Business groups fight to preserve secret ballot in union certification votes

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1722 walk the picket line in this file photo from Nov. 10 in Kelowna. Global Okanagan

A coalition of 13 business groups are calling on the province to ensure union certification votes continue to be held by secret ballot, and have made a joint submission to the BC Labour Relations Code Review Panel.

The NDP government announced a review of the labour code in February, and Premier John Horgan has previously said he prefers a “card check” system which would make it easier for workers to unionize. Under a card check, a union is certified if a majority of workers sign union cards.

LISTEN: Business community calls on government to protect workers’ right to secret ballot
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That’s a change that business groups such as the Independent Contractors Business Association (ICBA) argue will undermine democracy in the workplace, and remove the rights of employers in the equation.

“For management to say, ‘Here’s why we think not joining a union is advantageous to you and to the company,’ and both sides settle their positions and then all the workers have a chance, an opportunity to review all that information and then go into a ballot box,” said ICBA president Chris Gardner.

Gardner argued that a change to the card check system would also leave employees open to bullying from their coworkers.

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“What you have is a whole bunch of people running around effectively in some cases saying, ‘Come on, you’ve got to sign the card, everyone else has signed the card,'” he said.

Proponents of the card check system argue the exact opposite, suggesting that forcing employees to openly discuss unionization and then vote on it exposes them to pressure and intimidation from employers.

“The reason is that now, you sign up a majority of workers and then there’s 10 days before a vote. And we have seen massive employer interference into organizing,” said BC Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger.

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LISTEN: BC Federation of Labour supports card check system instead of secret ballot

“The right to join a union is a charter right under freedom of association, so we really have employers interfering with workers rights under the charter. So we want to find ways to get rid of employer interference in union organizing.”

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Along with the secret ballot, the business groups are raising several other concerns with a potential review of the labour code, including the balance between unions and employers among appointments to the Labour Relations Board.

They are also calling on the province to retain the current definition of “essential services,” prevent legislated sectoral bargaining and end the use of project labour agreements that allow the government to dictate employee choice on large projects.

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Among the other groups to join the submission are the BC Chamber of Commerce, the BC Hotels Association, the New Car Dealers Association of BC and the Urban Development Institute.

-With files from Jon Hall

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