A private member’s bill by Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins is on the verge of changing how unions are certified and decertified in federally regulated sectors.
Bill C-525, which is titled the Employees’ Voting Rights Act, passed third reading in the House of Commons last week and is now headed to the Senate. If approved there, it would make secret ballots mandatory whenever union certification or decertification is being sought in an affected workplace.
Currently, a union can be automatically certified if a majority of the workers sign union membership cards.
Calkins, who introduced the bill last June, said from his Constituency office in Ponoka on Tuesday that a secret ballot is “the only true and fair way to ensure that the true will of the workers is reflected in the result.”
Bill C-525 would amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employees and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act to require a secret ballot vote if 40 per cent of employees in a workplace indicate in writing that they want a union to represent them. That vote would require a majority to be successful.
Similarly, if 40 per cent of the workers in a unionized bargaining unit indicate that they no longer want a union to represent them, a secret ballot decertification vote would be triggered.
The workers affected would be those in federally-regulated jurisdictions like transportation, telecommunications and postal services, as well as employees of Crown corporations.
The vote on third reading passed by a count of 146 to 119, with members of the governing Conservative Party voting in favour and MPs from the four other parties opposing the bill.
“I was very disappointed that, in spite of the fact that amendments went through, the Liberals and the NDP still voted against it in the House,” said Calkins.
Marianne Hladun, Prairie Region executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said a secret vote requirement would create problems. It would extend the certification process, she explained, giving employers time to interfere.
“They have access to employees that the union doesn’t have, and they have time to intimidate; they have time to threaten.”
A mandatory vote would also stretch the resources of the Canada Industrial Relations Board, creating logistical hurdles.
Calkins argues that a secret ballot is essential if the process is to be fair and democratic.
“Anybody who’s in an election should have to make their case. I don’t see how it’s not in the best interest of the worker to have options being pitched to them from both sides.”
Hladun is also upset that the legislation came forward as a private member’s bill, without prior consultation involving labour groups and employers.
Calkins said he acted in response to feedback from constituents, who complained that they were forced into unions without the opportunity to vote or even be consulted.
He pointed out that five provinces require secret ballot votes on such issues, as does the federal government in the United States.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents about 109,000 small and medium-sized business across Canada, has come out in support of Bill C-525.
“CFIB has long advocated for rules in the workplace that support and protect the democratic rights of both employees and employers,” said federation president Dan Kelly.
Hladun said she hopes the Senate will now look “critically” at the bill and act in the best interests of workers. Calkins expressed optimism that it will emerge intact.
“I’m pretty confident that with the amendments that were put forward during the committee stage in the House of Commons we’ve got a pretty solid bill.”