The Conservative government in Manitoba is proposing Bill 7, amendments The Labour Relations Act, to eliminate card check certification. This could make it more difficult for workers to join a union. CUPE Manitoba strongly opposes Bill 7. Along with opposition parties, researchers, and community and union allies, CUPE is raising awareness and speaking out. CUPE and dozens of others presented at recent government committee hearings. An overwhelming 93% of presenters spoke in opposition to the bill.

“Bill 7 is not just an attack on unions,” said CUPE Manitoba President Kelly Moist. “It is an attack on all workers.”

Under current legislation in Manitoba, the Labour Board is empowered to recognize a bargaining agent if, at the time of application, 65% of employees in the bargaining unit were in support of the bargaining agent. This is often called “card check” certification. Additionally, if the Board determined that greater than 40%, but fewer than 65% of workers in the unit had indicated support for the bargaining agent, a Board run certification vote would take place to determine the employees’ preference. This is often called “the ballot requirement”. The process of verifying support for unions via signed union cards has a long history in Manitoba. Indeed, with the exception of a short period of time between 1997 and 2000, “card check” certification has consistently been in place.

While Manitoba proposes to eliminate card-check, the Federal government seeks to re-establish card-check in areas of federal jurisdiction, though with a more accessible threshold. The federal change would require a simple majority of 50% +1, as opposed to the 65% super-majority requirement that currently exists in Manitoba.

Card-check is the preferable method for union certification because it protects workers from intimidation, threats and bullying from anti-union employers and their agents, helping ensure that the true wishes of employees are recognized. The ballot requirement – in essence a second vote to reconfirm support for the union – provides the employer with a week, or longer, to discourage employees from joining a union. During organizing drives, workers commonly hear from employers and their agents that unionizing may lead to reductions in pay or benefits, that the business could close, or that there will be layoffs. While these activities may contravene labour relations laws, in CUPE’s experience, they are common practice.

Moist told the committee that a 2015 study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) determined that growing inequality in countries like Canada is largely a result of lower union density, which has resulted in higher income for top earners at the expense of average wage earners.

Added Moist: “Increasing union density – the rate of workers that are protected by union contracts – increases wages and makes work better for all workers. Unions raise the standard.”

John Godard is a labour relations professor at the University of Manitoba and Chief Editor of the peer-reviewed British Journal of Industrial Relations. He has written extensively and conducted research on labour law in Canada, the USA, and Great Britain, focusing on the union certification process and related topics.

In his research on Canadian and US federal certification procedures, he found that evidence is “virtually nonexistent” for union interference in certification drives. He states that, in the US, where a balloted vote is required in every certification drive: “The main culprit typically identified is the ballot requirement and the opportunity this provides employers to interfere with worker choice.” He went on to tell the committee:

There have in fact now been a number of studies, published in top journals, showing that the requirement of a ballot in Canada significantly increases the level of unfair labour practice filings and significantly reduces the likelihood of a union becoming organized.

To help the committee understand the day-to-day workplace impact of unions, Godard reviewed 2015 analysis of a major Statistics Canada data set by Dionne Pohler of the University of Toronto and Andrew Luchak of the University of Alberta. Godard acknowledges the issues are complex, stating:

The authors found that the effects of unions in Canada depend on whether employers have an “employee focused strategy”, directed at employee skill development, employee participation, and labour-management cooperation. For employers adopting such a strategy, unionization had largely positive implications for conflict, workplace climate, quit rates, dispute resolution, employment growth, and profitability. For employers failing to adopt this strategy, the opposite was generally the case. At risk of over-simplification, it would appear that unions are “good” for “good” employers but “bad” for “bad” ones.

Godard also expressed concerns “that Bill 7 may be harbinger of a more substantial shift in labour policy than simply the elimination of card certification”.

Moist shares these concerns.

“It is very important that CUPE stand up for our members and all workers,” said Moist. “CUPE wants labour peace in Manitoba, and Bill 7 is not the way to achieve that.”