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The Vote versus Card-Check Debate Again: Saskatchewan

The Saskatechewan Party, following on the heals of Mike Harris’s Conservative Party in Ontario and Gordon Campbell’s Liberal Party in B.C., intend to make significant changes to provincial labour laws.  A common staple of all conservative reforms in labour law is a move from a card-check to a mandatory ballot model of union certification.  Usually, this change is explained by the government as a way to ‘restore democracy’ to the process, but that is just political spin.  If the governments were really concerned about creating a fair and balanced vote, they would ensure that unions have equal (or at least some) access to workers at the workplace.  Instead, governments who favour mandatory ballots also favour a system that gives employers unfettered access to workers during working hours to persuade them to reject unions (in “captive audience meetings“) and the simulataneous right to prevent union organizers from speaking to workers anywhere on company property!  How is that a fair and balanced process?  In Britain, employers are required to let unions hold meetings with employees during working hours to discuss the benefits of unionization.  Even in the U.S., unions are provided with the home addresses of workers so they can discuss unionization with them away from the workplace.  Why do you think unions aren’t given either of these access rights in Canada?

I have never bought into the idea that a mandatory ballot is more democratic than having 60 or 70 percent of the workforce sign cards indicating they wish the union to represent them.  (See the debate I had last year in the National Post with columnist Susan Martinuk).  While ‘votes’ sound nice in theory, in practice, employers can and often do influence the outcome of votes by threatening that bad things could happen if the union wins the vote.  Is a vote democratic if employees are told they will be killed if the union wins (see Baron Metal), or if the employer tells them that the workplace will close and move to Mexico if the union wins?  The key to understanding this debate is recognizing that all the union ‘wins’ when it obtains certification is a chance to bargain an agreement that a majority of employees will vote for in a ratification vote.  That’s all.  If the union can’t prove its salt in bargaining, it will be booted out.   There is nothing anti-democratic about that process as far as I can tell.

The real policy reason to move from a card-check to a ballot model is to discourage unionization. As a number of studies have proven  (See, for example, Chris Riddell’s paper. ) union success rates in organizing campaigns fall dramatically under a ballot model.  But it’s impossible to know whether that is because the votes are ‘more democratic’ than a majority card-check model, or because employers’ are better able to interfere with free choice of the employees under a vote model.  

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