the thin edge of the wedge is beginning to show.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, is concerned about the wellbeing of the collective bargaining process in light of the fact that Koch Industries Inc., an influential U.S. conglomerate with links to the U.S. Tea Party movement, recently registered to lobby the Alberta government.
In addition, a think tank is calling for labour policies similar to those advocated by the notoriously anti-union Tea Party movement at a time when the Alberta government is currently at the bargaining table with some of the 27 unions within the AFL.
Marcel Latouche, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Sector Accountability, wrote in a recent op-ed that governments, burdened as they are by increasing debt, should look at the costs of union collective bargaining.
“To alleviate the tax burden, governments at all levels should look at the costs of union collective bargaining. In the U.S., after years of growing taxes, some governments are eyeing curtailing the collective agreement process,” IPSA president and CEO Marcel Latouche wrote in an op-ed.
Union members are even more worried about Koch, which registered to lobby policymakers in the areas of “agriculture, economic development, energy, environment, finance, forestry, taxes,” according to the provincial lobby registry.
The Kansas-based company has hired Canadian lobby firm Global Public Affairs and consultant David Keto, a former project manager with Alberta Finance. Keto was also executive assistant to cabinet minister David Coutts from 2001 to 2003.
Although Koch has denied claims that it helps fund the Tea Party movement, a lengthy report in The New Yorker last August said David Koch founded a Tea Party-related advocacy group called Americans for Prosperity which supports the movement financially and logistically.
The report said the Koch brothers have poured millions into “seemingly independent” political and policy organizations as well as into right-wing advocacy groups, political campaigns, and lobbyists in order to influence public policy.
A New York Times report cited state records showing that Koch Industries was one of the biggest contributors to the campaign to elect Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Amid a storm of protest, Walker, a Republican, brought in legislation to limit the collective bargaining rights of an estimated 300,000 public sector workers. A number of other states, including Michigan, Indiana, Florida, and Ohio, are planning similar anti-labour laws as they seek to patch huge holes in their budgets.
Koch states on its website that it never lobbied Walker, and says both the New Yorker and New York Times reports are biased and contain inaccuracies.
“We have repeatedly explained that neither Charles nor David Koch fund the Tea Parties. They are involved with and support an organization, which in turn has involvement with some Tea Party members,” the website says.
Koch also says that many of its companies in the U.S. operate under collective bargaining agreements, and allegations that the corporation is anti-union are “a mischaracterization of our principles.”
“Where unions exist, we respect their status, work with them in good faith, and honour the terms of our collective bargaining agreements. This has been true for more than 50 years.”
As for registering to lobby the Alberta government, the company says they’ve been lobbying in Canada for years. The only change is that they’ve hired a new lobbyist.
McGowan, however, is not convinced. “We’re going to be following them closely,” he says. “From our perspective, the last thing we need in Canada is to import a U.S.-style approach to labour relations which has proven to be both destructive and divisive.”
The good news, he adds, is that he heard from Premier Ed Stelmach in response to a letter he had written seeking assurance that the premier remains committed to honouring the collective bargaining process with the province’s public sector employees.
“The premier has responded to the letter by saying that he sees no reason to change Alberta’s approach to labour relations, and we find those comments encouraging,” he says.
“But we are still worried about having people like the Koch brothers active in Alberta politics, because they have deep pockets and because they have proven to be such a corrosive influence in the United States.”