BC to allow single-step certification of unions, say ministers of jobs and labor

Return to one-step voting if a clear majority agree to certify protects workers from threats and interference: Ministers Kahlon and Bains

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A former Starbucks employee who helped organize the first union at the coffee chain in Canada says BC’s move to return to single-step union certification is a big step forward for workers’ rights.

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Izzy Adachi said despite 90 per cent of workers at that Victoria Starbucks signed on to join a union, the company sent in “union busters” to intimidate organizers and try to influence staff in the days after the initial vote.

“Single-step certification is an important win for workers,” Adachi said during a conference call on Wednesday. “It levels the playing field after decades of employer-dominated policies.”

BC Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon said the current two-step process allows big corporations like Starbucks and Amazon to employ “unfair labor practices” and interfere in workers’ Charter rights to association.

Under the BC government’s proposed change to the Labor Relations Code, “if a clear majority sign union cards, they will be unionized” without a subsequent vote, said Kahlon, setting the threshold for automatic certification at 55 per cent of the vote.

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If the vote for certification is between 45 and 55 per cent, a second secret ballot would still be required.

The current two-step process requires 45 per cent of workers to agree to join a union and, once that threshold is met, another vote that reconfirms their choice is held several days later.

Kahlon noted that workers openly supporting certification have been fired or threatened with termination during that period, and employers have also warned of layoffs or plant closures in an effort to sway the second vote.

“It’s my job to ensure all workers are treated fairly and with dignity,” said Kahlon.

“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen that many people want to make their workplaces safer, provide more input to their work schedules and negotiate better wages and benefits, and they should be able to do this without barriers,” said BC Labor Minister Harry Bains in a statement.

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Tes Estilo, a care aid who is now represented by the Hospital Employees’ Union, said it’s important for BC to remove barriers that made it difficult to join a union.

“My co-workers and I joined the union for better wages, benefits and job security. As a care aid, this means more stability for our residents in seniors’ care,” said Estilo. “Unions create balance and fairness in the workplace.”

Kahlon noted during the call that single step isn’t new in BC He said that was how unions were formed here from 1947 until 1984 and again for a time in the ’90s. He also noted in a release that several provinces including Quebec, New Brunswick and PEI, as well as federally regulated workplaces, use single-step union certification.

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“I’m proud to make these changes,” said Kahlon, who noted the legal right to join a union is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The changes to the labor code will also affect construction workers, allowing them to decide if they want to switch their union annually. Current rules can prevent them from doing so for three years, much longer than the length of many work projects.

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