B.C. court finds pro-employer bias in dispute over unionization of foreign workers

Arbitrator refused to order construction company to stop attempts to undermine union despite evidence of such activity

The British Columbia Supreme Court has determined the B.C. Labour Relations Board was biased when it found construction companies involved in the building of the Canada Line did not participate in unfair labour practices.

Two companies, SELI Canada and SNC-Lavalin, were involved in the construction of the Canada Line project, a public transit line being built in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The companies recuited temporary foreign workers to do a lot of the work and paid many of them only $4 per hour or $1,000 per month, plus room and board. The workers also worked a minimum of 60 hours per week.

In 2006, the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union, Local 1611 tried to organize the workers, but the companies attempted to transfer many of the workers to a different project in Brazil and then increased their wages while the certification process was ongoing.

The union filed an unfair labour practice complaint, claiming the companies were attempting to discourage the workers from joining the union. It said the companies created fraudulent documents to show the workers were needed on a project in Brazil and contravened the B.C. Labour Relations Code by increasing wages during the mandated four-month freeze period after certification. The freeze period is designed to prevent the employer from influencing the bargaining process.

The board denied the union’s application for an interim order for the companies to stop their activities designed to undermine the union.

However, the union took the matter to the provincial Supreme Court, who found a reasonable person could see the board’s decision was biased in favour of the employer in light of the documents and other evidence.

The court overturned the board’s decision and ordered a new hearing before the board, with the stipulation that no board members previously involved in the case could be a part of the the hearing.

“The nature and history of the dispute between the union and SELI require a fresh hearing of the issues without the involvement of any prior board members so that justice may be seen to be done by both the union and SELI in what has been a bitter and protracted dispute,” the court said.

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