Union certification rates may be on the rise in British Columbia if Bill 10, which proposes amendments to the Labour Relations Code, receives Royal Assent. The proposed amendments would remove the requirement for a union certification vote in certain instances, and allow construction workers more latitude to change unions.
Opportunity for Automatic Certification
The Labour Relations Code currently requires a two-step system for a union to be certified. First, a minimum of 45% of workers within the proposed bargaining unit must sign membership cards within 90 days of the union applying for certification. If that threshold for membership evidence is met, a secret ballot vote is held amongst employees within the proposed bargaining unit to determine if a majority of those employees support the union’s application for certification. Under the current system, this secret ballot vote is required regardless of what percentage of workers sign membership cards.
The proposed amendments would eliminate the requirement for a secret ballot vote if 55% or more of employees in a proposed bargaining unit have signed membership cards with the union. Where the Labour Board is satisfied the proposed bargaining unit is appropriate for collective bargaining, and the union has included the required threshold of membership evidence from 55% of the employees in the bargaining unit, then the Labour Board is required to certify the union as the bargaining agent for the bargaining unit. This form of automatic certification is referred to as a single-step certification process, and is already used in Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and in federally-regulated workplaces. British Columbia previously used a single-step certification system from 1973-1984, and from 1993-2001.
Under the proposed amendments, if the 55% threshold for membership evidence is not met, but instead between 45% and 55% of employees sign membership cards, a successful secret ballot vote is required before the union will be certified. Additionally, the proposed amendments authorize a union to request that a secret ballot vote be taken before the Labour Board makes a determination as to the appropriate bargaining unit. Once the vote is complete, the Labour Board would then make a determination of the unit of employees appropriate for collective bargaining.
These amendments continue a pattern of changes to the certification process in British Columbia that stem from recommendations made by the Labour Relations Code Review Panel in 2018. Among other issues, the 2018 Panel raised concerns with employer interference in the certification process. Since that time, the government has undertaken efforts to respond to the Panel’s concerns, including reducing the time between a union’s application for certification and the secret ballot vote from 10 calendar days to five business days. The government has stated that the amendments proposed in Bill 10 are intended to prevent employer interference in union certification when a clear majority of workers have already chosen to join the union.
The proposed amendments also provide specific allowances for workers in the construction industry. Specifically, trade unions in the construction sector would be permitted in July and August each year to apply for certification of an appropriate bargaining unit when a majority of the employees in that unit are members of the union. These amendments would permit trade unions to apply for certification annually regardless of the term of the collective agreement or the three-year raid restrictions in the Code applicable to other sectors. This in turn provides workers in the construction sector an annual opportunity to switch unions if they are dissatisfied with their current representation. The government indicated this change was made in recognition that current three-year raid restrictions in the Code fail to account for the fact that construction projects may only last one to two years, effectively preventing employees in this sector from changing union representation.
Status of Bill 10
Bill 10 is currently at First Reading, and must pass through two additional readings in the legislature before it can receive Royal Assent. We will provide further updates as the legislation progresses.
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