B.C. has passed an amendment to the province’s Labour Code, limiting construction union raiding to every three years.
The change went against B.C.’s NDP, which appointed an expert panel to review the Labour Relations Code last year. The panel recommended raiding only after a contract was three years old, but the NDP sought to make an exception for construction, arguing that many projects are shorter and seasonal, which could limit worker opportunities to switch unions.
The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) worked closely with BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and the BC Liberals to explain the disruption annual raids cause its members.
“We have been working closely with Weaver and the BC Liberals helping them understand the nuances of this issue,” said Ryan Bruce, BC manager of government relations for CLAC. “This was going to create a lot of instability. People going to sites, following workers home, trying to get them to sign cards. It can be disruptive. This is now in line with other sectors.”
Bruce explained that raids, like a major political campaign or election, require a lot of time, energy and resources to defend against. At the Site C Dam Project, CLAC is one of the major unions for Peace River Hydro Partners, the main civil works contractor.
“When it came to Site C, the group raiding was given access to the camp, they were at the airport, following members home,” said Bruce. “It got to the point where members were asking when it would be over and as you can imagine you expend a lot of resources defending a raid as opposed to defending your members.”
Bruce added that CLAC believes that workers should have an opportunity to change unions but feels three years respects worker’s rights as well as creates stability on the site. He added that the building trades are preventing workers’ rights and putting a target on independent unions.
“If you look at the building trades unions, they have no-raid packs, so they have already created this structure that has stripped workers of that right to choose and that means that independent unions like CLAC become the target of everyone constantly,” said Bruce. “That is fine. We have dealt with raids, but when you are always faced with the prospect of a raid every year, it creates disruption and your focus changes.”
Bruce thanked Weaver, Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and Liberal Labour critic John Martin for their role in passing the amendment.
The change was also praised by the Progressive Contractors Association (PCA) which, with CLAC and Canada Works, gave input on the amendment.
“We’re relieved the Horgan government has been forced to back off of its intention to wreak havoc during the busiest time of year for our industry,” said Paul de Jong, PCA president, in a media release. “We can now focus on getting key projects built, rather than the destabilizing threat of aggressive union drives each summer.”
Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades, called the amendment “hugely disappointing”, arguing it ignores the cycles of construction work and prevents worker choice. He explained that independent unions have attempted to only allow raiding when work populations on the site are scarce.
“Now it’s worse,” said Sigurdson. “It goes to every three years, and that’s unfortunate. The Green Party decided to align with the Liberals and they have showed that they are taking an anti-union position on code changes.”
Sigurdson noted that it was the Green Party that also prevented the NDP from replacing balloting on union certification votes for a card-check system.
“They have clearly shown they are not supportive of workers in the construction industry and their opportunity to choose legitimate union representation,” said Sigurdson.
He explained that the building trades attempted to lobby the Green Party and explain how the construction industry raiding works but was not successful.
“We expected more from this legislation, but it didn’t happen,” said Sigurdson.