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Journal of Commerce | Tom Sigurdson | June 4, 2019
If there are two things workers value – in addition to the obvious, like wages and working conditions — it’s choice and voice.
And because of this, I’m frankly puzzled that those who purport to support workers’ rights were opposed to Labour Code amendments that would advance both choice and voice in the construction sector. With all due respect, yes, I mean you, Dr. Weaver.
Specifically, the changes to (what is known as) the raid window – when disgruntled members of a union approach another union and explore a change in representation – would have dramatically increased the democratic rights of workers to select their affiliation. Raids would be allowed in July and August of each year, reflecting the seasonal nature of construction work and ensuring the highest number of workers would be on site to register their wishes.
Under the current code, raiding is permitted only in the seventh and eighth month of each year of a collective agreement. That means employers and employer-friendly unions of convenience can strategically ensure the seventh and eighth month of their contract falls on the lowest employment periods – November and December, for example – when they are crewed down to only their most malleable workers.
Some argue that July and August raid periods would be disruptive but the fact of the matter is that raid organizing cannot take place during work hours. So let’s drop that argument.
Furthermore, doesn’t having more workers on site increase democracy? The more workers who take part in the card check union certification process, and then reiterate their decision by secret ballot (a harmful and redundant step that is also favoured by Dr. Weaver), the better, right? Allowing an annual July and August raid window means the maximum number of workers will have the opportunity to “voice their choice” for representation. Even alternative unions like the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) should support this raid window because it means they, too, can conduct a raid, presumably of a Building Trades union, with the most workers on site. Or do they only show up at the invitation of an employer?
Let’s also remember that construction is cyclical. The vast majority of construction workers do not stay with the same employer for their entire careers. The average construction job lasts just three months. That means a construction worker may have more than 100 employers over the course of a 30-year career. So when raiding is permitted only every three years and could feasibly only take place in the low-construction winter season, thousands of workers never have the chance to choose whether to affiliate with a union or not.
As for the raid window being disruptive, let’s look at exactly who is doing the disrupting. In its report to Labour Minister Harry Bains in August 2018, B.C.’s Labour Relations Code Review Panel found that 152 of the 197 complaints against employers filed with the Labour Relations Board between 1990 and 2007 were either wholly or partially meritorious. And over 90 per cent of those complaints involved either unlawful termination or communication during organization drives, or both.
The panel also found that unlawful termination resulted in an estimated 31 per cent reduction in the success of union certification applications. So some employers, albeit unlawful, will terminate workers to scuttle organizing drives.
Something else strikes me about the panel’s review, and that is its assertion that “the interests of employers and employees are distinct and not aligned.” (Recommendations for Amendments to the Labour Relations Code, Page 8, paragraph 7) You think? We’ve been hearing from employer-friendly organizations masquerading as unions for years that we all want the same things. Nice to see a neutral panel reveal what that statement really is: garbage.
Construction workers ought to be offered the democratic opportunity to select union representation on a frequent basis, which is consistent with the precarious nature of their employment.
Arguing with that is to ignore workers’ rights.
Tom Sigurdson is executive director of the BC Building Trades, which represents 35,000 highly skilled workers in B.C.’s busy construction industry. Send comments and Industry Voices Op-ed ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.