October 18, 2022

Al PhillipsON JUNE 2, 2022, we  celebrated an important win for workers in our province. Bill 10 — the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2022 received royal assent and became law, reinstating card check certification in B.C. Card check, or single-step certification, simplifies the process for a worker who wants to unionize their workplace. Under the new legislation, a workplace is automatically certified if 55 per cent or more of workers sign union cards, without the need for a secret ballot vote. Prior to Bill 10, B.C. had a two-step certification process, where once a workplace had 45 per cent of its employees sign a membership card, a secret ballot vote would still be required in order for the workplace to become unionized. Under current law, a vote is still required when between 45 per cent and 55 per cent of workers have signed a union card. Bill 10 finally recognizes that when the majority (55 per cent) of workers sign a union card — they have already voted in favour of union representation. A secondary vote can serve no other purpose than to give the employer time to interfere with the process.

Reinstating card check has been a long and hard-fought battle for the Building Trades unions since the BC Liberal government introduced the two-step process back in 2001. Why is this so important? The data is clear: under a two step (secret ballot) certification system, union certifications decrease. A detailed study conducted in our very own province between 1978 and 1998 estimated a 19 per cent decrease in certifications when the two-step certification process was in place, when compared to card check (automatic) certification.¹ A secret ballot vote takes longer. It provides the employer time to interfere with the certification process and to pressure and intimidate employees to vote against unionization. This is the reality many workers are facing. We have seen it all over the media recently with the union-busting tactics of Starbucks and Amazon in the U.S. Layoffs, closures, threats to wages and benefits — this is what workers deal with when there is an unnecessary delay to certification by having to conduct a secret ballot days after signing a union card.

This legislative change is necessary and timely. With high rates of unemployment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, more workers were forced into precarious employment; insecure jobs that are often low-paid, temporary or contract based, with part-time or irregular hours and few or no benefits. This has only added to the ongoing erosion we have witnessed since the early 1970s of the standard, full-time, permanent employment relationship. With technological advancements, we have seen the rise of the gig economy where employers are hiring part-time, temporary and independent contractors rather than full-time employees. While these non-standard work relationships provide economic advantages for the employer, workers most often lack unionization, benefits, social security, regulatory support and workplace rights.

It’s time for us to collectively push back and influence labour policies to ensure fair and equitable compensation for all work. Bill 10 provides us with an opportunity for action. Now we organize, not only to improve the working conditions of non-union workers in our industries, but to increase our memberships and strengthen our ability to enact change and demand better working conditions for all.

Reach out to your friends, family, or the worker in front of you in the coffee shop line and talk to them about the benefits of union membership. Remember, it’s up to all of us to organize.

*¹ C. Riddell, “Union Certification Success Under Voting Versus Card-Check Procedures: Evidence from British Columbia, 1978-1998” (2004) 57 Industrial and Labor Relations Review 493 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/4126680

By Al Phillips