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B.C. government lawyers to announce constitutional challenge to NDP-forced unionization

Lawyers say the NDP is not living up to its principles in defending working people.
B.C. Government Lawyers Association president Gareth Morley addresses a crowd of lawyers to announce a possible court case against the NDP government.

B.C. government lawyers will take to the streets July 13 in their fight against legislation they say aims to block their right to unionize.

The legislation at issue is Bill 5, also known as the Public Service Labour Relations Amendment Act. B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy introduced the bill on Feb. 9. It was passed in the Legislature May 10 and received royal assent the next day. 

“The amendments enable these collective bargaining rights and ensure government maintains an appropriate public service bargaining framework that promotes continued labour stability and controls future costs,” Conroy said at the time.

Gareth Morley with the BC Government Lawyers Association (BCGLA), says the law unfairly directs members to join the Professional Employees Association (PEA), an existing union selected by the government, despite government civil lawyers choosing representation by the BCGLA by a margin of over 70 per cent.

“Everyone should agree that workers should democratically choose their unions, but especially a party whose origins go back to struggles of working people,” Morley said, adding "government lawyers are frustrated the NDP is not living up to its principles."

The association asserts the move would deny those who draft the laws — including the Labour Relations Code itself — any right to unionize at all.

The BCGLA advocates for the civil lawyers who represent the provincial government in court, provide it with legal advice and draft provincial legislation. The group has been in existence for 30 years and has filed unionization cards with the province’s Labour Relations Board.

As lawyers prepared for a Victoria rally to announce a constitutional challenge to the law, Morley said it’s hard to imagine how former NDP firebrand premier Dave Barrett would respond to the law.

“I am not aware of any other group that the government has done this to,” Morley said. “We are just looking for the Labour Board to be allowed to treat us like any other group of employees and for the government to respect the result like any other employer would have to.”

The association said Bill 5 takes effect Friday, July 14, and came under considerable criticism as it was passed by the NDP government.

“The legislation was designed by the government as an ‘end run’ around a Labour Relations Board hearing that was already considering the BCGLA’s certification as a bargaining unit,” the association said.

The BCGLA has earlier said Bill 5 is opposed by labour groups including the BC Federation of Labour, BC General Employees' Union, BC Crown Counsel Association (which represents Crown prosecutors) and the PEA.

The British Columbia branch of the Canadian Bar Association also urged the withdrawal of Bill 5, saying it showed a lack of understanding of “the unique role of public sector lawyers who must ensure government acts in accordance with the rule of law.”