The BC Labour Relations Board has ruled that a voluntary recognition collective agreement reached between the IWA-Canada and Aramark Canada Facility Services Ltd., a private company retained by two Lower Mainland health authorities to provide hospital housekeeping services, is invalid and therefore cannot be raised as a bar to an application for certification made by the Hospital Employees’ Union.
Under Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Act, health authorities in B.C. are permitted to contract out non-clinical work. Aramark bid on and secured contracts to provide housekeeping services (work formerly performed by HEU members) at approximately 30 worksites operated by the health authorities. Aramark voluntarily recognized the IWA as the bargaining agent for its employees, and the parties negotiated a collective agreement.
After finalizing the voluntary recognition agreement, Aramark began holding job fairs for the purpose of recruiting and hiring employees to provide services under its housekeeping contracts. During the job fairs, applicants who successfully passed the initial interview with Aramark were directed to an orientation session conducted by IWA representatives. At these sessions, IWA representatives distributed copies of the collective agreement and requested that each applicant sign two documents. The first was an IWA membership dues check off form, while the second was an acknowledgment that the applicant had read and accepted the terms and conditions of employment described in the collective agreement. It was made clear to the applicants that only those who signed both documents were eligible for hiring.
The HEU subsequently applied to be certified for bargaining units at locations where Aramark was providing housekeeping services under contract to the health authorities. In response, both the IWA and Aramark argued that their voluntary recognition collective agreement operated as a bar to the HEU’s certification applications.
The BC Labour Relations Board ruled that the voluntary recognition agreement was invalid, because the IWA had not taken steps to have it properly ratified by the Aramark employees. The Board noted that where a trade union seeks to gain representation rights through voluntary recognition, it must establish that it “is actually representative of the employees covered by the voluntary recognition agreement”. The Board was not satisfied that requiring the employees to complete IWA membership forms as a prerequisite to getting a job provided sufficient evidence that the employees had freely chosen the IWA to represent them. In the Board’s view, the process followed by Aramark and the IWA had not given the employees a proper opportunity to freely express their true wishes, when rejection of the agreement meant that they would not be hired. Rather, the IWA should have followed the normal process of conducting a secret ballot ratification vote.
As the IWA collective agreement was invalid, the Board ruled that the HEU application for certification could proceed.