B.C.’s biggest construction projects, LNG Canada, the Site C dam and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, are all open-shop work sites, with non-union, independent union and traditional building trades represented to get them built despite a growing skilled labour shortage.
Easier union certification and raiding drives allowed every summer are aimed at these and future projects, as the B.C. NDP government attempts to restore the dominance of traditional U.S.-based unions in heavy construction. Non-union and independent contracting is now up to about 80 per cent of the B.C. construction industry.
B.C. business organizations are registering their protests to the NDP government shutting them out of discussions on an abrupt rewrite of labour law to remove secret-ballot voting from union certification and allowing annual union raiding in construction work. Labour Minister Harry Bains re-introduced the changes in the B.C. legislature this week, after they were rejected by former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in the 2019 minority government.
Leaders of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Business Council of B.C., the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and Surrey Board of Trade issued 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, issued after the 2020 snap election that gave the NDP a majority, directs Bains to “create new consultative mechanisms to engage employer and worker representatives in consideration of any changes proposed to workplace legislation to ensure the widest possible support.”
The uncertainty of annual union raids affects not just the multi-billion-dollar heavy construction projects now underway, says Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. Those projects are too far along to stop, but future investments are not.
“If you are a greenfield LNG investor, looking at LNG Canada and the relative success that it’s demonstrating in building this project, and you see these headwinds of environmental protests, regulatory fog, and now labour relations complications, you being to say, this is just too much,” de Jong said in an interview.
Bains cited incidents of employer intimidation and interference in union organizing drives, such as at a Starbuck’s coffee shop in Victoria as a reason for moving to a “card-check” certification system where 55 per cent of employees sign up with union organizers. Current B.C. labour law requires a secret-ballot vote after 45 per cent of employees are signed up.
“The current two-step system can lead to interference in organizing,” Bains said.
B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon said the Labour Relations Board already oversees union certifications, and if an employer is found to be threatening layoffs or firing pro-union staff, the board orders a certification. The changes will have “a broad, negative ripple effect right across the business community” after two years of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Falcon said.