June 19, 2024

RATES OF UNION CERTIFICATION in B.C. are seeing their highest levels in two decades, with the number of applications doubling since the government reintroduced single-step card check certification in 2022.

While the surge in collective organizing can be explained by economic pressures like inflation and stagnating wages, the latest numbers show that the certification process itself is a key factor. The BC Labour Relations Board annual report for 2023 reveals that 92 per cent of the 194 certifications granted in 2023 were successful through the card check system.

The card check system introduced a significant change to winning certifications by removing the requirement to proceed to a representation vote. The system allows automatic certification when a minimum of 55 per cent of a bargaining unit has signed membership cards. This avoids waiting periods before certification votes where many employers are known to actively dissuade and intimidate employees from voting for the union.

However, a representation vote can still be done if there is at least 45 per cent interest in certification. Last year’s numbers show that the average card check certification was gained with well over the minimum membership support (76 per cent).

The policy change has removed a hurdle for many seeking to join unions in the construction industry and is especially important for those with precarious work. Teamsters 213 business manager Tony Santavenere estimates his local has been 70 per cent more successful in organizing efforts since the policy change.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “It’s been a huge help to our organization. I would say it’s probably brought in close to 1,000 new members.” The local has hired more organizers to keep up with the work and other affiliates have had to do the same, he said.

While employer groups say the deck is stacked in favour of workers, the shift was made precisely to prevent interference in workers’ constitutional rights to organize. Employers have also questioned the reliability of card checks, but Labour Board research last year showed a high degree of accuracy, with only one card in question out of a sample of nearly 2,000.

Santavenere said that in his experience, the main problem with the mandatory vote was the 10-day window after an application goes in.

“Employers always sent a letter to employees during this 10-day period, to threaten, manipulate, and lots of times offering a wage increase if employees voted against certification,” he said. “I’ve seen over the years where you’ve had 95 per cent sign up on cards and by the time we got to the vote, the employer did such a good job of scaring people, that we only had 5 per cent support at the end of the day.”

Sheet Metal Workers’ & Roofers’ Union Local 280 organizer Steve Davis said it’s important for workers to know they are entitled to join unions free from harassment and he said that card check almost guarantees certification if there is enough interest.

“The biggest thing is that it’s given every worker the opportunity to make change and to get the things they are entitled to have like increased benefits, pensions and better wages,” said Davis. “It’s taking the fear out of losing the job. It allows workers to stand together and have a voice.”

Local 280 recently signed up 50 new members under the card check system, something Davis said might not have happened had the process gone to a vote. Local 280 has been successful organizing with both systems, but having the opportunity to sign up without the threat of punishment to workers definitely helps, he said. Davis said that hard work still needs to be done around educating both employers and employees about the benefits of having a union and the work doesn’t stop after certification is achieved.

Santavenere said that it’s important not to take things for granted, especially with the coming election. “Policy can always change,” he said. “We’re trying to take advantage of the opportunity we have right now.”

By Megan Terepocki