Employers cry foul over one-sided changes to labour law

James
James McLeod
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‘I am going to look at it early in the new year’ Darin King says

When the government unveiled changes to the province’s labour law in June 2012, then-minister Terry French called it a “balanced approach.”

But since then, employers’ advocacy groups are saying the government has implemented only one side of the balance, and they didn’t agree to the deal in the first place.

On Tuesday morning, Merit Contractors Association, an anti-union advocacy group, called for an end to card-based automatic certification for new unions.

“It’s not fair,” Merit executive director Paul Dubé said.

Under the new law, union organizers have to get at least 65 per cent of people in a workplace to sign a union card, and then they will be processed and automatically certified by the Labour Relations agency.

Under the old system, there was a secret ballot vote.

Dubé said that allowing organizers to go around and pressure individuals to sign membership cards allows for “intimidation and coercion” by a union.

The Newfoundland and Labra­dor Employers’ Council (NLEC) is also against the card-based automatic certification, and said there’s proof it leads to dodgy results.

“In situations in this province since we’ve had the card-based certification provision, since that’s come into play and we get into situations where the union isn’t able to achieve that 65 per cent threshold, it will go to a secret ballot vote,” NLEC executive director Richard Alexander said. “In those cases, we’ve seen some significant difference in the support indicated by the cards and the support in the secret ballot vote — as much as 47 per cent less support for the union in the secret ballot voting.”

The tradeoff was supposed to be that in exchange for the card-based certification, employers would get a new tool to use during negotiations: the one-time ability to bypass a union negotiating committee and send a contract offer straight to the union membership for a vote.

But a year and a half after the initial changes were announced in 2012, the government has brought the automatic certification rules into the law, but hasn’t moved on the other side of the bargain.

Labour Relations Minister Darin King said he just hasn’t gotten around to doing it yet.

“No reason. I just haven’t done it,” he said. “But I am going to look at it early in the new year.”

King said he has no intention of going back on the card-based automatic certification, although he still wants to hear from employers who might be having trouble with the new system.

“Who knows? Six months down the road, if circumstances change, any number of things can happen,” he said. “I’m trying to say we have no plan to bring it forward, but I’m trying not to close the door, either.”

Liberal labour critic Andrew Parsons said the changes to the labour law were rammed through the legislature right at the end of the session, the week after the Bill 29 filibuster.

“We were told all along that government wanted to strike a balance between employers and employees, that they’d done lots of consultations and the employers were on board,” he said. “It sounds, from what I hear, that they just weren’t consulted.”

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, said she’s pretty happy with the current state of affairs, and she doesn’t think the government should ever enact the promised changes to the negotiating rules.

“To us, there’s no benefit to it. It undermines collective bargaining a little bit. It delays the process a little bit,” she said. “The employer should be trying to bargain a collective agreement, not trying to circumvent the process.”

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Merit Contractors Association, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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