July 28, 2022
CHANGES TO B.C. LABOUR LAW are taking some of the intimidation out of workers organizing unions.
There are various paths to union work.
Workers can join an existing union. They can get hired on by a unionized company. Or, they can organize their workplace.
Organizing is the lifeblood of the trade union movement, but it carries certain risks when aggressive non-union companies fight hard, and sometimes fight dirty against organizing efforts.
The provincial government announced in April that when 55 per cent or more workers sign union cards, a secret ballot would no longer be necessary for certification.
BC Building Trades executive director Brynn Bourke (pictured below) says the changes will protect the fundamental constitutional rights of workers, especially particularly vulnerable construction workers.
“Workers are constitutionally entitled to the right to organize. In construction, because of the precarious nature of our industry, it’s challenging for construction workers to exercise that right,” Bourke said.
“This change in legislation will give workers in construction the ability to have a conversation with one another, about whether they want to form a union without employer interference or intimidation.”
The period between when signed cards are presented to the Labour Board and the vote is the most risky for employer intimidation of workers.
“Workers know this. They know how vulnerable they are and how dependent they are on one employer to be called back day after day,” Bourke said.
“The deck is really stacked against workers to have conversations with each other about their working conditions and the kind of representation that they want.”
Provincial Labour Minister Harry Bains said changes to the Labour Code should reduce that intimidation the workers face.
“The current two-step system can lead to interference in organizing. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, workers who wish to collectively organize must not be impeded in any way,” Bains said.
After two years of COVID-19 affecting work and now huge inflationary pressures, many more workers are reaching out to unions for representation.
“Many of them are turning now to the Building Trades, and our doors are open for them.” Bourke said she has never seen so many calls for help organizing in the decade she has been with the Building Trades.
“Going to work, there was the question of whether you were going to be safe. Who was fighting for you? It was unions.”
Many workers are worn out from two years of essential service work during the pandemic and are now facing economic challenges. They deserve the safe working conditions and benefits unions bring, Bourke said.
“Working people are the heroes of this moment. And we need to acknowledge their enormous contributions with more than just words.”
By David Hogben