British Columbia’s largest construction projects, LNG Canada, the Site C Dam and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, are all open-shop sites, with non-union, independent and traditional construction trades represented to get them built despite a growing shortage of skilled labour.
Simplified union certification and authorized raids each summer target these projects and those to come, as the NDP government of British Columbia tries to restore the dominance of traditional US-based unions in heavy construction. Non-union and freelance contracts now make up approximately 80% of the construction industry in British Columbia.
British Columbia business organizations are registering their protests with the NDP government, excluding them from talks of a brutal labor law rewrite to remove secret ballot voting from union certification and allow raids annual trade union in construction work. Labor Minister Harry Bains reintroduced the changes in the BC Legislative Assembly this week after they were rejected by former BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in the 2019 minority government.
Leaders from the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the British Columbia Business Council, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and the Surrey Chamber of Commerce released a statement April 7, saying Bains acted “without any meaningful consultation with employers, and at a time when businesses are still reeling from the pandemic.
They noted that Bains’ mandate letter from Premier John Horgan, released after the 2020 snap election that gave the NDP a majority, directs Bains to “create new consultation mechanisms to engage representatives of employers and of workers into consideration of any proposed changes to workplace legislation to ensure the widest possible support.
The uncertainty of annual union raids doesn’t just affect multibillion-dollar heavy construction projects currently underway, said Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. These projects are too advanced to stop, but future investments are not.
“If you are a new investor in LNG, and you look at LNG Canada and the relative success it is showing in building this project, and you see these headwinds of environmental protests, regulatory fog and now complications in when it comes to labor relations, you say it’s too much,” de Jong said in an interview.
Bains cited incidents of employer intimidation and interference in union organizing campaigns, such as at a Starbucks coffee shop in Victoria, as the reason for the move to a “card verification” certification system where 55% of employees register with union organizers. Current BC labor law requires a secret ballot vote after 45% of employees register.
“The current two-step system can lead to interference in the organization,” Bains said.
BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said the Labor Relations Board already oversees union certifications and if an employer is found to be threatening to lay off or firing pro-union staff, the commission orders an accreditation. The changes will have “a broad negative ripple effect across the business community” after two years of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Falcon said.
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