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One-step unionization, card check, comes back to B.C.

Card check is coming to British Columbia, easing unionization efforts for workers by allowing a one-step unionization process. This afternoon B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains announced B.C.
B.C. government via YouTube

Card check is coming to British Columbia, easing unionization efforts for workers by allowing a one-step unionization process.

This afternoon B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains announced B.C. would move to a hybrid one-step unionization process where workers will only have to sign unionization cards to get union certification if a clear majority of 55% of the cards are signed. If 45% to 55% of workers sign a unionization card it will move to a secret ballot vote to determine if a union will be certified.

Currently,  workers interested in unionizing must obtain signatures from their fellow employees indicating that they would like to be unionized. Once enough signatures are gathered, the process for union certification continues by giving a five-day period for management and union supporters to make their case after which a vote is held.

In a speech referencing Amazon unionizing in New York and a Starbucks unionizing in Victoria, Bains highlighted the challenges and barriers workers face trying to unionize during the five-day certification period that currently exists between union card signatures and the secret ballot vote. Bains said that the certification period gives employers an opportunity to interfere with the unionization process and added that workers have been fired or threatened with layoffs during this time.

B.C. operated under a similar one-step unionization process from the 40s to the mid 80s and again for a brief period in the 90s

This will be the second time the NDP government will make changes to the B.C. labour code.  In 2019, the NDP amended the labour-code for the first time in 16 years. Recommendations largely followed the input of a three-person panel tasked with reviewing the labour code. At that time, card check was rejected by the two more business-friendly members of the panel and ultimately was not included in the 2019 amendment. When asked by reporters why the government went against the panel's recommendations, Bains said that the panel only recommended a secret ballot if the government could prevent employer interference, which he says they have not been able to do. When further pressed for examples, Bains highlighted times the Labour Relations Board ruled employers interfered with workers trying to unionize including an electrical contractor on Vancouver Island, a waste management company in the Lower Mainland and a food processing plant in the Okanogan. 

Six other provinces, including Quebec currently allow for one-step unionization processes like card check.  In response to the 2019 changes, Laird Cronk, president of the BC Federation of Labour told Business in Vancouver he considers the secret ballot process an undue burden for workers. He argues that there is no need to have a second vote when a majority of employees agreed to have the certification vote in the first place.

In response to the announcement, a group of five business associations including the Business Council of British Columbia and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade called for a pause on the legislation in a statement saying they were surprised and disappointed by the decision.