By Charles Lammam
and Hugh MacIntyre
The Fraser Institute
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government and the Senate are clashing over Bill C-4, which, among other things, is intended to change how workers decide whether to approve a union as their representative.
The government introduced the bill in 2016 with the aim of ending mandatory secret ballot voting as part of the union certification process. However, the Senate recently amended the bill to retain mandatory secret ballot voting, setting up a potential standoff between the House of Commons and the Senate.
While the Senate doesn’t always live up to its ideal of being the chamber of sober second thought, in this case it’s right to resist this anti-democratic element of the government’s bill.
The next step is for the House of Commons to take another look at the bill and reject or accept the Senate’s amendments.
If members of Parliament want to empower workers and promote democratic principles, they should seriously consider the Senate’s changes and maintain the requirement for unions to be certified by a secret ballot vote.
Under existing legislation, workers in federally-regulated industries (airlines, broadcasting, banking, etc.) are guaranteed the opportunity to vote via secret ballot when deciding whether to approve a union as their representative. Most provinces have similar rules for provincially-regulated industries. Manitoba, once among the few exceptions, recently switched to a mandatory secret ballot vote for union certification.
However, if the House rejects the Senate’s amendments and Bill C-4 is passed as drafted, unions will be able to bypass a secret ballot vote and automatically certify if they sign up a sufficient number of workers through “card check” – 50 percent plus one. (A secret ballot vote would still take place if the union doesn’t sign up sufficient workers.)
Forgoing a secret ballot vote is problematic because automatic union certification may not reflect the true desire of a majority of voting workers. Without the anonymity of a secret ballot, union organizers may pressure workers into supporting union certification. Any dissension or disagreement can become confrontational, especially when unionization is controversial. Even without outside pressure, some workers may be uncomfortable publicly voicing their opinion about unionization.
A mandatory secret ballot certification vote provides the same basic protection of anonymity that all Canadians enjoy when electing politicians. Allowing unions to represent workers without approval via secret ballot runs contrary to the goals of empowering workers and promoting democratic principles.
By amending Bill-C4, the Senate has at the very least given MPs an opportunity to reconsider allowing card-check for union certification.
If MPs want to ensure that workers are empowered, they should seize this opportunity and approve the changes made by the Senate.
Charles Lammam is director of fiscal studies and Hugh MacIntyre is policy analyst at the Fraser Institute.