Employers fight Ont. union rule proposals

Coalition opposes bill that would grant labour relations board power to certify or decertify unions without a vote

Buoyed by businesses’ recent success in fighting a pro-labour law in Saskatchewan, a coalition of Ontario business associations has been formed to fight a bill that would allow the labour relations board to certify or decertify unions without a vote.

“This (coalition), I would say, is unprecedented because it is so large and represents such a diversity of business interests,” said Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada.

“We thought coming together and speaking as one would show the (labour) minister as well as the government that we’re not just making noise and that we’re truly concerned with the impact that the amendments could have on business.”

Last month, a vocal campaign by Saskatchewan businesses succeeded in convincing the provincial government against implementing rules to require employers to increase part-time workers whenever work is available.

Ontario’s Bill 144, tabled in November and up for second reading early this month, would allow the board to certify a union as a remedy if an employer has been found to violate the Labour Relations Act or, likewise, decertify a union if the union had violated the act.

The board may use that power “if no other remedy would be sufficient to remedy a contravention of the act,” according to the bill. Currently, the board can ignore vote results and order another vote if labour violations have been committed.

Brisebois said her group isn’t concerned with the remedial certification as such. “It’s the power that we feel has been given to the labour relations board. We’re not saying that employers have every right to do whatever they want. We’re saying if you are going to put a labour bill forward, then you should make sure that there are very clear guidelines and that the process is transparent and fair.”

The coalition is also calling for a requirement that a remedial certification or decertification can be granted only if a full panel of three members are unanimous. And in all instances, the board should make sure employees have at least one chance to vote and express their wishes.

The coalition also objects to the bill’s proposal that employees who say they are dismissed for participation in a union drive be reinstated on an interim basis. Although interim reinstatements don’t apply to a dismissal that is not related to the union drive, Brisebois said she’s nevertheless concerned that employers will not be given a chance to defend themselves against false allegations of reprisal for union activity.

In case of such allegations, “we are strongly recommending that the board have an official report from a third party, an independent party which could represent an official finding as to yes, the employer’s guilty or no, the employer’s not guilty,” said Brisebois. “At this point there’s so much room for abuse. There’s obviously a concern from employers that unions will file unsubstantiated claims of dismissal. You’re basically opening the door for false claims.”

When the bill was introduced, unions voiced disappointment that the legislation would restore card-based certification only to the construction industry and not across the board. Both card-based union registration and the power of the board to grant remedial certification or decertification existed before the previous Conservative government removed them in the 1990s. Records at the Ontario Labour Relations Board show that in the period from 1990 to 1998, remedial certification was granted 20 to 30 times altogether.

Called the Coalition for Democratic Labour Relations, the group includes the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, Canadian Restaurant & Foodservices Association, Greater Toronto Hotel Association, Ontario & Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, Ontario Electrical League, Open Shop Contractors Association and Retail Council of Canada.

For more on the Saskatchewan coalition, click on the related article link below.

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