BY ALEX HEMINGWAY
Senior economist and public finance policy analyst
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC (CCPA-BC)
THE BC government recently introduced legislation that will allow a majority of workers in a workplace to organize a union a little more easily, making it harder for employers to intimidate and interfere in organizing drives. That’s good news both for working people and for the quality of our democracy.
If passed, Bill 10, the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, will enact a single-step certification process — something that is already in place in jurisdictions like Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and federally regulated workplaces.
Single-step certification simply means that if a clear majority of workers in a workplace back forming a union—and sign authorization cards declaring this—they are allowed to form one. This is actually a return to the traditional framework for union certification in Canada.
The single-step process was the norm until the 1980s when governments began rolling it back in many provinces, instituting a two-step process. After a majority of workers had signed union authorization cards, a second step was added requiring a reconfirmation vote to be held. This might sound innocuous (if unnecessary), but the main effect was to give employers a window to run anti-union campaigns and intimidate workers into abandoning organizing drives.
Employer interference campaigns typically include tactics like holding “captive audience meetings” (mandatory anti-union meetings), sending steady streams of text messages and posting anti-union messaging around the workplace, hiring consultants who specialize in union-busting efforts and simply firing the workers who are most active in the organizing effort.
Unfortunately, these types of practices are widespread. They have been getting somewhat more media attention recently during an ongoing wave of worker organizing drives at large corporations like Amazon and Starbucks in the United States. But the same tactics are used here in Canada at corporations like Amazon, Starbucks and Tim Hortons, and in many lesser-known firms throughout various sectors as confirmed by BC’s Labour Relations Board.
The return to single-step certification won’t mean the end of aggressive anti-union campaigns, but it will make them somewhat more difficult to carry out by reducing a key window of time for employer interference. Across jurisdictions, the main effect (and likely aim) of a two-step certification process was always to reduce unionization rates. Research examining BC and other jurisdictions shows this reduction in unionization is exactly what happens.
Strengthening the right of workers to organize unions has broader implications for tackling extreme inequality and creating more democratic control over our politics. Unions help offset a critical imbalance of power that exists between workers and owners in a capitalist economy. It’s increasingly clear that the rich wield disproportionate influence over politics across the developed world. But a growing body of empirical research suggests that higher unionization rates can help reduce these persistent political inequalities.
As my own doctoral research and other analysis has found, working-class people are severely underrepresented among the holders of legislative office. But this too can be changed. Where unionization rates are higher, workers are more likely to hold public office.
Strengthening the right to unionize is essential not only to workers seeking to raise their wages and improve their working conditions, but also to tackling inequality and restoring some working-class influence over our often corporate-dominated politics. By removing one barrier to forming unions and blunting the effect of employer anti-union campaigns, the return to single-step union certification is a win for workers in BC.