Labor Studies Journal
2016, Vol. 41(2) 204 –219
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Assessing the Potential
Impact of Labor Law
Reforms on University
Faculty: Findings from a
Midsized Public University in
Jonah Butovsky1, Larry Savage1, and Michelle Webber1
This article presents the findings of a survey of unionized professors and professional
librarians at a public university in Southern Ontario to examine their views on the
prospect and desirability of “right-to-work” legislation and “paycheck protection”
laws. The purpose of the study is twofold: first, to assess the level of opposition to
such legislative initiatives among unionized faculty, and, second, to determine the
extent to which the passage of such laws would undermine the dues base of the
faculty union. Based on the findings of a mixed methods survey, we found that a
strong majority of the university professors and professional librarians surveyed were
opposed to “right-to-work” and “paycheck protection” laws and that their passage
would not deter them from paying dues or authorizing expenditures for political
faculty unions, right-to-work, labor law, universities
As part of a growing wave of antiunion labor law reform in North America, right-wing
politicians and their allies in many jurisdictions have proposed and, in some cases,
1Brock University, St. Catharines, ON, Canada
Michelle Webber, Department of Sociology, Brock University, 500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines,
Ontario, Canada L2S 3A1.
647531LSJXXX10.1177/0160449X16647531Labor Studies JournalButovsky et al.
Butovsky et al. 205
implemented so-called “right-to-work” and “paycheck protection” laws. The passage
of such legislation in border states in the United States has sent off alarm bells north
of the border, where labor laws are comparatively more hospitable to unions. As one
of the most densely unionized sectors in Canada (Dobbie and Robinson 2008), univer-
sity workers and their unions have much to lose from the introduction of antiunion
labor law reforms.
This article presents the findings of a survey of unionized professors and profes-
sional librarians1 at Brock University, a public university in Southern Ontario, to
examine their views on the prospect and desirability of “right-to-work” legislation and
“paycheck protection” laws. The purpose of the study is twofold: first, to assess the
level of opposition to such legislative initiatives among unionized faculty, and, sec-
ond, to determine the extent to which the passage of such laws would undermine the
dues base of the faculty union. Based on the findings of a mixed methods survey, we
found that a strong majority of the university professors surveyed said that they were
opposed to “right-to-work” and “paycheck protection” laws and that their passage
would not deter them from paying dues or authorizing expenditures for political action.
“Right-to-work” laws essentially allow workers in unionized workplaces to opt out
of paying union dues. While “right-to-work” laws purport to enhance worker democ-
racy by giving unionized employees a choice to withhold dues and are said to fuel job
growth (see, for example, Robinson 2014), such laws severely undermine workers’
collective power in the workplace and society more generally and fail to deliver the
promised economic growth (see, for example, Lafer 2013). Under “right-to-work,”
unions are no longer assured a steady and predictable income stream. Unions, how-
ever, must still offer their services (“duty of fair representation”) to members of the
bargaining unit who choose not to pay their dues. This is commonly referred to as the
“free rider” problem. “Right-to-work” laws are supported by many employer groups,
right-wing think tanks, and neoliberal political parties because their implementation
undercuts the growth and power of labor unions, one of the few institutions capable of
effectively challenging corporate power in advanced capitalist democracies.
The term “right-to-work” was first used in 1941 by William Ruggles, a journalist
for the Dallas Morning News who was worried that the growing power of the labor
movement would not stop until all workers were union members (Kaufman 2015,
MM43). The Taft-Hartley amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA,
also known as the Wagner Act) in 1947 paved the way for “right-to-work” laws by
granting states the right to bring in legislation outlawing union security clauses in the
form of both closed shops and union shops. In closed shop workplaces, only union
members can be hired, and in union shops, membership in the union is a requirement
of continued employment. “Right-to-work” laws first gained ground in the Southern
United States and plain states, as both a way to entice northern manufacturers to relo-
cate, and as a way to disorganize working class organizations and interests (Canak and
Miller 1990; Dixon 2007). Historians have also noted a racist element in “right-to-
work” laws, which were viewed by employers and lawmakers as a way of decreasing
pan-racial solidarity (Kahlenburg and Marvit 2012). “Right-to-work” was first cham-
pioned by the racist Christian American Association whose leader Vance Muse warned
206 Labor Studies Journal 41(2)
against the effects that unions would have on racial interaction, claiming that “white
women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes,
whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs” (cited in Kaufman 2015,
MM43). In 1947 alone, ten states (in the South and the Plains) passed legislation out-
lawing the closed shop. Another ten states were added to the “right-to-work” list in the
following number of decades in the South, Plains, and Rockies. However, over the
past several years, “right-to-work” laws have been adopted in what were historically
considered to be comparatively pro-labor states (Wisconsin in 2011, and Michigan and
Indiana in 2012; Greenhouse 2012, B1; Pasulka 2012).
These antiunion legislative reforms have emboldened conservative politicians in
Canadian jurisdictions to propose similar reforms. The most high-profile support for
“right-to-work” in Canada came from the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
(PCPO) and its leader Tim Hudak. A pledge to repeal the “Rand Formula” was included
in a “white paper” the party published in 2012 (Ontario Progressive Conservative
Caucus 2012). The Rand Formula refers to the 1946 arbitration decision by Justice
Ivan Rand that was used to resolve the eighteen-month Ford Strike in 1945 in Windsor,
Ontario, where workers were striking to establish union security. In essence, the Rand
formula allows unions to ask for a union security clause to be included in their collec-
tive agreements; these are clauses that require all workers to pay union dues without
requiring them to become union members. In his decision, Rand wrote that
the employees as a whole become the beneficiaries of union action . . . It would not then
as a general proposition be inequitable to require of all employees a contribution towards
the expense of maintaining the administration of employee interests [and] of administering
the law of their employment. (Rand 1946, 7)
After Rand’s decision, union security eventually became law in each Canadian
The PCPO’s support for “right-to-work” in Canada’s most populous province,
combined with its lead in public opinion polls over the governing Liberal Party
throughout much of 2013-2014, mobilized the province’s unions to oppose the plan
and engage in an unprecedented discussion with their members and the public about
the implications of “right-to-work” for unions and workers in advance of the 2014
provincial election (Ontario Federation of Labour 2013).
As one of the most densely unionized sectors in Ontario, universities were a hotspot
for discussions concerning the prospect of “right-to-work” legislation. This research
focuses on a key group within the university sector—full-time faculty and professional
academic librarians. The vast majority of full-time university faculty in Ontario is
unionized. In fact, only three faculty associations in the province (at McMaster
University, University of Toronto, and University of Waterloo) are not certified bar-
gaining agents. While university professors do not typically spring to mind when one
thinks about the union movement, the fact is that white-collar, well-compensated, pub-
lic sector professionals in Canada are far more likely to be unionized than factory
workers. In some of our earlier work, we found that faculty members were rather
Butovsky et al. 207
satisfied with the role that their unions played in enhancing working conditions and
wages (Butovsky, Savage, and Webber 2015). Union dues are, therefore, in the eyes of
many unionized faculty members, money well spent. That said, we also found that
faculty members do not identify strongly with other workers on campus or the broader
labor movement. That led us to wonder about the depth of their commitment to their
unions and about the likelihood they would continue to pay their union dues if “right-
to-work” legislation was introduced and payroll dues deductions were no longer
The Labor Relations Climate in Ontario
“Right-to-work” legislation tends to be introduced at times when the local labor move-
ment is in a weakened state and right-wing political forces hold power. In post-Great
Recession Ontario, unionized workers were experiencing restrictions on their ability
to engage in free and fair collective bargaining due to the Liberal government’s auster-
ity measures, which dictated wage freezes in the public sector and curbed union free-
doms and imposed contracts in the education sector (Evans and Fanelli 2015).
Meanwhile, in neighboring U.S. states (including traditionally pro-labor states
such as Michigan and Wisconsin), Republican state governments passed “right-to-
work” laws, which put the predictable flow of union revenues in jeopardy. Back in
Ontario, the PCPO, encouraged by the Liberal government’s shift to the right, pub-
lished a white paper in the Fall of 2012 proposing “right-to-work” legislation as
part of a suite of antilabor legislation, which also included a promise to adopt a
“paycheck protection” law, which would forbid unions from spending dues money
for political purposes unless expressly granted permission by individual union
members. The party’s commitment to back “right-to-work” legislation was contro-
versial. Not only had previous PCPO governments been unwilling to propose such
legislation, but members of Hudak’s caucus publicly expressed concerns about its
impact on the party’s electoral prospects. PCPO Member of Provincial Parliament
John O’Toole, for instance, was reported as saying that “right-to-work” might bring
on the political battle that took place in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.
Eleven PCPO candidates from Northern Ontario sent their leader a memo noting
that they were ill at ease at having to sell “right-to-work” to their potential constitu-
ents (Brennen and Benzie 2014). After a string of by-election defeats in 2013-2014
in Waterloo, London, and Niagara, which saw union-backed New Democratic Party
(NDP) candidates triumph in traditionally non-NDP ridings, the PCPO decided to
withdraw their “right-to-work” proposal (Brennen, Vincent, and Benzie 2014).
However, that did not stop the labor movement from organizing against the party in
the upcoming June 2014 election, raising the specter that Hudak would pursue
“right-to-work” as part of a broader, hidden antiunion agenda should his party be
elected to office. It is within this context that our survey was distributed to full-time
professors at Brock University, in Ontario’s Niagara Region. Before we turn our
attention to the case study, we will review some of the relevant academic literature
on the subject.
208 Labor Studies Journal 41(2)
The Effect of Right-to-Work Laws in the United States and Great Britain
“Right-to-work” laws detract from a union’s dues base, reduce a union’s ability to
serve its members, engage in political mobilization, and organize new members. U.S.-
based research has attempted to measure the concrete effects of “right-to-work” legis-
lation by tracking union density in those states that have adopted “right-to-work” laws.
There are some methodological issues associated with teasing out the cause and effect
of “right-to-work” laws as state governments that build the political capacity to enact
“right-to-work” legislation are not typically the most hospitable for union organizing.
Caveats aside, it appears that “right-to-work” laws lead to a 5 to 10 percent decline in
dues paying union members and that this decline takes place in the first five years after
“right-to-work” is passed (Moore 1998). The more substantial effect appears to be dif-
ficulty in recruiting new members. The organization of new members after “right-to-
work” plunges by approximately 50 percent when compared with the pre-“right-to-work”
period (Ellwood and Fine 1987; Moore 1998). This may be because of financial pres-
sures caused by a drop in revenue.
The share of “free rider” employees—those who receive union benefits without
contributing union dues—in “right-to-work” states varies from a low of 9 percent in
Georgia to a high of almost 40 percent in South Dakota (Devinatz 2011). Delaney’s
(1998) review of the research on the correlates of “free riders” found that women,
those with higher education, and white-collar, service sector workers are more likely
to free ride. So, on that basis, university faculty might be considered likely free
Looking at the cases of Michigan and Wisconsin, two states that have recently
become “right-to-work,” we see a substantial decline in dues paying members. In
2014, the first full year of “right-to-work” legislation in Michigan, union membership
declined from 16.3 percent to 14.5 percent of wage and salary workers (Snavely 2015).
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the National Education Association and the American
Federation of Teachers have suffered membership declines from 30 to 50 percent since
“right-to-work” passed in 2011 (Samuels 2015). These effects are particularly dra-
matic as “right-to-work” was only one part of a raft of antiunion legislation.
We can also look to the United Kingdom to get an idea of some potential effects of
the introduction of “right-to-work” legislation. As part of a major restructuring of the
labor relations regime in the mid-1990s, in the form of the Trade Union Reform and
Employment Rights Act of 1993, the Conservative government gave union members
the “right not to suffer deduction of unauthorized or excessive union subscriptions”
(Baimbridge and Simpson 1997). Under the law, employees had to enroll in a dues
deduction scheme every three years, and any change in the rate of union dues would
also require the employee to re-enroll (Baimbridge and Simpson 1997). In the several
years since the legislation, approximately three-quarters of union members re-signed
for automatic dues deduction. Reviewing official statistics, the authors found that the
drop in automatic dues deduction was more substantial for large unions compared with
smaller ones. Baimbridge and Simpson (1997) conducted research specifically on the
effects of this legislation on university professors. The authors of the study found that
Butovsky et al. 209
older and male faculty members were more likely than younger female faculty to sign
up for union administered dues deduction. Baimbridge and Simpson conclude that no
matter how successful unions are at retaining dues paying members, the transition
from automatic check-off results in significant administrative costs and some precarity
in union finances.
Fiorito et al. (2011) conducted research on the level of member engagement and the
political capacity of faculty in the Florida State University system. The union mobi-
lized in the face of a range of proposed antiunion legislation, including an ultimately
unsuccessful bill that would have automatically decertified public sector unions with
less than a 50 percent dues paying membership. In March 2011, the union began an
intense campaign to sign up members through one-on-one meetings, public presenta-
tions, and campaign materials, including a YouTube video encouraging people to sign
up. Fiorito et al. characterized the political threat to faculty unions as an opportunity
to mobilize the rank and file. The authors note that many “committed free riders”
joined the union during the campaign, and that membership rose from 23 percent to an
unprecedented 41 percent (Fiorito et al. 2011, 503). While Fiorito et al. present the
campaign as a victory of sorts, it is worth noting that had the “50 percent or die” bill
passed, at 41 percent of dues paying members, the faculty union would have been
While the imposition of “right-to-work” laws could be viewed as an inadvertent
blessing insofar as they might force “bureaucratic” union leaders to reconnect with the
rank and file, there is an overwhelming left consensus that fetching dues is not time
well spent for union leaders and that, on balance, “right-to-work” laws would not ben-
efit the labor movement.
Survey Context and Findings
Brock University, located in the Niagara Region of Ontario, was founded in 1964 as a
primarily undergraduate university built as part of a state driven mission to expand
access to higher education. The Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA; noncer-
tified) was established in 1965 to represent the interests of faculty but this association
did not become a certified union until 1996, when faculty decided they needed formal
union recognition to defend and advance their interests (Patrias and Savage 2012, 114-
15; Savage, Webber, and Butovsky 2013). At this point, association dues shifted from
voluntary to compulsory.
We conducted our on-line survey of all 562 Brock faculty members and profes-
sional librarians in October 2013. We received 236 out of 562 surveys for a response
rate of 42 percent. In the university sector, this is considered a reasonably high response
rate. The characteristics of our sample did not differ systematically from the entire
union membership. When we compared the characteristics of our sample with that of
the entire Brock faculty, we found no significant difference in terms of age, discipline,
gender, and rank.
Overall, the majority of Brock faculty members indicated they would likely con-
tinue to pay dues if they became optional. Survey responses also indicated that
210 Labor Studies Journal 41(2)
discourses of fairness were the most effective at driving faculty opposition to “right-
to-work.” Finally, on a related issue, a weaker majority of members indicated opposi-
tion to legislation restricting union donations to political and social justice causes.
If we combine the “very high” and “high” probabilities, we get more than 70 per-
cent of members who indicated they would submit dues voluntarily. Even if we were
to figure that half of the “high” group would not, in fact, submit their dues voluntarily,
that would still be about 60 percent. Said differently, only 10.5 percent of respondents
said that the probability that they would pay union dues was “low” or “very low.” We
have additional confidence in this finding given that only 22 percent agreed that union
members should be given a choice about paying union dues. Fully two-thirds of the
faculty did not think that paying dues should be a choice at all. In other words, there is
strong support for the idea that employees who benefit from the work of the union
should be required to pay their share. In fact, more than 72 percent of faculty members
agreed that “it would be unfair for faculty members who choose not to pay union dues
under a ‘right-to-work’ law to benefit from collective bargaining and contract enforce-
ment as ‘free riders.’”
We also used the survey to determine members’ views on a separate, but related,
issue concerning the prospect of legislation restricting a unions’ ability to spend
members’ dues on political causes. Critics of unions sometimes take issue when
unions spend their dues income on political or social justice causes that are not
directly related to collective bargaining or contract administration. In fact, one of
the key justifications for “right-to-work” laws is that people should not be required
to pay dues that might be redirected to political causes that a member does not sup-
port. In the United States, “free-enterprise” lobby groups, notably Grover Norquist’s
Americans for Tax Reform, have promoted what they call “paycheck protection
laws” (Robinson 2014). These laws seek to restrict the use of union dues directed
to political causes by requiring unions to obtain permission to use dues for political
purposes from individual union members. The stated goal of these laws is to
improve accountability and transparency with regard to union spending, but critics
argue that their actual purpose is to undermine union’s political power (Lafer 2013).
Unions and their supporters contend that decisions about how to spend dues are
made collectively by the membership. Moreover, they add, corporations are not
required to obtain consent from individual shareholders before making political
contributions (Lafer 2013).
Table 1. How Would You Characterize the Probability That You Would Pay Union Dues If
They Were Voluntary? (n = 228).
Very high 47.4%
Very low 7%
Don’t know 3.5%
Butovsky et al. 211
In the survey, we asked faculty members at Brock, “would you support a law that
limited a union’s ability to spend dues on anything other than collective bargaining and
collective agreement administration?” Fewer than 25 percent of respondents said that
they would “definitely” or “probably” support such a bill. About 60 percent said they
would “probably not” or “definitely not.” There was slightly more support (about 30
percent) for “a law that limited a union’s ability to spend a portion of your individual
dues on political action or social justice causes without your expressed authorization.”
In total, 57 percent of respondents told us that they would probably not or definitely
not support such a law.
We supplemented our survey questions with opportunities for open-ended answers.
On the question “do you have any other thoughts on ‘right-to-work’ legislation?” ninety-
one out of 233 respondents provided an additional comment. Most respondents viewed
“right-to-work” legislation as a thinly veiled method to harm unions organizationally.
One respondent called “right-to-work,” “an attack on the labor movement, rolling back
advances toward a more civilized society made by the efforts of working people.”
Similarly, another member felt that, “right-to-work legislation ultimately results in the
undermining of job security and jobs with decent salaries, benefits, and pensions, all of
which contribute to a healthy middle class.” One member called it, “a mountain worth
dying on.” Another described it, pithily, as “retrograde and ideologically-driven drivel.”
As noted above, there was a clear minority that wanted the ability to withhold their
union dues. One member wrote, “in a democratic society individuals should have the right
not to join a union if they so choose.” Other members focused on the question of individual
rights to free expression and association. “Freedom of association should include the right
to freedom FROM association. It’s wrong to force me to pay for an organization I don’t
wish to participate in,” expressed one member. Similarly, one member remarked,
“right to work” legislation is too often framed as a union busting measure, where this is
not always the case. Right to work is a freedom of speech issue that provides workers
with a choice. If the choice to be part of a union and related benefits were obviously
important to members then a significant majority would pay these fees.
Predictors of Commitment to Pay Dues Voluntarily
We see in Table 2 that there is substantial variation by discipline in the probability that
faculty members will pay union dues if they were to become voluntary.2 Almost two-
thirds of faculty in the Social Sciences and Education indicated their probability of
paying dues voluntarily was “very high.” Only about a quarter of faculty in Business
and Applied Health Sciences characterized the likelihood as “very high.” This finding
is consistent with other research on disciplinary differences in political attitudes and
views on unions. For instance, Nakhaie and Brym (2011) found that faculty members
in the social sciences and humanities of Canadian universities were more liberal on
political issues and more pro-union than those in the natural sciences and business.
We see in Table 3 that older members indicated they were more likely to pay dues if
they become voluntary. This could be because older members have a longer institutional
212 Labor Studies Journal 41(2)
Table 2. Probability of Paying Union Dues If Voluntary by Faculty.
Likelihood of paying dues if voluntary
Total Very low Low Even High Very high
Count 5 3 5 11 7 31
% 16.1% 9.7% 16.1% 35.5% 22.6% 100.0%
Business Count 4 1 6 5 6 22
% 18.2% 4.5% 27.3% 22.7% 27.3% 100.0%
Education Count 1 0 4 4 16 25
% 4.0% 0.0% 16.0% 16.0% 64.0% 100.0%
Humanities Count 2 2 4 16 27 51
% 3.9% 3.9% 7.8% 31.4% 52.9% 100.0%
Library Count 0 0 2 3 4 9
% 0.0% 0.0% 22.2% 33.3% 44.4% 100.0%
Count 2 1 1 3 9 16
% 12.5% 6.3% 6.3% 18.8% 56.3% 100.0%
Social Sciences Count 1 0 5 14 37 57
% 1.8% 0.0% 8.8% 24.6% 64.9% 100.0%
Total Count 15 7 27 56 106 211
% 7.1% 3.3% 12.8% 26.5% 50.2% 100.0%
χ2 = 40.13 (p = .021), n = 211.
history with the union and remember it as a noncertified faculty association (BUFA was
certified in 1996). A less sanguine interpretation is that younger members, in general, are
more entrepreneurial in their approach to academic work, hired in a context of the uni-
versity attempting to move from being a primarily undergraduate teaching university to
being more comprehensive and research-intensive in its focus. Such a generation gap
was evident in responses to open-ended questions, which suggested a divide between
younger, “more productive” researchers, on one hand, and older members who are seen
as benefiting from union protection to the detriment of the reputation of the university on
the other. These findings, however, are suggestive at best, as the results do not achieve
statistical significance at the .05 level.
Predictors of Support for Restrictions on How Union Dues Can Be Spent
We also asked respondents about how they would like their union dues to be spent
(Table 4). We asked, “Would you support a law that limited a union’s ability to spend
dues on collective bargaining and administration of the agreement?” Overall, a clear
majority of respondents were “definitely not” (32.3 percent) or “probably not” (28.6
percent) in support of such a law. We also looked to see if there was an association
between discipline/faculty and views on how dues should be spent. Again, faculty
members from Applied Heath Sciences and Business were the most likely to support
Butovsky et al. 213
Table 3. Probability of Paying Union Dues If Voluntary by Age.
Likelihood of paying dues if voluntary
Total Very low Low Even High Very high
<45 Count 6 2 7 20 25 60
% 10.0% 3.3% 11.7% 33.3% 41.7% 100.0%
45-54 Count 6 2 14 21 38 81
% 7.4% 2.5% 17.3% 25.9% 46.9% 100.0%
55+ Count 2 2 5 12 40 61
% 3.3% 3.3% 8.2% 19.7% 65.6% 100.0%
Total Count 14 6 26 53 103 202
% 6.9% 3.0% 12.9% 26.2% 51.0% 100.0%
χ2 = 10.45 (sig. = .235), n = 202.
Table 4. Would You Support a Law That Limited the Spending of Union Dues to Collective
Bargaining and Administration of the Agreement?
Support a law limiting how dues can be spent
Total Definitely Probably
Count 4 5 7 12 5 33
% 12.1% 15.2% 21.2% 36.4% 15.2% 100.0%
Business Count 4 9 4 3 3 23
% 17.4% 39.1% 17.4% 13.0% 13.0% 100.0%
Education Count 1 1 7 8 8 25
% 4.0% 4.0% 28.0% 32.0% 32.0% 100.0%
Humanities Count 4 6 8 18 17 53
% 7.5% 11.3% 15.1% 34.0% 32.1% 100.0%
Library Count 0 2 1 5 2 10
% 0.0% 20.0% 10.0% 50.0% 20.0% 100.0%
Count 3 2 3 2 6 16
% 18.8% 12.5% 18.8% 12.5% 37.5% 100.0%
Social Sciences Count 2 4 8 14 29 57
% 3.5% 7.0% 14.0% 24.6% 50.9% 100.0%
Total Count 18 29 38 62 70 217
% 8.3% 13.4% 17.5% 28.6% 32.3% 100.0%
χ2 = 45.1 (sig. = .006), n = 217.
legislation limiting where union dues could be directed, whereas faculty in the Social
Sciences, Education, and Humanities were the least supportive. There was no relation-
ship between age and support for legislation restricting where dues could be spent.
214 Labor Studies Journal 41(2)
We found no relationship between gender and likelihood of paying dues. There was,
however, a relationship between gender and support for legislation restricting the
scope of union expenditures, with women indicating less support than men for this
type of legislation (Table 5).
Open-Ended Responses to Restrictions on the Scope of Union
Respondents were also given a chance to add additional comments following the ques-
tions asking about restrictions on the scope of union expenditures. Fifty-eight respon-
dents (or just more than 50 percent) left comments on these questions. Many members
felt that this sort of legislation would be unnecessary, “so long as each union expresses
the democratically determined views of its members, then no legislation ought to limit
any union’s ‘right to free expression.’” Another member added, “Unions are autono-
mous agents of civil society and no legislation should intervene in what democratically
elected representatives choose to spend dues on.” However, an equal share of commen-
tators indicated that they did not always support the faculty union’s political messaging
and felt the union should stick to collective bargaining, “I think my union dues should
only be to support collective bargaining and work related to the collective agreement.
Leave social justice issues, in particular, up to individuals to support or not.”
How Do Faculty Members’ Views on Dues Payment Compare with the General
In November 2013, just a few weeks after faculty were surveyed, the Canadian
Association of University Teachers released the results of a Harris-Decima survey,
commissioned by the association, on public perceptions of labor unions. Respondents
were asked to choose the statement that most closely aligned with their own personal
Table 5. Would You Support Legislation That Restricted Union Spending to Collective
Bargaining and the Administration of the Collective Agreement?
Male Count 12 18 17 20 33 100
% 12.0% 18.0% 17.0% 20.0% 33.0% 100.0%
Female Count 6 11 19 40 34 110
% 5.5% 10.0% 17.3% 36.4% 30.9% 100.0%
Total Count 18 29 36 60 67 210
% 8.6% 13.8% 17.1% 28.6% 31.9% 100.0%
χ2 = 10.0 (sig. = .040), n = 210.
Butovsky et al. 215
views: “everyone benefits, everyone should pay” or “individuals should have the right
to opt out.” The poll found that Canadians, by a margin of 2 to 1, felt that all union
members should pay dues if they benefit from what the union does. The framing of the
question in the poll was consistent with the language of fairness being used by much
of the labor movement, including the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the country’s
largest central labor organization. At the time of the survey, the CLC was airing pro-
union television ads using the tagline “Fairness works.” Both the CLC and its provin-
cial affiliate, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), also held town hall meetings in
advance of the June 2014 Ontario provincial election highlighting the importance of
defeating parties supportive of “back-to-work” legislation and other antiunion initia-
tives. Most union campaigns revolved around the notion that everyone should pay for
a service from which they benefit.
Discussion and Conclusion
The results of our survey suggest that the impact of “right-to-work” legislation on
unionized university faculty associations in Ontario might be relatively minor. At least
at Brock University, unionized faculty members appear far more committed to paying
voluntary union dues than other workers in other sectors. Given the marginal role that
faculty unions play in the labor movement and the peculiar way they are viewed by
mainstream unions (see Savage and Webber 2013), how do we account for these
results? There are several factors at play.
First, in the case of the BUFA, and in the cases of most university faculty unions in
Canada, a noncertified association (with voluntary dues) preceded the formation of a
certified union (with mandatory dues; Rastin 2000; Savage, Webber, and Butovsky
2013). This is not normally the case when new bargaining units are certified in Ontario.
The BUFA certified in 1996, but was established in 1965, a year after the university
was founded. For that reason, there is a strong historical/institutional relationship
between the association and its members. Before certification, upward of 75 percent of
BUFA members were already voluntarily paying dues, albeit at a substantially reduced
rate (Carroll 1995, 2). It should, therefore, not come as a big surprise that a majority of
members would continue to pay dues if they became voluntary once again.
Second, although affiliated and a dues paying member of the provincial and national
associations of faculty associations, the BUFA is an independent union in which all
decisions and the large majority of dues income stays at the level of the faculty asso-
ciation. Faculty unions have the virtue of being local and directed exclusively by
Brock faculty. Approximately 23 percent of faculty union dues go to provincial and
federal federations of academic faculty associations, including the Ontario
Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), the Canadian Association
of University Teachers (CAUT), the National Union of the Canadian Association of
University Teachers (NUCAUT), and the Ontario Federation of Labor (OFL). Compare
this with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 79, one of the country’s
largest municipal locals, representing workers at the City of Toronto. CUPE Local 79
sends 57 percent of its dues to parent unions CUPE National and CUPE Ontario, plus
216 Labor Studies Journal 41(2)
smaller amounts to the OFL and the CLC. Moreover, the mil rate, or percentage of
members’ income that goes to union dues, is relatively low compared with other
Ontario public sector unions. BUFA members pay 1.3 percent of their income toward
union dues. Comparatively, members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union
(OPSEU) pay a dues rate of 1.375 percent, members of CUPE Local 79 pay 1.55 per-
cent, and members of the Ontario Nurses Association pay more than 2 percent of their
pay toward dues. Because faculty association dues are lower and because a much
larger proportion of dues stay directly with the faculty union, members arguably see
more value for money locally. This economistic view was borne out in several of the
qualitative comments from survey respondents.
However, support for the Association goes beyond a question of dollars and cents.
In a previous study of university faculty and their views concerning the effectiveness
of their unions, which also involved a survey of Brock faculty, respondents clearly
identified their unions as key defenders of academic freedom and collegial governance
in the university workplace (Butovsky, Savage, and Webber 2015). As neoliberalism
continues to consolidate in the university sector, faculty unions are increasingly
viewed as critical to defending the academic mission of the university, including the
quality of education (Ross and Savage 2015). Faculty members increasingly recognize
the important role faculty unions play in this regard.
Overall, faculty unions, such as the one we studied at Brock University, would
likely withstand the implementation of “right-to-work” legislation because of the
strength of individual members’ ties to the association, the relatively low level of
dues, and the strong role of the union in protecting academic freedom, collegial
governance, and the quality of the educational experience. In addition to these micro
workplace-based factors, there are almost certainly larger socio/legal factors at play
Lipset and Meltz (2004) have pointed to core political and cultural differences
between Canada and the United States as explanations for union density divergence
between both countries. Specifically, they point to a stronger social democratic tradi-
tion in Canada and a more supportive legislative environment for union organizing
and administration. These core cultural differences may help to explain why Canadians
are more positively predisposed to opposing antiunion legislation. The convincing
defeat of the PCPO in the 2014 Ontario provincial election may lend credibility to this
perspective. Despite the success of the labor movement’s “Stop Hudak” campaign,
organized labor in Canada cannot afford to rest on its laurels.
While the reelection of the Ontario Liberal provincial government in June 2014 has
momentarily defrayed fears that “right-to-work” will become a reality in the near
future, the political climate that ushered in calls for “right-to work” and other anti-
union measures has certainly not subsided. We can almost certainly expect a “right-to-
work” proposal to resurface in one form or another in the years to come as Canadian
conservatives parrot the antiunion policy innovations of Republicans south of the bor-
der. In the interim, the challenge for faculty unions is to politically engage their mem-
bers in an organized and consistent way to build their collective capacity to resist such
antiunion incursions in the future.
Butovsky et al. 217
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
1. Hereafter, when we refer to Brock University professors or faculty members, we are includ-
ing academic professional librarians who are members of the faculty union bargaining unit.
2. Academic units at Brock University belong to one of six faculties: Applied Health Sciences,
Goodman School of Business, Education, Humanities, Mathematics and Science, or Social
Sciences. At the time of the survey, disciplines were divided as follows:
Applied Health Sciences: Health Sciences; Kinesiology; Nursing; Recreation & Leisure
Studies; Sport Management.
Goodman School of Business: Accounting; Finance, Operations, and Information Systems;
Marketing, International Business, and Strategy; Organizational Behaviour, Human
Resources, Entrepreneurship, and Ethics.
Education: Concurrent; Graduate & Undergraduate; Teacher Education; Continuing
Teacher Education; Adult Education.
Humanities: Canadian Studies; Classics; Dramatic Arts; English Language & Literature;
History; Intercultural Studies; Modern Languages/Literatures & Cultures; Medieval and
Renaissance Studies; Music; Philosophy; Visual Arts;
Mathematics and Science: Biological Sciences; Biotechnology; Chemistry; Computer
Science; Earth Sciences; Mathematics & Statistics; Neuroscience; Physics.
Social Sciences: Applied Linguistics; Applied Disability Studies; Child & Youth Studies;
Communication, Popular Culture, & Film; Economics; Geography; Labour Studies; Political
Science; Psychology; Sociology; Tourism and Environment; Women’s and Gender Studies.
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Jonah Butovsky is associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Brock University.
Larry Savage is associate professor and director of the Centre for Labour Studies at Brock
Michelle Webber is associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Brock University.