Government flip-flops on labour law

Unions cry foul, NDP threatens filibuster

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on June 4, 2014

Labour groups are furious and the NDP is contemplating a filibuster after the government introduced a bill in the legislature that could make it harder for workers to unionize.

Federation of Labour president Mary Shortall also said the move is a shameless flip-flop, because the amendments to the Labour Relations Act reverse a key change which was announced just two years ago.

“I guess the most shocking part is not that they made the decision to reverse it, but that they so blatantly caved in to the employer lobby, that they so blatantly did that without consultation,” said  Shortall. “It was underhanded. It was like a double-cross.”

Back in 2012, then-minister Terry French introduced a suite of amendments to the province’s labour laws.

Two key provisions were automatic card-based union certification and a “vote on offer” provision.

The card-based certification means that if labour organizers can get 65 per cent of people in a workplace to sign union cards, the union can be certified without a secret ballot vote.

The vote on offer provision allows employers in collective bargaining to send one offer directly to unionized workers for a vote, bypassing the union negotiating committee.

Two years ago, French framed the two provisions as a fair balance; the vote on offer favoured employers, but the card based certification was good for the unions.

“It’s about trying to find that balance, so you want to have something there that’s good for labour and you want to have something that’s good there for employers,” French said at the news conference. “It was a balance for me. And like I said, if you cherry pick either one of these items, I’m sure you would get two very different items for and against them.”

This week, Dan Crummell, minister responsible for the Labour Relations Agency, said the government never framed those two provisions as an equal balance.

“There was a number of initiatives, a number of pieces of legislation that came into that,” Crummell said. “There was no quid pro quo with regards to that.”

But when he was asked by reporters, Crummell couldn’t name a single other specific change that the government made in 2012.

Shortly after the 2012 bill passed through the legislature, the union card certification portion was enacted into law. But the government hasn’t enacted the vote on offer part for employers, so for the last two years employers and business groups have been complaining about being treated unfairly.

This week, the tables flipped; the government is moving to eliminate card-based automatic certification, but Crummell said it has drawn up regulations, and it’s still moving ahead with the vote on offer policy.

Crummell said he was hearing from workers and employers who just felt that a secret ballot was a more democratic way to do union certification.

That’s essentially the same point that NL Employers’ Council has been making for the last two years.

“We fundamentally disagreed with government that what they proposed back two years ago was a balanced approach,” Richard Alexander, executive director of the Employers’ Council said. “We would never in a million years be in favour of removing democratic secret ballot voting from workplaces.”

Labour advocates say with the secret ballot vote, employers are able to put pressure on workers and intimidate them.

New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said she’s still not sure whether her party will filibuster the legislation, but she said her party is firmly against the change.

“We will be fighting it, and we’re looking at all of our options,” she  said.