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Union leaders cautious about election call

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

The president of one of the largest unions in the province says he doesn’t think a spring election is in the cards for Ontario.

“My sense is I’m not hearing from union leaders out there they want an election,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour during an interview. “I will be shocked if the leadership of the movement says we should (support) an election.

Ryan is scheduled to attend an OFL executive meeting next week to gauge whether the membership should rally for an election. But with a recent Forum Research poll revealing the Progressive Conservatives at 38 per cent, the Liberals at 31 per cent and the NDP languishing at 23 per cent, Ryan says the numbers could put the brakes on some union leaders’ calls for an election.

“A couple of leaders might say (have an election),” said Ryan. “Labour always sees a minority government as opportunities to make gains”

He said as the Liberals fade in the polls, while the Tories rise because of he gas plan scandal, it’s becoming apparent the unions should wait for a more favourable time for an election.

“That decision is becoming easier and easier when I see the polls,” he said. “The potential for Hudak becoming the premier of the province gives us a lot of concern.”

Prior to the Liberals presenting their budget, scheduled for May, and which could still contain labour-friendly proposals, Ryan says the OFL isn’t agitating for an election.

“We are keeping our powder dry until the budget comes down,” he said. “We don’t have a clue right now what’s in that budget.”

Ryan said if the majority of union leaders pressuring the NDP, which has been propping up the Liberals, for an election, they would be rolling the dice on their future.

“We believe we would be gambling the future of the labour movement in this next election,” he said.

Ryan was in Hamilton April 10 hosting a rally in partnership with the Hamiltonand District Labour Council with about 300 local union leaders in attendance at LIUNA on James Street North, to talk about the “hidden agenda” Tory leader Tim Hudak will implement if his party gets into power. It was the 14th rally the OFL has held throughout the province.

Central to the union’s argument is that even though Hudak says he has reversed his goal to implement a right-to-work plan in Ontario, the evidence is the party will pass labour unfriendly legislations if they become the governing party.

The Tories have stated that the right-to-work issue “doesn’t have the scope or the power to fix the issues that are threatening 100 per cent of the manufacturing jobs inOntario,” stated Hudak in his Toronto Board of Trade speech in February. “So if we are elected, we’re not going to do it – we’re are not going to change the so-called Rand Formula.”

It’s a promise Ryan and most of the union leadership don’t believe.

“He has made it clear (Hudak) will destroy the labour movement,” said Ryan. “He blames (unions) on his last two (election) losses. We see him as the clear and present danger. Not even Mike Harris (former Ontario premier) has gone as far as this. This guy can do untold damage to us.”

The party’s white paper on labour is, said Ryan a “road map” to circumvent the province’s Rand Formula, introduce a low-wage business-first plan in the province and prohibit unions from spending money on political campaigns. The provincial court has rebuked the Tories’ attempts to prohibit the Working Families’ Coalition from spending money on advertisements that have been anti-Hudak.

Another dilemma for the OFL is about 25 per cent of union members have in the past voted Tory, said Ryan.

“This time we are saying to them if you are seduced by tax breaks you will in essence be working against your own self interest, working towards your own self destruction,” he said.

As part of the OFL message to union leaders is they need to tell their own members to vote against the Tories, he said.

“The campaign is to drive down the Tory vote amongst the union membership,” he said.

The OFL is providing a five-step guide for union leaders that is suppose to be used for discussions among the membership.

“Together, we can defeat the Conservative attack and renew our unions in the process,” stated in the material.

It’s the first time the OFL, which represents about 1.2 million union members, is directly engaging in the political process against a particular party, said Ryan.

“We’ve never engaged like this ever before,” said Ryan. “To go out and mobilize the base to this degree.”

He points out that conceivably within a few weeks, Ontario could become a right-to-work jurisdiction.
“That is pretty scary in Ontario, which is the heartland of the labour movement,” he said.

 

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