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OP/ED – Horgan and NDP Fighting to Strip Workers of Secret Ballot

By Chris Gardner, President, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association

Andrew Weaver’s story is similar to a lot of workers in B.C.

“I know from first-hand experience that in any union certification drive there are those people who feel pressured to sign [a union card],” the B.C. Green Party leader told The Vancouver Sun this week, “but they want the opportunity to have a secret ballot.”

Of course they do. After all, there is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the secret ballot.

Whether it’s when we elect governments or strata councils or association boards, we rely on the secret ballot to provide assurance that the voting process is free from manipulation by one side or the other. Working men and women deserve no less when they are deciding whether or not to join a union.

Yet the soon-to-come NDP government is committed to stripping workers of that democratic right.

In recent weeks, John Horgan has been doing a victory lap of sorts, meeting with the big unions who funded his campaign and outlining his plans for a frightening new era in labour relations after he takes power.

While the news may be good for the NDP and its union donors, it’s bad for everyone working in small businesses across our province. All British Columbians should be concerned about the impending attack on the democratic rights of workers and fairness in the workplace. It is an issue that will impact small businesses in every sector of our economy – construction, hotels, restaurants, and other retail operations.

The first salvo is Horgan’s commitment to remove the right of workers to use a secret ballot when deciding to join, switch or leave a union. This has been the law in B.C. since 2001 – it ensures that neither employers nor unions are able to coerce or intimidate workers. Certification votes are fair and supervised by a neutral party, the Labour Relations Board.

Horgan’s preferred alternative is to have union organizers walking around workplaces, showing up on doorsteps, or following workers to their kid’s events, or to the store, or wherever else they can corner them – whatever it takes to get them to sign a union card. This process is rife with abuse and more than a few arms are twisted. It’s backroom politics at its worst and it goes against every principle of openness and transparency that should define workplaces across the province.

The decision to support a unionization drive is a deeply personal one and not one the vast majority of workers want to make while a union organizer is standing over his or her desk, when surrounded by colleagues watching to see if they sign a union card, or when a union card is put in front of you when you are at home.

It was encouraging to see Weaver break ranks from his NDP partners to state unequivocally that he would “never support legislation that will eliminate the secret ballot.” But it’s early days, and Weaver has changed his mind on issues important to B.C. workers before – Site C comes to mind.

However, we are encouraged by Weaver’s principled stand on the secret ballot and hope he will stick to his principles on this one. In an era where the demand for skilled labour is at an all-time high, there is no discernable difference between the wages and benefits paid by union and non-union employers in the construction sector for example. When it comes to safety in the workplace, the same is true.

It is difficult to see Horgan’s view as anything other than payback to big unions for their support of the NDP during the most recent provincial election.

Stripping workers of the secret ballot will only serve to weaken the rights of workers at the expense of big unions and harkens back to an era of smoke-filled back rooms where union bosses dictated the fate of workers trying to do nothing more than make an honest living and support their families.

We have enjoyed relative labour peace in the construction sector in B.C. and it’s disturbing to see the NDP so committed to turning back the clock on labour relations in our province.

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