A group of 23 B.C. business organizations, including many associated with the constructions sector, have written to Premier John Horgan to express their dismay with changes proposed to the union certification provisions of the Labour Relations Code through Bill 10.
“These changes will have economic repercussions across the province as businesses work to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” stated the letter. “They will also needlessly destabilize the labour relations balance in British Columbia.”
The letter argues the bill was tabled without adhering to a mandate letter from Labour Minister Harry Bains which directed him to engage employer and worker representatives in consideration of any changes proposed to workplace legislation to ensure the widest possible support.
The letter adds they are also concerned that the government is advancing the legislation outside the longstanding Section 3 review process which was introduced in the early 1990s. The letter stated Bill 10 is not the first time members of the business community have expressed frustration about how consultations are conducted on employment legislation, calling it a “pattern that is extremely concerning.”
The implementation of “card check” or “single step certification” goes against the majority of recommendations of the 2018 Section 3 Labour Relations Code Panel Review Report, chaired by Michael Fleming.
The current two-step system requires a minimum of 45 per cent of workers at a jobsite to sign membership cards and, once that threshold is reached, workers must then restate their preference for a union through a secret vote. The province has stated they are proposing two major amendments. First, if 55 per cent or more of employees in a workplace indicate their intent to unionize by signing union membership cards, a union will be certified, and no further vote is required. Second, if between 45 per cent and 55 per cent of employees sign union membership cards, a second step consisting of a secret ballot vote is required for certification.
“The secret ballot is a fundamental component of our democratic system and a standard that should apply in workplaces just as it does in other facets of public life,” states the letter. “Workers in British Columbia have a right to join a union and our organizations believe in and respect the collective bargaining process. Workers also have the right to make this decision in a manner that is free from influence. The secret ballot is essential to protecting that right.”
The groups argued the province needs labour stability as it focuses on pandemic recovery.
“While we would not characterize the system as a perfect balance, it is certainly better in its current form than if Bill 10 is enacted,” says the letter. “Fundamentally, Bill 10 weakens the democratic rights of workers and undercuts fairness, clarity and certainty for workers and employers alike.”
They called on the province to withdraw the bill and begin consultations with stakeholders.
Signatories of the letter included the BC Construction Association, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, the Northern Regional Construction Association, the Vancouver Island Construction Association, the Southern Interior Construction Association, the Progressive Contractors Association, and the BC Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association.
Others, like the BC Building Trades, have defended the changes.
“These changes are important and recognize the right for workers to join a union,” said Brynn Bourke, BC Building Trades executive director. “In construction that has been a difficult right to exercise. Finally, we have restored the balance with this legislation and given workers the ability to organize.”
The province did not respond to requests for comment before press time. However, officials have defended the changes in the past in press releases, citing the pandemic as part of the push towards Bill 10.
“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen that many people want to make their workplaces safer, provide more input to their work schedules and negotiate better wages and benefits, and they should be able to do this without barriers,” said Bains in a press release. “The current two-step system can lead to interference in organizing. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, workers who wish to collectively organize must not be impeded in any way.”
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