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B.C. government lawyers sue province over forced unionization

Lawyers who write laws and advise politicians allege the NDP government has violated their constitutional right to a union of their own choosing.
BC Government Lawyers Association president Gareth Morley addresses a crowd of lawyers to announce a possible court case against the NDP government.

B.C.’s government lawyers have filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court alleging the NDP government’s attempts to force them into a union not of their choosing is a violation of members' charter rights.

“The legislature has dictated that they will be represented by a bargaining unit they did not chose and that has never represented them before,” said the suit filed by the BC Government Lawyers Association (BCGLA) June 18.

It named the attorney general as the defendant. A ministry spokesperson said it could not comment on the case as it is before the courts.

The BCGLA advocates for the civil lawyers who represent the provincial government in court, provide it with legal advice and draft provincial legislation. The group has been in existence for 30 years and has filed unionization cards with the province’s Labour Relations Board.

The notice of civil claim challenges the validity of the Public Service Labour Relations Amendment Act (PSLRA) — also known as Bill 5.

The claim seeks court declarations that the law denies the lawyers the right to meaningful collective bargaining and infringes the charter right to freedom of association as a result.

The claim said the BCGLA since 1992 has been a trade union representing lawyers who are members of a court and those employed by the Criminal Justice Branch.

The court documents state Bill 5, which recently received royal assent, would put them into a pre-existing bargaining unit for government professional employees, the Professional Employees Association (PEA).

The claim said the PEA has never sought to represent civil lawyers, and that the lawyers have never voted in favour of being represented by the PEA.

“Bill 5 does not provide and the province has not otherwise established, any independent or neutral mechanism by which the bargaining agent for civil lawyers can be democratically selected and through which the question of the appropriate bargaining unit for civil lawyers can be determined,” the claim said.

The BCGLA has filed an application for certification as the bargaining unit under the Labour Relations Code. The claim asserts the passage of Bill 5 disrupted that application.

The PSLRA does not apply to Crown counsel. The claim said the government had wanted those lawyers represented by the PEA.

However, a 1999 report recommended they have their own bargaining unit, now the BC Crown Counsel Association. The claim said the government accepted that recommendation.

Now, the BCGLA said it has a long history of representing its members in areas such as salaries, grievances and other activities.

“Nevertheless, the province refused to recognize the civil lawyers’ right to negotiate a collective agreement, engage in arbitration or have a legally recognized and protected mechanism for resolving impasses in bargaining such as interest arbitration or the right to strike, the claim said.