LRB decision undermines union representation rights

Canadian Labour Congress sanctions on raiding fail to prevent HSA move on clinical perfusionists

A ruling by the B.C. Labour Relations Board on the union membership of clinical perfusionists threatens to upset the equilibrium established in health care labour relations and undermines CLC sanctions against the raiding of one union by another. A February 17 ruling by LRB vice-chair Laura Parkinson moves clinical perfusionists represented by HEU to the Health Sciences Association. It’s a potentially far-reaching decision that upsets the stability in health care union representation established by the Health Authorities Amendment Act 1997 (Bill 28). “By circumventing a key principle of Bill 28, the LRB throws into question the rights of unions to continue to represent their members as health care reform progresses,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. The lawmakers who drafted Bill 28 were intent on restoring stability in health care labour relations in the aftermath of the Dorsey Commission and its enabling legislation that eliminated dozens of unions from health care and forced the transfer of union membership by thousands of front-line workers. Bill 28 restored the right of unions to continue to represent their members even if they were transferred into a different sector of health care. But the February 17 LRB ruling says the provisions of Bill 28 have no bearing on applications under section 139 of the Labour Relations Code to reassign individuals or groups of employees to a different bargaining unit. That’s the view argued by HSA, the Society of Clinical Perfusionists and the Health Employers Association of B.C. “HEU will apply for a reconsideration of this labour board blunder,” says Allnutt. “But the B.C. government also has a responsibility to make sure that the labour stability resulting from Bill 28 is not upset.” Allnutt says that the broader labour movement should be concerned about the ramifications of the decision on the Canadian Labour Congress sanction against raiding. Despite a finding by a CLC- appointed umpire that HSA’s application for clinical perfusionists violated the constitution, the remedial action taken by HSA — their withdrawal from the application that was carried forward by an allied third party and argued by the same legal counsel — was clearly inadequate. “The vast majority of unions’ leadership and activists understand that rank and file growth must occur by organizing unorganized workers who need the protection of union contracts,” says Allnutt. “But the apparent ineffectiveness of the CLC’s raiding policy is an open invitation for some unions to increase their membership through narrow legalistic means and at the expense of sister unions.” “It would be a mockery of the CLC constitution if the changing roles and responsibilities of our members in the health care system resulted in their loss of HEU membership.” The HEU Provincial Executive meets this week and will hammer out a comprehensive response to the LRB ruling.