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B.C. makes changes to allow a single-step process for workers to unionize

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is making changes to the Labour Relations Code to allow a single-step process to certify a union when a majority of workers want to unionize.
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B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains announces that the minimum wage in the province will increase 45 cents to $15.65 per hour on June 1, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, March 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is making changes to the Labour Relations Code to allow a single-step process to certify a union when a majority of workers want to unionize.

A statement from Labour Minister Harry Bains says the nature of work has changed, with growing wealth inequality, and the proposed changes are aimed at helping employees have a greater say over their work conditions, schedules, benefits and compensation.

Bains says the existing two-step system can lead to interference with workers who want to exercise their constitutional right to organize.

The current system requires at least 45 per cent of workers to sign membership cards indicating they want to unionize, and once that threshold is reached, they must restate their position through another vote.

With the amendments, the Labour Ministry says a union would be certified right away if 55 per cent or more employees sign membership cards. 

It says a second step consisting of a secret ballot vote is only required for certification if between 45 and 55 per cent of employees sign the cards.

The B.C. Federation of Labour welcomed the province's plan, with a statement from president Laird Cronk saying the new system would remove barriers to workers organizing, such as delays that can result in intimidation.

"We've seen during (the pandemic) just how big the gaps and cracks are in workplace protection, and those gaps are widest for the lowest-paid, most vulnerable workers," the statement says. "Single-step certification allows workers to organize and close those gaps."

However, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association says the changes would strip workers of the right to hold a secret ballot, in favour of a card check system that could expose them to coercion.

B.C.'s own review panel for the Labour Relations Code found that a secret ballot was most consistent with democratic norms, the association says in a news release.

A statement from president Chris Gardner says the secret ballot allows both sides to present their case when it comes to union certification, and the process is carefully monitored for fairness by the Labour Relations Board.

The proposed changes to the Labour Relations Code would also affect construction sector unions by allowing workers an opportunity each year to switch unions if they are unhappy with their existing representation.

The current rules can prevent workers from changing unions for three years. 

The amendments take into account that individual construction projects may only be one or two years in duration, which could prevent some workers from ever being able to change unions, the province says in a news release.

Federally regulated workplaces and some other provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, use a one-step process, it says.

Canada's largest private-sector union welcomed the planned changes. A news release from Unifor says unionization rates fell in B.C. to among the lowest in Canada when a previous single-step certification system was scrapped.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2022.

The Canadian Press