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Did Quebec cross the line in mandating unions?

MONTREAL, Que. - An Oct. 19 Supreme Court of Canada ruling may spell the death of the section of Law 135 that aims to mandate union membership for Quebec's O/Os.The way the law is laid out, single-veh...


MONTREAL, Que. – An Oct. 19 Supreme Court of Canada ruling may spell the death of the section of Law 135 that aims to mandate union membership for Quebec’s O/Os.

The way the law is laid out, single-vehicle owner/operators would need to pay dues to a union recognized by the Forum of stakeholders in the general freight trucking industry.

“That would be illegal,” says Julias Grey of the mandatory payment of dues under section 48.11.18. Grey is the Montreal lawyer who represented a group of companies and workers before the Supreme Court that opposed mandatory union membership in the construction industry.

Stephane Lacoste, a lawyer with Local 106 of the Teamsters Union in Quebec, argues, however, that the ruling is not that cut-and-dried, since, under Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the law can limit some of the Charter’s rights.

The Teamsters Union was unable to provide its opinion on the ruling to Truck News before we went to press. The Quebec Transport Commission (CTQ) also failed to return our calls in time. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the freedom to associate guaranteed in the Charter’s Section 2 also includes the right not to associate. However, the Supreme Court also upheld in a 5-4 ruling that Quebec has, under Section 1, the right to limit this freedom, given the history of violent labor conflicts in la Belle Province.

According to Grey, the Supreme Court ruling establishes that Quebec’s law violates Section 2. But with respect to Law 135, says one source, since the Supreme Court ruling was made after Law 135 was passed, section 48.11.18 stands. “If the ruling is applicable to the present situation, someone actually has to ask for it to be struck out. You can’t just say it is anti-constitutional.”

The possibility of forced dues payment to unions has not driven O/Os into the street in protest, but many observers say they should be concerned. The greatest impact is that anyone who refuses to pay may be prohibited by the CTQ from operating their vehicle.

The spectre of forced dues payment was blamed for the demise of the Association des proprietaires de camions remorques independants du Quebec (APCRIQ) last February. APCRIQ played an important role on the trucking scene in Quebec; for example, it was the most vocal proponent of treating O/Os as business people and not hired hands.

According to former APCRIQ president Daniel Brulotte, many of his members did not renew their memberships with him because they only wanted to pay dues to one organization; they figured it would soon be to one of Quebec’s unions.

Who would challenge section 48.11.18? According to Brulotte, if a vote comes out in favor of mandatory dues payment, “There would be large extra-provincial groups that would file in court to make sure it doesn’t apply to them. You would see a movement.”

If mandatory membership or dues payment is struck down as being unconstitutional, it could clear the way to the emergence of a new O/O association, although, says Brulotte, “It is already very hard to keep a non-profit organization going. We were the association that was the largest and I’m 100 per cent sure that it would be very hard to get another association going again.”

The National Truckers Alliance of Canada (NTAC) could eventually develop a presence in Quebec, but probably not any time soon.

“This is a national association. We haven’t decided yet if there will be regional arms or provincial associations,” says Bill Wellman, the driving force behind NTAC.

Also, says Wellman, “My part is to represent O/Os to the best of my ability. I don’t care about the Forum and its problems.”

Wellman believes the modest cost of membership in NTAC – about $240 a year – and the benefits it would bring, will make it easy to sign up members. That may be true, but there is evidence that O/Os here are very difficult to separate from their money.

Here is why:

A requirement of Law 135 was that the CTQ draw up a list of all the one-vehicle O/Os (called freight movers under Law 135) in the province. The CTQ finished this 5,700-name list, on Nov. 1, 2000. As well, under Law 135, any freight mover group (in other words, union or O/O association) interested in being recognized as legitimate representatives at the Forum would need to prove it has at least 10 per cent of the people on that list as members. Furthermore, the O/Os on the list, or a union representing them, would have to vote on mandatory dues payment.

Months after that legitimizing process began, the Forum still does not have its first legitimate freight mover member group.


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