[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] on Friday ruled [judgment, PDF] that Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA) [text] does not violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. The AEPA denies workers the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. The court determined by an 8-1 margin that the APEA does not violate the workers’ freedom of association because workers are still permitted to form associations in order to bring grievances to employers. The decision overturned a 2008 decision [text, PDF] by the Court of Appeal for Ontario [official website] finding that the AEPA was in violation of the right and ordered the legislature to create a new law. Representatives for the respondent, United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) [official website], stated [press release] that they intend to focus on lobbying efforts to change the law and protect workers from rights abuses:
The reality is that appealing to the courts has ended. Appealing to the decency and the will of voters is next. This is also a political issue. Most Canadians would be appalled at the working and living conditions of tens of thousands of Ontario agriculture workers. … There is an Ontario election coming and we and our allies and members will make this an issue.
The UFCW has been engaged in litigation regarding farm workers’ rights to unionize since 1995, after the Ontario legislature repealed the short-lived Agricultural Labour Relations Act of 1994 [text] that gave workers the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. In its place, the legislature enacted the Labour Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendment Act (LRESLAA) [text] denying these rights, but the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision [text, PDF] in 2001 finding the act infringed on freedom of association and ordered new legislation. The legislature enacted the AEPA shortly thereafter in 2002.
Public unions’ rights to engage in collective bargaining has become a major issue in the US as well. Earlier this month, Wisconsin’s attorney general filed a Petition for Supervisory Writ to the Wisconsin Supreme Court [JURIST report] claiming that a circuit court judge did not have the constitutional authority to issue a restraining order to temporarily block publication [JURIST report] of the state’s Budget Repair Bill [Senate Bill 11 text, PDF]. The original lawsuit alleged that Republican lawmakers did not follow the state’s open meetings law [JURIST report] when passing the legislation. The court order was issued in response to debate among government officials [JURIST report] that the law, which strips public unions of the vast majority of their collective bargaining rights, went into effect after it was published on the Wisconsin Legislative Bureau’s website. Last month, the Ohio Senate passed a bill [JURIST report] that alters Ohio labor law and restricts the collective bargaining abilities of unions and public sector workers. Governor John Kasich signed the bill into law [Plain Dealer report] at the end of March. Opponents of the bill have begun a campaign to put the issue to a vote by placing a referendum on the November ballot. Several other states are considering similar legislation.
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