BC government attorneys are fighting for the right to form their own union under a new bill
The BC Government Lawyers Association (BCGLA) opposes newly introduced Bill 5, which will allow prosecutors interested in unionization to join the Professional Employees Association (PEA) for state-licensed professionals, but not allow theirs own to establish union.
“It’s not up to employers or governments to vote for unions,” said Gareth Morley of the BCGLA, the association representing the government’s civil lawyers in the province.
“It is up to the workers involved to decide whether they want to join a union and if so, which one to join.”
The bill, tabled Thursday by BC Treasury Secretary Katrine Conroy, will amend the Public Employment Relations Act to include civil attorneys who write legislation, advise the province and represent the government on child protection matters.
The law defines bargaining rights for employees with the government, including government personnel and healthcare professionals such as nurses.
Without the amendment, state civil attorneys are barred from joining a union; This would allow nearly 300 BCGLA lawyers to join the PEA, a union for public sector professionals including teachers, engineers and foresters.
However, 70 percent of BCGLA members voted to form their own union.
“I can speak for pretty much everyone [in the BCGLA] … that nobody wants to be told by the government who represents them,” Morley said, adding that the bill will set back 10 years of union efforts.
They are now calling on the provincial government to change the law and recognize the BCGLA as the government’s exclusive negotiating body for civil lawyers.
“We want to have the opportunity to speak to the government about our working conditions, just like everyone else.”
Prosecutors “have the same rights as everyone else”: BCGLA
Morley says the BCGLA applied to the Labor Relations Board (LRB) for union certification in November, arguing they have “the same rights as everyone else under the Labor Relations Code”.
During this process, Morely says, the association and the province had to share their arguments for or against certification. The LRB would make the final decision.
Morley says if the new law is passed, the LRB will not be able to ratify its union application and the federation’s only option would be to challenge the legislation as unconstitutional.
In a written statement to CBC, Conroy did not address questions about whether they opposed members forming their own union or whether the BCGLA’s comment on Bill 5 was unconstitutional, but said the department supports the BCGLA’s right to collective bargaining.
“This amendment gives them an important space to do so under the Public Employment Relations Act and recognizes their charter right to freedom of association,” the statement said.
The statement also states that the LRB matter is a separate process that is not encroached upon by legislation.
Roadblocks to unionization come as no surprise
Kevin Marks, president of the BC Crown Counsel Association – the union organization that represents prosecutors in the province – says the challenge his colleagues are going through comes as no surprise.
He says provincial prosecutors struggled to form their own union in the 1990s and met resistance until they were recognized under the Crown Counsel Act in 2000.
“We took matters into our own hands and did a two-day walk-up [in 2000] …but at that point the government agreed to an amendment to the Crown Counsel Act,” Marks said.
He also says they were initially encouraged to join the PEA but felt the organization was unable to address their specific concerns.
“Everyone in Canada has the right to freedom of association,” Marks said.
“[If the government] says, ‘No, you have to join this other union or you can’t join a union at all’… It’s against the Charter of Rights because it’s against freedom of association.”