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B.C. government lawyers fight for right to unionize on their own terms

B.C. government lawyers taking the province to court over right to chose which union to join
The B.C. legislature in Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Lawyers who work for the B.C. government writing legislation, providing legal advice and representing government in civil litigation want the right to join a union of their choice.

On Monday, the B.C. Government Lawyers Association said that 75 per cent of the government’s 350 lawyers had signed cards asking that the association be allowed to represent them as its proposed new union.

These lawyers are not unionized, under the 1973 Public Service Labour Relations Act.

The provincial government is prepared to allow them to unionize, but only if the Professional Employees Association represents them in bargaining. Instead, the lawyers want their own association to negotiate for them.

The Professional Employees Association represents nearly 1,300 people working as foresters, engineers, agrologists, geoscientists, psychologists and others in the B.C. government.

B.C. government-paid lawyers working as Crown prosecutors belong to the B.C. Crown Counsel Association, which negotiates for them.

Margo Foster, secretary of the BCGLA, said that the provincial government’s Bill 10 — which her members helped write — permitted workers to choose which union they belonged to.

Bill 10 requires employers to recognize a union if more than 55 per cent of employees have signed on.

“We are a diverse and predominantly female group of employees, yet we are paid less and have less job security than our Crown counsel peers,” Foster said.

“It’s a little-known fact that we can be simply fired at any time without cause. We should be able to do our job without fear of reprisal. If the employer says we aren’t doing our jobs properly, that should be decided by an independent arbitrator, if necessary.”

The lawyers’ association, formed in 1992, is taking its case to the Supreme Court of B.C. — with a five-day trial set to begin on Feb. 6, 2023.

Responding to the lawyers, B.C. Premier David Eby said Monday that his “government, of course, supports the rights of people to organize and I’m sure I’ll hear more about that soon.”

— With a file from Katie DeRosa