York professor says the Magna-CAW deal is bad for workers

The "no strike" deal between Magna International Inc. and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union will undermine the CAW’s ability to represent its members and may trigger a disturbing trend in Ontario labour, said York University Professor Carla Lipsig-Mummé.

"My concern is that it is a small rock slide that thins out union presence in the workplace and could become an avalanche, and that employers in every sector – especially but not only the auto sector and heavy manufacturing – will be encouraged to demand a ‘no strike’ pledge," said Lipsig-Mummé, coordinator of labour studies at York and founding director (1990-2001) of the University’s Centre for Research on Work & Society.

Right: Carla Lipsig-Mummé

The Framework for Fairness Agreement signed on Oct. 15, 2007, by Frank Stronach, chairman of the board of Magna International, and CAW president Buzz Hargrove, will allow Magna production workers across Ontario to vote to join the CAW, unimpeded by the company. Currently, there are about 18,000 production workers in 45 manufacturing facilities in Ontario, few of whom are unionized. In return, when the new national collective agreement is negotiated, CAW members in Magna plants will be agreeing to no work stoppages.

"From time immemorial, the strike – both in reality and as a threat held in reserve – has been labour’s most potent instrument in collective bargaining. The renegotiation of the Magna-CAW agreement every three years will be dominated by the loss of the union’s most effective weapon," said Lipsig-Mummé.

In addition to giving up the right to strike, the traditional grievance process will be replaced by a "concern resolution process". This is, in itself, of considerable concern, said Lipsig-Mummé, because the union’s role as defender of a member with a grievance is blurred by this new complicated and indirect process in which the union cedes its clear role as worker advocate to individuals and committees that are chosen by the employer and the union together. Within the CAW, the long-term effect of these changes will be to weaken the union’s ability to represent its members. Beyond the CAW, it is likely to undermine labour throughout Ontario, and encourage employers to try to implement similar structures, she said.

Lipsig-Mummé is a professor of social science and coordinator of York University’s Labour Studies Program in the Faculty of Arts. She was founding director of York’s Centre for Research on Work & Society, developing research with trade unions and community groups in English Canada and Quebec. She began her working life as a trade union organizer, working in Quebec, English Canada and the United States. In the past six years, on leave from York, she has held a research professorship in Australia and carried out research on Australian unions and Australian politics.

Lipsig-Mummé has authored more than 200 publications and conference papers, focusing on labour studies and the future of work, the globalization of labour conflict, young workers, women workers and precarious employment. She is now developing research on the impact of climate change on the future of work.