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B.C. moves to drop employee vote from union certification drives

Construction workers to be allowed to change unions once a year
B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains takes questions about his decision to keep secret-ballot votes for union certification, demanded by the B.C. Green Party, B.C. legislature, Nov. 20, 2019. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

The B.C. NDP government is reversing a 2019 decision to keep secret ballot votes in place for workplace union certifications, allowing unions to organize by getting 55 per cent of employees to sign up for representation.

Labour Minister Harry Bains tabled amendments to the Labour Code Wednesday to move to a “single-step” union certification, removing the vote of employees. Bains attempted to make the change in 2019, against the advice of the government’s expert panel on the subject, but B.C. Green Party MLAs opposed it under former leader Andrew Weaver. With a majority government, Bains has returned to the issue.

“This bill will ensure that they can exercise this right without interference by the employer, a single-step process that’s often referred to as a card-check system,” Bains told the B.C. legislature April 6.

The amendments will also allow construction workers to change their union representation once per year. Bains attempted to allow annual union “raids” on other union members in construction projects in 2019, but the B.C. Liberal and B.C. Green MLAs teamed up to defeat the measure.

Bains said Wednesday, as he argued in 2019, that the current law allowing union contracts to operate for three years before members can switch to another union is not compatible with construction, where projects don’t usually last three years.

The B.C. Federation of Labour issued a statement within minutes of the bill being tabled in the legislature, endorsing the card-check system for union certification.

“The federal government, three provinces and the territories all have a similar system, and it’s working well,” BCFED president Laird Cronk said.

Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Chris Gardner renewed his defence of the secret ballot vote, noting that the government’s independent advisory panel recommended in 2018 that it be kept. He said secret ballots for union certification are the norm in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and most Ontario certifications.

“The secret ballot is the best method to conduct union certification votes, because it allows both sides to present their case, and the process is carefully monitored by the independent Labour Relations Board,” Gardner said.

RELATED: B.C. unions expect gains from NDP labour code changes

RELATED: B.C. Greens keep secret-ballot vote in union certifications


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