Conservative Bill a Deformation of Labour Relations, CAW Says

June 6, 2013, 4:00 PM EST

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New legislation proposed by Conservative backbencher Blaine Calkins would "grotesquely deform" labour relations in the federally-regulated sector of the economy, predicts Ken Lewenza, National President of the CAW.

Bill, C-525, unveiled in the House of Commons today, would create a double-standard by making it more difficult for unions to organize - but far easier to remove unions as bargaining agents. The Bill would make representation votes mandatory in all union organizing applications in the federal sector which includes industries like transportation, banking, and communications. At present, labour boards in the federal sector can certify unions as bargaining agents based on written evidence of majority support, usually in the form of signed membership cards, and have the discretion to hold votes in appropriate cases to ensure that unions have majority support.

"Mr. Calkins' rhetoric about workplace democracy is intended to mislead people about the true and obvious intent of this bill which is to weaken unions and collective bargaining in the federal sector of the economy," Lewenza said.  "In reality this bill would limit the democratic right of workers to form a union and negotiate a collective agreement."

Bill C-525 would require a union that is seeking to represent a new group of employees to first have written evidence of support from 45 per cent of that group, and then receive votes from at least 50 percent of all the workers in that group, not just those casting ballots.

"If this same distorted standard of democracy were applied to federal MPs, there would not be a single Conservative member sitting in the House of Commons today," Lewenza noted.  "There is no MP in Canada who was elected by over 50 percent of the voting-age adults in their riding.  Why on earth should this test apply to unions, but not MPs?"

At the same time as making it harder to certify a new union, Bill C-525 would make it much easier to remove existing unions. In applications to "decertify" an existing union, over 50 percent of all employees in a bargaining unit would need to vote to keep the union. This would place the onus on the union to ensure a high voter turnout, not just a win majority of votes, in order to avoid decertification. This would also invite employers and union opponents to attempt to suppress voter turnout.

"This is hardly a democratic practice," said Lewenza.

Academic studies have confirmed that mandatory representation votes reduce the success rate of union organizing because they do not accurately reflect workers' preferences.  Employers are able to distort the results of these votes through compulsory meetings with employees, intimidation, and threats, Lewenza said.

The most recent comprehensive review of the Canada Labour Code (the "Sims Report" in 1996) carefully considered and rejected the idea of mandatory representation votes in union representation cases.  "Worse yet, the unbalanced features of this bill would set a new low in Canada for how workplace votes are conducted," Lewenza added.

Lewenza noted that the bill is just the latest in a continuing series of anti-union initiatives from federal Conservatives, including Bill C-377, back-to-work orders, imposed settlements, and interference in collective bargaining at Crown corporations (including CBC and the Bank of Canada).

"The fact that this is presented as a private members' bill, rather than as part of the official Conservative legislative agenda, gives us little comfort," Lewenza added.  "We have seen the government effectively crack the whip to drive through private members' bills that the government unofficially endorses."

Lewenza suggested that the Conservatives' recent political problems help to explain these aggressive attacks on unions.  "This bill is a lamentable attempt to change the channel on a bad political year for Conservatives.   They want to paint unions as the scapegoat, to divert public attention from their own failures."

The CAW represents approximately 30,000 members working in the federally-regulated sector of the economy.  The CAW is forming a new union, Unifor, together with the Communicatons Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) that would be the largest single union covered by the Canada Labour Code.

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