VIEW: Proposed bill spells trouble for unions
By Dave Coles
Published June 21, 2013 11:38 am
[Editor’s note: This is an unsolicited op-ed by Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The Tyee clearly marks all opinion articles that appear on The Hook with the tag VIEW.]
Since Halifax teenager Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life because of cyber harassment in April the Harper government has said it will address bullying. The government announced federal funding for the Red Cross’ Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities project and has suggested it might make changes to the criminal code to address online bullying.
At the same time as they’ve taken these steps a backbench Conservative MP has proposed a bill that will increase bullying in the workplace. Recently the MP for Wetaskiwin (Alberta) Blaine Calkins introduced Bill C-525, which will make it easier for bosses to intimidate employees from joining a union.
The legislation will eliminate so-called automatic card check for the 10 per cent of Canadians employed in federally-regulated sectors (telecommunications, banking, transportation etc.) For decades, union certification under the Canada Labour Code has operated this way: a majority of the members of a workforce are required to sign membership cards and pay five dollars to certify the union.
Assumed to have the Prime Minister’s support, Bill C-525 would eliminate this model. In its place, union certifications would require that 45 per cent of members in a bargaining unit sign cards and once this threshold is attained the Labour Board would call a second vote.
Another vote after cards have been signed gives employers’ greater opportunity to intervene in workers’ democratic process. To dissuade employees from unionizing, management sometimes organizes compulsory anti-union meetings and threatens to shutter the business. Automatic card-check is designed to protect workers from this type of intimidation.
Not surprisingly, moving from automatic card check to a second round of voting results in fewer successful union drives. A 2002 study of nine Canadian jurisdictions over 19 years found that mandatory votes lower union certification success rates by nine per cent from what they would have been under automatic card check.
Changes to how votes are counted under Bill C-525 will also enable employer intimidation.
In a reversal of long-standing voting traditions, Bill C-525 would require unions receive more than 50 per cent of members votes of the proposed bargaining unit rather than 50 per cent of votes cast. This means that those who don’t vote are effectively deemed to have voted against unionization. And since certification votes are usually held in the workplace, anti-union managers will simply need to communicate to new or nervous employees that they would be better off staying away from the voting booth.
The same anti-union bias applies during a decertification vote.
Over 50 percent of the bargaining unit would have to cast a ballot — regardless of turnout — in favour of the union to prevent decertification. This will allow a decertification without majority support and is akin to counting everyone who doesn’t cast a ballot during a federal election as voting against the government.
According to Public Safety Canada, bullying thrives in “a relationship where an imbalance of power exists.” An important part of what unions do is lessen the power imbalance between owners and workers so any government wanting to combat bullying should strengthen, not weaken, workers constitutional right to collective bargaining.
Dave Coles is president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.