VANCOUVER – A business group in British Columbia says the labour movement is preparing its members for an NDP government that will change the law to make it far easier for workers to organize into unions.
The NDP’s current election platform states the party will form a special panel, under the Labour Relations Code, that will recommend changes to allow workers to “freely exercise” their rights join unions.
The platform says the panel will consult “interested parties” and recommend possible changes to the certification process, including what’s known as the “card check model.”
Under the card-check model, unions can certify once a previously determined percentage of employees sign union cards, as opposed to the secret-ballot model, which is currently used in B.C. and allows workers to vote for or against certification anonymously.
Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., said his organization will release proof today that unions have already begun work to train their organizers on how to approach workers in hopes of getting them to sign union cards.
“They have changed their approach on how to approach workers,” said Hochstein in an interview. “We’re going to release that.”
He also alleged the NDP has made up its mind.
“They’re going to stack the committee to ensure they get the outcome they want, so I don’t think this is a fair and impartial approach,” said Hochstein.
Hochstein declined to give further details until later today, and the B.C. Federation of Labour did not return calls.
But Shane Simpson, the NDP’s labour critic and candidate for Vancouver-Hastings, said his party has not made up its mind on the issue. He declined to say whether he prefers the secret ballot or card-check model, calling the question “inappropriate.”
He said, if elected, the NDP would probably call an industrial inquiry commission under and “an eminent” independent individual or a panel of three, and then set a 90-day deadline for the individual or panel to report back with advice on certification and other issues related to collective agreements.
Simpson said the NDP would then deal with any recommendations.
“It would be incredibly inappropriate for somebody who might be the labour minister to be saying, ‘Well before I appoint this person to do this, here’s what I hope they find,'” he said.
Simpson acknowledged the issue has come up during discussions between the NDP, labour and business organizations.
“There are unions who have talked to us. Obviously, there are unions that are very supportive of the card-check process. They have encouraged the card-check process.
“There are employer groups. I have met with a number of employer groups, most of them, obviously, have been less enthusiastic about the card-check process. So I’ve heard from both sides.”
Simpson said he suspects opponents of the NDP are trying to claim facts that don’t exist.
The debate has long been controversial in B.C.
The labour movement has argued, historically, that the secret ballot makes it harder for workers to organize and allows strong-arm tactics from employers to dissuade employees from unionizing before any ballot.
However, business leaders say the card-check model fosters intimidation and only helps labour organizations improve their bottom lines.
The debate is not new to the province.
In 1992, the NDP government of the day abolished the secret ballot in favour of the card-check model. At the time, the card-check model allowed certification if 55 per cent of employees signed union cards.
When the Liberals seized power in 2001, the government changed the process back to the secret-ballot method.
A recent poll released by the Coalition of BC Businesses found more than two-thirds of 600 randomly selected British Columbians support the secret-ballot process.
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC represents the province’s open-shop construction sector and states it’s responsible for 85 per cent of construction work in the province.