Trudeau should keep secret ballot union votes
Instead of Canadians voting privately during elections, imagine if our politicians were elected based on who collected the most signatures from the public.
Think of all the tricks and intimidation that would be used by candidates to convince people to sign their papers. Some candidates would no doubt have a field day preying on people who barely spoke English or didn’t understand the process. Alternatively, some might utilize pairs of ‘burly men’ to show up at peoples homes to ‘encourage’ citizens to sign the papers.
While our elections use secret ballot votes to protect Canadians from such intimidation, the Trudeau government has tabled legislation to eliminate the secret ballot vote when workplaces, covered by federal labour legislation, consider unionizing.
Instead of a secret ballot vote, workplaces would automatically unionize if unions collect signed cards from more than 50% of employees. New research by the Manning Centre shows this approach is quite flawed.
Note that workplaces in Canada can typically be unionized through one of two means. The first sees a union present enough signatures from employees to the labour board to force a secret ballot vote on unionizing. For example, in British Columbia, if a union presents cards signed by 45% of employees, a secret ballot vote is subsequently held (administered by neutral government officials).
The second process sees a union present enough signatures from employees to automatically unionize a workplace. In Manitoba, the former NDP government changed the law so that a workplace was automatically unionized if unions gathered signed cards from 65% of employees. Most jurisdictions in Canada do not have this automatic unionization process.
After reviewing data from over 1,000 labour board votes, across five provinces, the Manning Centre found countless instances of unions claiming high percentages of “support” to unionize a workplace only to see “support” drop significantly once workers could vote through a secret ballot.
For example, in a case in Alberta, a union presented “evidence” to the Alberta Labour Board, claiming 100% of employees supported unionizing. When a secret ballot vote was subsequently held, not a single employee voted in favour of unionizing.
In Manitoba, we observed two cases where unions presented signed cards (between 40-64.9% of employees) and forced a vote on unionizing the workplace. When the secret ballot vote took place, no employee voted to join the union.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, labour legislation previously required automatic unionization of a workplace if 65% of employees signed cards. In one case we examined, only 64.4% of employees signed cards. Thus, the union came just shy of automatic unionization and a vote was subsequently held. Incredibly, when the employees voted through a secret ballot, only 17.1% voted in favour of unionizing.
Overall, we found over 80% of instances where “support” for unionizing a workplace dropped by 15 percentage points or more once workers could vote through a secret ballot. What could explain all the sizable drops in support?
Were people tricked into signing the cards? Did burly men showing up at their homes to intimidate them? Who knows.
One thing should be obvious, a signed card is anything but a sure vote of support. If the Trudeau government wants to know if workers truly want unionize, they’ll keep the secret ballot vote in place.
- Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre and is the author of The Government Wears Prada
This column was published by Sun newspapers (Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, Winnipeg Sun) on May 23, 2016