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Manitoba stakeholders clash over union certification legislation

Warren Frey
Manitoba stakeholders clash over union certification legislation

Manitoba’s labour stakeholders are once again battling about provincial legislation.

Recent labour legislation introduced by Premier Wab Kinew’s NDP government would ban replacement workers during labour action and end requirements for secret ballot voting to join a union. Instead, unionization would be allowed if a majority of workers at a location sign a union card.

Opinion among stakeholders is divided.

“When workers sign a card saying they want a union, they should get one,” said Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck.

Employers “try to wrap flags around themselves that a secret ballot is best, but it’s not that secret,” Rebeck said, adding employers often indicate to their workers they don’t want a union in their workplace.

“We think this is good news for the economy. No-one wants strikes or lockouts and whatever we can do to shorten them is good.”


‘It is your democratic right to join a union’

Manitoba Building Trades executive director Tanya Palson voiced strong support for the new certification legislation and said the process has been a priority for Manitoba labour for over two decades.

“Under the current process you needed over 60 per cent of cards signed to trigger a vote notice. Just a few days between a vote notice and a certification vote has proven to be too much time for employers to intimidate and interfere,” she said.

“This is not fair for the workers seeking better representation. It’s not fair for the unions who pour extensive time and financial resources into supporting workers to have organizing drives repeatedly die on the finish line.

“A construction worker, like any worker, it is your democratic right to join a union. As such, once a democratic majority is achieved, this should be the trigger for instituting unionized representation of your jobsite.”


Manitoba Fed implementing ‘BC Fed’s hardcore left-wing agenda’

Progressive Contractors Association of Canada vice-president of public affairs Darrel Reid likened the proposed legislation to similar efforts made in British Columbia.

“The Manitoba Federation of Labour is implementing the BC Fed’s hardcore left-wing agenda. Neither of these measures are needed or called for,” Reid said.

B.C.’s NDP government passed legislation implementing the single-step certification process in 2022 and the BC Federation of Labour supported the measure. 

“Workers have a right to choose who represents them and the card approach contravenes that charter right,” he added. “One person, one vote is less opportunity for manipulation or intimidation. I think the Manitoba Fed should look to increase business opportunities and productivity (instead).”

Rebeck cited use of replacement workers as a negative in terms of productivity.

“Replacement workers often don’t have the same productivity or skill level. They’re sometimes paid more than those doing the job and that’s union busting. It shouldn’t be legal and soon it won’t be,” Rebeck said.

Palson said her organization supports the broader labour push to ban replacement workers, though it isn’t the Manitoba Building Trades biggest concern as the construction industry’s labour environment is cyclical. 

“It certainly has and does happen, though labour shortages in the skilled trades are making this less of a viable option for employers. Building Trades stands with Manitoba’s broader labour movement in support of this legislation as replacement workers unfairly weaken the strike leverage of the unions,” she said.

Reid said use of replacement workers should be worked out between an employer and its workers, not through the provincial government.

“It’s incumbent on management to work this out between themselves. We don’t need the heavy hand of government with one-size-fits-all solutions to these issues,” he said.

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