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BC Is Closing a Loophole that Forced Workers to Cross Some Picket Lines

The change aims to reduce confusion and the risk of conflict.

Brishti Basu 13 Mar 2024The Tyee

Brishti Basu reports on labour for The Tyee. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative. Follow her on X @brish_ti.

B.C. is changing the Labour Relations Code to fix a loophole that forced some workers to cross picket lines.

The change, part of a bill introduced Monday, would ensure that “when employees under federal jurisdiction or that of another province are on strike, locked out, and establish a picket line in B.C., provincially regulated workers can choose to respect the picket lines without it being considered illegal strike action.”

Labour Minister Harry Bains told The Tyee Tuesday that the change was introduced in response to a 2022 BC Labour Relations Board decision. It found that provincially regulated Seaspan workers would be engaging in an illegal strike if they didn’t cross a picket line set by striking tugboat captains and engineers. Their union is federally regulated.

“The Labour Board ruled that since the strike was by workers regulated by federal law, that the provincially regulated workers either cross the picket line or they will be in illegal strike,” Bains said.

“Now we are talking about going forward to remove that confusion… workers will have the right to honour a picket line, regardless of whether it is established through B.C. or federal laws.”

B.C.’s labour code allows unionized workers to refuse to cross a legal picket line established by another provincially regulated union.

Sussanne Skidmore, president of the BC Federation of Labour, said the group has been talking to the ministry about the issue for months.

She said the requirement to cross picket lines had been a factor in several recent strikes.

“Basically any worksite where you potentially have provincially and federally regulated workers, that could be an issue.”

In December, The Tyee reported on a lockout of 300 federally regulated workers represented by United Steelworkers Local 1944 at Rogers Communications Inc.

Colleen Lopez-Anhofer also worked at Rogers and was represented by provincially regulated International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213. She was forced to cross the picket line set up by locked-out Steelworkers’ members — including her husband.

The loophole created by the 2022 labour board decision caused unions to worry that it would pit workers against each other.

“We’re happy that the minister and the ministry took our concerns seriously and they acted on it,” Skidmore said.

“We just know that having clarity around this issue and the legislation, as it’s laid out, will help de-escalate the tensions at a picket line.”

Bains said he hopes the bill will move forward within a few days.  [Tyee]

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