BC introduces single-step union certification

June 8, 2022 | Veronica S. C. Rossos, Andrew Hefford

Bill 10, titled the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2022, received Royal Assent on June 2, 2022. The Bill was sponsored by The Honourable Harry Bains, the Minister of Labour, and introduces a number of changes to the Labour Relations Code (the “Amendments”).

The most significant changes affect the bargaining unit certification process. Prior to the Amendments, BC’s certification regime was based on a two-step system which had been in place since 2001. This two-step system required:

  • first, the putative union must have obtained signed union membership cards from at least 45% of the workers in the proposed unit; and
  • second, a vote by secret ballot would then be held to confirm that the majority of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit were in favour of unionization.

Certification would only occur after both of these two steps were fulfilled.

The Amendments introduce a single-step, card-check system, which would result in certification once the putative union demonstrates that 55% of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit have signed union membership cards, and the Board is satisfied that the bargaining unit is appropriate. Under the Amendments, a secret ballot vote may still take place if more than 45% but less than 55% of the employees in the proposed unit have signed union-membership cards.

Other changes introduced by the Amendments include:

  • changes to unionization rules in the construction sector (allowing unionized employees to change unions annually); and
  • the ability for trade-unions to request a representation vote before the Board determines the appropriate bargaining unit.

With the implementation of these Amendments, BC joins Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI and federally regulated work-places in adopting a card-check model for union certification.

Discussion

The Amendments will likely make certification an easier threshold to meet. In a 2018 report to the Minister of Labour titled Recommendations for Amendments to the Labour Relations Code, the authors estimated that the success rate in card-check systems was approximately 9% higher than under a secret ballot vote.

The ability for trade-unions to request a representation vote before the appropriate bargaining unit is determined, combined with the card-check system, will drastically increase the speed at which unionization can occur. Additionally, the changes in the construction sector may increase the prevalence of union raids.

Since 1984, the certification process has changed four times; switching back-and-forth between the secret ballot and the card-check system. The card-check system has been criticized for a lack of anonymity – raising the risk of undue employee pressure. Proponents of the previous secret ballot vote system argue that a secret ballot more accurately reflects our society’s democratic ideals and ensures the employees’ true intentions are enacted. Conversely, proponents of the card-check system maintain that the secret ballot system risks employer interference.

Contact our Labour & Employment team if you have any questions or concerns regarding unionization in your workplace.

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