Food services were expanded and re-tendered for Rogers Arena in Vancouver, ending a union contract with 750 employees in 2014. Labour Minister Harry Bains uses this as an example to make union terms automatic when services change hands. (Wikimedia Commons)

B.C. NDP using ‘sledge hammer’ on contract employers, business group says

Labour code expands union succession rights for food, security, janitorial, bus services

The B.C. government’s plan to expand union succession protection to a wide range of private sector contracted services is an “extraordinary” state intervention into the open market for labour, the Business Council of B.C. says.

BCBC chief policy officer Jock Finlayson said the automatic transfer of union contracts for food services, security, building maintenance and bus transportation is the main objection of employers in the Labour Relations Code overhaul that is now before the B.C. legislature.

“We’re concerned about the impact, which I think could be fairly far-reaching,” Finlayson said in an interview with Black Press.

“For businesses that contract out for services, and a lot of them do, it’s going to substantially remove the competition in the market for contracted services. So competition and choice for those who outsource these services are going to be substantially curtailed as a result of these provisions, and I think a lot of organizations are going to wake up and realize that’s a fairly big change from what they’ve been used to.”

The B.C. government has repeatedly pointed to “contract flipping” by operators of senior care facilities, some of which have seen multiple ownership changes that force employees to reapply for work and accept pay and benefits that may be reduced. Finlayson said the extension into private sector services will likely drive up costs across a large swath of the economy.

“If there are examples of particular abuses or practices that a reasonable person would view as unacceptable, and those things do exist out in the marketplace, then the appropriate remedy is not to bring a sledge hammer down and try to take the competitive forces in contract provision out of the market,” Finlayson said. “If there is a real problem, the way to deal with that is through targeted measures.”

Labour Minister Harry Bains said employees in food services, janitorial, security and bus transportation, as well as non-clinical health services like care aides, are “often vulnerable” and need more protection.

He said the labour code changes are designed to ensure that all union agreements carry over when contracts change.

“What it does is say the new contractor steps into the shoes of the old contractor,” Bains said. “If that means preserving a collective agreement, certification and employment, that’s the intent.”

The change is one of two areas where the NDP government went against the recommendations of it panel of business and union experts, which held hearings around the province last year. The other area is union raid provisions in construction, where the legislation reinforces the ability of unions to stage membership raids every summer.

Bains used the example of food services at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, which were re-tendered when Canucks Sports and Entertainment made a new deal in 2014 with Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp. to expand food and beverage offerings.

The move terminated the employment of 750 people who work at hockey games, concerts and special events. It was disputed by Unite Here Local 40, whose employees were making $13 to $17 per hour in serving jobs where they receive tips, and $18 to $21 an hour in the kitchen. The employees had to reapply.

Finlayson said successorship legislation also leaves room for the B.C. cabinet to add other areas of the contract work economy as it sees fit. He gave the example of information technology contractors.

“Lots of organizations, instead of building up their own IT departments, contract out for those services, and use a firm like Accenture or IBM, somebody who’s an expert,” Finlayson said. “Cabinet could wake up one day and decide to add contracted IT services. That would get a lot of attention from employers.”

He said many employers are not yet aware of the effects of changes expected to take effect when the legislation passes by the end of May.

The B.C. Green Party objected to removing a secret ballot from union certification votes, forcing Bains to drop that idea and follow the advice of the expert panel to keep secret-ballot votes. Green MLAs have been lobbied to oppose other parts of the NDP bill as well, before it becomes law by May 30.

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