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Expect More "Sky Is Falling" Rhetoric From Union Leaders

10/27/2013 11:43 EDT | Updated 12/27/2013 05:12 EST

Canada's union leaders are about to engage in another round of "sky is falling" rhetoric over a private members bill they claim is an affront to worker rights, democracy, collective bargaining and basically all things honest and decent in society.

What then is the radical proposal being considered? Secret ballot votes on union certification in federally regulated sectors. That's all. If a majority of workers in a collective bargaining unit vote to join a union, all the powers that union leaders already enjoy will still be in effect, including the forced contribution of dues from those workers.

Those contributions represent a de facto taxation power for unions over workers -- not an insignificant proposition. Likewise, deciding whether to join a union is a matter that requires thoughtful consideration by workers since there are both potential positives and negatives in doing so.

Current practice, wherein a workplace can be unionized automatically if 35 per cent of workers sign cards expressing interest in joining a union, is ripe for intimidation and manipulation. Examples of the latter have been well-documented in hearings before Canada's Labour Relations Board.

To put the current system in perspective, compare it to an election campaign in which a candidate has the ability to spend an extended period of time -- up to six months or more -- to travel his or her district getting votes, with no oversight from election officials, and then shows up at the returning office with a bag of cast ballots representing 35% per cent of voters and is automatically declared the representative for that area.

No one would have checked to see if eligible voters cast those ballots, nor would anyone have checked to see how they were cast. The questions that would follow are obvious. Was it done in private? Was there any trickery? Was there any reward? Were there threats or intimidation?

It is hard to imagine anyone supporting that kind of process to elect someone to office, yet that is the current practice for determining whether a workplace becomes unionized, which is -- arguably -- a much bigger personal decision than casting a vote for an MP or MLA since it has a direct impact on your future employment and income.

The proposed legislative change, Bill C-525, would require union organizers to get expressions of support from 45 per cent of workers in federally regulated sectors in order to force a vote on union certification. That vote would then be held by secret ballot. If a majority of workers in that collective bargaining unit support joining the union, then certification proceeds. The same process works in reverse should workers seek decertification of their union.

This can hardly be construed as an affront to democracy. In fact, it brings principles central to our democratic system -- such as a secret ballot -- to the workplace. Nor can this be considered an anti-union measure since a secret ballot process protects workers from intimidation tactics from both union organizers and management.

This is the type of reform that should be welcomed by union leaders since it greatly enhances the legitimacy of the certification process. The only coherent argument from union leaders opposed to the legislation is that it will make unionization efforts more difficult. However, if a majority of workers support a unionization drive, union leaders will still succeed under this system -- and their efforts will be free from allegations of impropriety.

Five provinces already employ this method of union certification. Bill C-525 merely applies it to federally regulated sectors. In addition, a Leger Marketing poll found 80 per cent of workers support secret ballot votes.

The sky is not falling for union leaders. Instead, workers are being given the rights they expect in a modern democracy and union leaders should embrace this change.