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Analysis

Manitoba’s Pallister Government Empowered Employers To Scare Workers Out Of Unionizing

Pallister’s removal of card check incentivizes union busting tactics, advocates say

More union drives are failing in Manitoba — and experts say that’s in no small part thanks to Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government scrapping card-check certification and empowering employers to scare workers out of organizing.

Data from Manitoba’s labour board shows the province’s number of failed union campaigns tripled from 2016-17 to 2017-18, after the provincial government changed unionizing rules in its Labour Relations Amendment Act.

Here’s a look at the province’s number of failed union drives over three years:

2015-2016: 4
2016-2017: 4
2017-2018: 12

Prior to the act, union certification was guaranteed if a super majority of employees (65% or more) signed cards in favour of unionizing. The Pallister government changed this rule, in favor of what’s called a “secret ballot” system, where — after employees have already signed union cards — they need to arrange a second vote, at a later date.

The new system gives employers more space to organize against union drives and scare workers out of exercising their rights.

“It delays the certification process. And, that gives employers time to interfere with the free choice of workers,” Bob Barnetson, Labour Relations professor at Athabasca University told PressProgress.“If you give them the opportunity to interfere, the majority of them usually will, meaning there are more failed votes and more failed organizing campaigns.”

One cross-Canada study published by Relations Industrielles found found 80% of employers studied worked to oppose union drives, 60% of whom did so overtly. Within that, the Parkland Institute noted, 20% resort to illegal tactics — like firing identified union organizers.

The Manitoba Federation of Labour notes this was seen at a Winnipeg Tim Horton’s — where management was found to have threatened to shut down the restaurant, in response to a union drive.

Bernie Wood, a former organizer with the United Steelworkers, told PressProgress the province’s anti-union employers were emboldened to organize similarly against union drives as soon as the Pallister government’s changes were implemented.  “They had time to bring in big wigs, fly in corporate lawyers and threaten employees with closures and relocation.”

By contrast, Barnetson noted, card check certification rules introduced by the Alberta NDP government led to a dramatic increase in successful union drives, from 40 to 104. That helped organize many workers in precarious sectors like food service and retail.

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