Labour miffed at Tory promise

April 9, 2016

Winnipeg Free Press
Saturday, April 9, 2016
By: Larry Kusch

Labour miffed at Tory Promise

The Manitoba Federation of Labour is angered by a Progressive Conservative plan that it says would make workplaces more difficult to unionize.

PC Leader Brian Pallister said Friday he would amend provincial labour laws to require a secret ballot vote in all instances before a union is certified.

Brian Pallister released the costs of his party’s pledges at a breakfast event attended by dozens of his candidates and supporters at The Forks this morning.

Currently, certification is automatic if 65 per cent of the workforce signs union cards. The process is overseen by the Manitoba Labour Board.

“Union members have been telling me this for years: they want the right to a secret ballot. We’re going to restore their right to a secret ballot,” Pallister told a news conference at The Forks.

Kevin Rebeck, president of the MFL, said what the Tories are really looking at is “forcing workers to vote a second time” about whether to join a union. He said if two-thirds of a workplace has already agreed to join a union, they’ve already “voted” to become organized.

Requiring a vote gives employers the opportunity to threaten and intimidate workers in a bid to thwart an organizing drive, he said.

Such tactics are illegal, but do occur when votes are held, he said.

“If two-thirds of your workforce want to (join a union), why should an employer get time to intimidate them or give them wrong information or threaten their jobs or fire them?” Rebeck said.

The MFL represents about 100,000 unionized workers in Manitoba.

Rebeck said there has largely been labour peace under the NDP.

“There haven’t been a ton of strikes. There haven’t been a ton of problems. I think we’ve solved things pretty well in this province and there’s a healthy respect (between employers and labour),” he said. “It would seem that Pallister isn’t happy with that. It seems like he wants to stir things up and start poking at areas that there have been general agreement on.”

He said unions aren’t happy with the 65 per cent sign-up threshold for avoiding a workplace certification vote. They think 50 per cent plus one would be adequate. The provision that two-thirds of workers need to sign is already a compromise, Rebeck said.

The MFL leader said he’s upset Pallister would announce such a measure without consulting labour. He’s also concerned about other announcements the Tories have made during the campaign.

He said it appears Pallister plans to replace the premier’s economic advisory council, composed of business, labour and community representatives, with a group that solely represents business.

Pallister’s plan to end project labour agreements on certain big construction projects is also upsetting, he said.

The PC leader calls such agreements “forced unionization,” but Rebeck said they ensure that companies don’t undercut each other in contract bids by paying workers less. Workers on such projects receive good wages and benefits and pay a fee for those benefits, he said.

Pallister said Friday the province could save $12 million a year by eliminating project labour agreements.

Rebeck said the agreements came into being under a Conservative government, in part, to help get projections done on time without labour disruptions.