To the Editor: In his June 4 op-ed, Tom Sigurdson takes issue with the successful amendments to the B.C. government’s Labour Relations Code (Bill 30), which brought the bill into alignment with expert Review Panel recommendations. This was the first time in this mandate that the Green Party and BC Liberals worked together to pass legislation, signalling a win for fair representation, freedom of association, and workers’ rights.
Sigurdson points out that workers value “choice and voice,” and seems to think annual raiding seasons—when one union can vie to take over a different union under a specific employer—are the solution. He says this while leading a collection of unions that signed mutual no-raid pacts, stripping workers of the right to change unions if desired and exercise their choice and freedom of association. It seems that Sigurdson only really values choice for workers when the Building Trades Unions (BTUs) are their only option.
Another example of Sigurdson’s hypocrisy on worker choice is his push for the NDP’s so-called “community benefit agreements” aimed at giving the BTU a monopoly on public projects. How does forcing workers into an outdated labour model honour workers’ choice? It doesn’t. What it does is silence the voices of 85 per cent of the construction workforce who have chosen a different model.
Another claim Sigurdson makes is that the average construction job lasts just three months. His views are outdated and inaccurate. Not only do many workers enjoy long term relationships with companies that manage multiple construction projects at a time, this is in fact what most workers want. It may benefit Sigurdson’s particular unions for workers to be employed for three months at a time before rejoining the hiring hall and paying non-working dues for the pleasure of waiting to have their number called again. This hardly benefits workers, nor does it reflect the desire of today’s modern workforce to be treated as more than a number on a list. Workers want to have a positive working relationship with their employer. This is evidenced by the sharp growth of the progressive labour model during a time when union density on the traditional side of the labour spectrum, including the BTUs, has been steadily declining.
Sigurdson also seems not to have read the very Labour Code amendments he takes such issue with. He claims the changes were accomplished in order to allow “employer-friendly” unions to arrange for an open season that falls in the winter months, when units are “crewed down to only their most malleable workers.” In fact, the bill clarifies that open season will still take place during the busiest construction season in July and August, a window of time when job sites are fully crewed and votes to join a union or transfer representation can be expected to reflect the wishes of the entire unit.
Mr. Sigurdson’s puzzlement with the reasoning behind the amendments is perhaps due to a narrow and antiquated view of labour relations, one in which brutish tactics of intimidation, strikes and constant strife between employees and employers are viewed as means to empower labour. Although there were, and continue to be, hard battles to be fought on behalf of workers’ rights, today’s labour force has a different vision for more progressive, positive and collaborative employment relationships.
Sigurdson’s mistruths are part of a larger false narrative that British Columbians deserve to be made aware of. Particularly important is the truth that progressively unionized and many non-union workers are just as well-trained, just as safe, and have competitive wages and benefits just like their BTU counterparts.
The vision cast by progressive unions like CLAC sees a continued need for unions while seeking to move beyond an adversarial approach to labour relations to an interest-based negotiating approach with the goal of finding common ground on which to build the foundation of a healthy, respectful relationship between employee and employer. This is not a sell-out, but rather a holistic approach that recognizes the importance of creating and maintaining stable employment and economic growth for the long-term benefit of the Canadian workforce.
Ryan Bruce is the BC Manager of Government Relations for CLAC. Send Industry Voices comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org