Manitoba’s Bill 7 is an attack on union rights

unifor-protest-manitoba-legislatureBy Matthew Brett

Brian Pallister’s Bill 7 was introduced in the Legislative Assembly on June 15, aiming to amend the union certification system currently in place in Manitoba. A recent case in Edmonton makes very clear that this legislative change will put employees at risk while strengthening corporations and management.

Give unionization “a great deal of thought,” employer warns staff

In a recent letter given to employees at Rogers Place in Edmonton, management essentially warned employees not to unionize.

“Your Management Team encourages each of you to give this very important and serious matter a great deal of thought,” the letter reads as signed by Rogers Place general manager Eric Bayne and district manager Melinda Altamirano.

“My girlfriend works at Rogers Place,” wrote an unnamed author who posted the letter. “She received this letter trying to scare her away from joining a union today.”

I have not been able to confirm the authenticity of the letter thus far but have sent email requests for confirmation to Rogers Place. [One benefit of unemployment is having time to pursuing leads like this from home…while savings last]

So why does this matter for Manitoba?

Pallister putting employees at risk

As Mark Hudson makes clear in his solid breakdown of Bill 7, Manitoba’s Labour Relations Act (LRA) currently allows automatic union certification if 65% of workers sign a union membership card.

Manitoba therefore already has the most demanding unionization threshold in the country at 65%. The NDP should have reduced automatic union certification to 50%+1 during their 16 years in power, but that’s another story.

As Mark explains, “Bill 7 scraps the fast-track certification enabled by a 65 percent card-check, and forces all certification to take place through secret ballot votes.”

Pallister is doing this in the guise of democracy, saying employees can feel threatened and coerced into joining a union without a secret ballot vote.

But the reality is that most workplaces are highly undemocratic and employees usually feel at far greater risk from their employer rather than their own coworkers. There’s a huge power imbalance between bosses and workers. Most workplaces have a fairly rigid hierarchy and power structure and guess who holds the power? Ya, the boss.

Unions help balance this very uneven power structure. Pallister doesn’t like that because he’s a pro-management, pro-corporate ideologue. He’s also quite tall.

This Edmonton case matters because it’s a clear, recent example in the Prairies of how employers threaten workers who try to unionize. Having a secret ballot vote means the employer could have a lot more time and ability to intimidate workers not to unionize. There’s evidence to prove this:

“Research from BC and Ontario also shows that the more time that elapses prior to a vote, during which employers engage in a number of intimidation strategies, the less likely is eventual certification,” writes Mark.

So what next?

Most of us are familiar with our present circumstances. The Manitoba NDP were decimated in the last provincial election and remain weak, with bitter internal divisions brewing toward an upcoming leadership race.

With popular support for Pallister in recent polls looking strong and a solid majority in the Legislative Assembly, the Pallister PCs have a great deal of power.

In other words, Legislative avenues for resisting Bill 7 and other horrible PC policies are marginal at best. And we can absolutely expect more anti-union and regressive policies to come.

In this context, extra-parliamentary activism and mass mobilization is increasingly important.

It was awesome to see more than 60 union activists chant in the Legislature as Bill 7 was introduced. We will need to organize a lot more like this together.

What we need are mass movements willing to seriously fight Pallister’s policies. The Ontario Days of Action come to mind along with the kind of militancy we experienced during the 2012 Quebec student strike. The Quebec student strike was the most empowering thing I’ve ever participated in and it brought down the provincial Liberal government.

One PC slogan is “better together.” It’s time grassroots and rank-and-file activists take this slogan to heart, organizing together to defeat the PC agenda.

This piece was first published by Solidarity Winnipeg

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