As the dust settles from the 2020 B.C. election, parties on both sides of the aisle are reflecting on lessons learned and what comes next.
For the B.C. Liberals, they can hang a significant degree of blame on leadership that is increasingly out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of British Columbians. Leader Andrew Wilkinson is only a symptom of a wider rot in a caucus indifferent to the skyrocketing costs of housing and hostile to reducing income inequality.
In a bold assertion of their loyalty to the province’s wealthiest homeowners, the Liberals actually campaigned on a platform to kill the housing speculation tax. They refused to take responsibility for looking the other way while money laundering in the real estate market helped push housing costs through the roof.
Wilkinson’s comments about renting being a “fun” and “wacky” time of life is only the icing on the cake. When the B.C. Liberals find a new leader and set a new course for the next four years, they would be wise to reconsider their allegiance to the province’s “one per cent.” Their unhinged attack on workers and their unions while asking for their votes was a huge strategic blunder.
The Green party, for all of its claims to be a home for voters who value compassion and democratic values, has once again proven to be a one-trick pony. Not once during the last three and a half years did the caucus or leader reach out to Unifor, Canada’s largest union in the private sector, to learn more about the concerns of B.C.’s working people.
In fact, the only discernible impact on employment law from former B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver was to use his (outsized) influence to block the introduction of “card check” for union certification. Card check is a procedure that grants unionization after a majority of employees sign a union card, eliminating the need for a workplace vote that can often be marred by intense anti-union campaigning by the employer.
The lacklustre performance of the opposition is somewhat moot given the powerful performance of John Horgan’s B.C. NDP. Horgan’s new position as premier in a majority government means that pro-worker legislation can no longer be thwarted by the Greens. He should waste no time speeding up B.C.’s economic recovery with policies that improve workers’ rights, spur unionization rates, and create good jobs.
It seems obvious, but it is worth stating that B.C.’s recovery won’t happen on the strength of part-time, precarious, low-paid work. The opposite is true. British Columbia needs the stability that comes with unionized jobs — that is, full-time and well-paid, with benefits.
There are a number of policy changes that are low-hanging fruit for the provincial government. For starters, the Horgan government must move swiftly to remove unnecessary barriers to unionization put in place by the B.C. Liberals at the behest of powerful employers.
Workers in accommodation, food services, and contract building services are perfect examples of the low-wage workers who need immediate and meaningful access to collective bargaining. In this extremely precarious employment, these workers are the most likely to be intimidated by employers, including threats of termination, during a union certification process.
Removing the opportunity for employer intimidation with the “card check” system is one simple step the provincial government should enact immediately.
In the past, employers have howled about being denied a pre-vote period to slander unions. They claim to have their employees’ best interests at heart, but in reality, many of these employers are the same ones fighting minimum wage increases and other pro-worker legislation. The workplace vote process should be recognized for what it is: the employer’s last chance to block the formation of a union.
Employers have suggested that “intimidation” is a two-way street between employers and unions, but that thinking is a gross mischaracterization of the workplace power relationship. Employers regularly terminate pro-union organizers, and that should not be confused with toothless “peer pressure” to sign a union card.
During the government’s 2018 independent review of B.C.’s Labour Relations Code, panel member Sandra Bannister drew the same conclusion: “The idea that employees may be coerced into joining a trade union is not supported by unfair labour practice statistics. Nor is there any evidence to support the suggestion that some employees join trade unions due to peer pressure … card check certification remains the single most effective mechanism to avoid unlawful employer interference and to ensure employee choice.”
As part-time, precarious work proliferates across North America, employers have gained unprecedented power over workers, but the promised payoff of “trickle-down economics” has not arrived. Wages are stagnant and life is increasingly unaffordable for workers and their families.
The new government should move swiftly to enhance the opportunity for workers to democratically grow union density and reduce the economic inequality that has worsened during the COVID-19 economic decline. Good, union jobs are a critical component to an economic recovery that benefits every British Columbian.