Going too far - again - The Orca

Going too far — again

Maclean Kay

Stymied on secret ballots, the NDP government overreaches to give its labour base a win.

This week, B.C.’s employer community – represented by 46 associations ranging from tourism to construction – collectively announced they would no longer take part in the NDP government’s review of worker’s compensation.

Spokesperson Doug Alley (who has written for The Orca before) wrote:
The Employer Community is quite taken aback and dismayed with the extremely broad and far-reaching scope of these ‘selected issues’ and, after giving the matter due consideration and consulting with various representatives within the Employer Community, we have determined that we have no choice but to cease all participation in the Review’s process, effective immediately.”

What happened? Why pull out of a review of an agency that affects every business in the province?

Put simply, after taking a fairly major – and unexpected – loss on the labour file in April, the NDP needed a win for their labour base. And they may have overreached to get it.

Over the course of two years, Labour Minister Harry Bains – who was an elected officer of the influential Steelworkers Union for over 15 years – has pushed through several big changes, most notably the controversial Community Benefits Agreements. These restrict major public infrastructure projects to a small group of reliably pro-NDP unions. The agreements leave out 85 % of construction workers not aligned with those unions. The whole scheme is currently being contested in court.

But Bains suffered a major setback in April, much to the dismay of the unions.

The NDP had long promised to scrap the secret ballot for union certification, moving towards a public “card check” system. Despite a majority recommendation from an independent review panel to keep the secret ballot, the NDP showed every intention of moving to card check – but failed to convince their Green partners, most notably Andrew Weaver.

As reaction from union leaders showed, this one stung. Bains himself was clear: if the NDP had a majority, he would have pushed card check through.

While this was all happening in real time, Bains was already working on a related file: a review of BC’s workers compensation system, which he had said would be “focused and narrow.”

Just a few months later, his appointee – retired labour lawyer Janet Patterson – seemed to unilaterally expand her mandate.

In a letter to employers, Patterson broadened her review’s horizons to include “selected issues.”

This selection of issues seemed familiar – she had raised them 10 years before, in a 2009 report Patterson co-wrote, called “Adding Insult to Injury.”

Patterson co-wrote that 2009 review for the BC Federation of Labour, which 10 years later, dug it out and attached it as a submission to be reviewed by one of people who wrote it.

According to the employer associations, Patterson then took 23 of her 24 recommendations from her 2009 report and added them into the current review. Any semblance of fairness or an unbiased review vanished, and thus the 46 industry associations pulled out.

Despite the very public rebuke, the NDP are likely to try to just plow ahead for now. After losing out on card check, they weren’t going to mimic the labour code review model that included in a three-person review panel: one from employers; one from labour; and one neutral. That formula gave them an answer they didn’t want; one they tried very hard to ignore.

Essentially, the NDP tabbed a player to referee a game they’re playing in – who then changed the rules at halftime.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca