Anti-Union Lobby Group Has Received Millions of Dollars From Doug Ford’s Government Since 2021
Doug Ford claims he’s “working for workers” while millions of dollars flow to lobbyists targeting skilled trades unions
Doug Ford’s government has given millions of dollars to an “open shop” anti-union lobby group which has lobbied Ford’s own office as recently as three months ago in a bid to undermine unions representing skilled trades workers.
At various times, Ontario’s labour minister, Monte McNaughton, has claimed Ford’s government is “working for workers” with a “worker-first plan.” McNaughton has also said he stands with “those who shower at the end of the day, not the start.”
A past advocate of right-to-work legislation, McNaughton has claimed to have a close relationship with workers, inspired by his own working class heroes – Ronald Reagan, his grandfather and pro-Trump Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance.
Both McNaughton and Ford have had a long and friendly relationship with Merit Ontario – Ontario’s largest lobby group for anti-union construction employers.
Congratulations to incoming @MeritOntario chair @WalterPamic. He will do a great job representing his membership.
— Monte McNaughton (@MonteMcNaughton) April 9, 2014
Thank you again MPPs that took the time to meet with Merit Ontario to discuss opportunities on addressing the skilled trades gap. An urgent and much needed first step is to modernize the ratios to help give youth opportunities to build their careers IN Ontario #onpoli @fordnation pic.twitter.com/Cwy8Ixvjq2
— Merit Ontario (@MeritOntario) September 27, 2018
Numerous lobbyists hired by Merit have been hard at work lobbying Doug Ford’s government for changes to Ontario’s labour laws since 2018.
In April 2020, Merit’s website noted an “outside law firm” was dispatched to lobby the Ontario Labour Relations Board to “immediately stop accepting new applications for certification due to the crisis caused by COVID-19” that is – to use COVID-19 to “stop union organizing.”
Notably this followed a spike in infections in the construction sector, largely because construction employers failed to take adequate precautions.
As recently as February 2022, Merit Ontario directly lobbied Doug Ford’s office in a bid to undermine unions representing skilled trades workers and make it harder for workers in Ontario to unionize.
According to lobbying records for the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, Merit Ontario was represented by Terrance Oakey, a past Merit president who previously organized Ontario PC fundraising dinners for corporate donors.
The lobby records show Oakey lobbied 30 ministries and minister’s offices, including the Office of the Premier, to scrap card-check union certification for construction workers and replace it with a two-step unionization process.
Oakey currently heads a government relations firm called One Persuades alongside Andrew Scheer’s former campaign manager and past Rebel Media director, Hamish Marshall.
Last year, McNaughton announced Ford’s government would be partnering with Merit Ontario to set-up a virtual reality training centre.
Merit Ontario received $3 million in public tax dollars from Ford’s government to set-up and administer the program, which primarily benefits private construction companies — as well as the anti-union lobby group.
“This initiative will support Merit Ontario,” the Ontario government said in a press release, explaining the program was designed to help “construction companies bring their training programs online.”
“On behalf of the hundreds of Merit Ontario members and thousands of employees in the construction sector across Ontario, we thank the Government of Ontario and Minister McNaughton for this historic investment in training,” Merit Ontario CEO Mike Gallardo said at the time.
As well, Ford’s government named Gallardo to its Skilled Trades Council in January 2022 – where the anti-union lobbyist is paid over $250,000 per year. His official bio describes him as the “leading voice for non-union construction contractors across Ontario.”
Garalldo has also joined Minister McNaughton for a number of photo opportunities.
Big news from @MonteMcNaughton & @DeepakAnandMPP announcing the new leadership team at Skilled Trades Ontario. Having worked with staunch skilled trades advocates @KRenkema, Michael Gallardo from @MeritOntario & @Lee_Greenberg over the years, I know the Board is well served. pic.twitter.com/XBPGWs4gqf
— NotesByNotte (@franknotte) January 25, 2022
The registered political advertiser on Merit’s website in both the 2018 and 2022 elections includes an “election readiness kit” for its members.
Not only does the still-active page solicit votes for candidates who promote “open tendering” on public projects to non-union firms – it also encourages its members to meet with MPPs and coordinate with Merit.
“We need your help as members in order to succeed in our lobby campaign” it reads.
“Get to know your local MPP or candidate running in the upcoming election by inviting them to your office or job site. Offer them a tour of your operation and an opportunity to meet with your employees. Once you have met with your MPP or candidate please let us know.”
The site continues to direct its members to coordinate the meeting with Gallardo himself, attached to his MeritOntario.com email address.
The kit, for Merit members, further instructs its base to “raise and donate money.”
While stressing that “corporate and union contributions are banned in Ontario” it notes that “individuals are allowed to give political parties a maximum of $1,222.”
Neither Merit Ontario nor the Ontario PC Party responded to requests for comment from PressProgress.
“Ford’s Conservatives are clearly not on the side of working people. Behind their empty slogans, Ford is actually working for anti-union corporations,” Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President, told PressProgress.
“A government that cares about workers would not back an organization that lobbies to scrap card check certification and access to a union,” Coates said.
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