Skip to Main Content

BC Sees Increase in Store Unionization

In June 2022, Bill 10 became law in British Columbia, allowing for single-step certification of unions where the union can demonstrate the support of 55% or more of the bargaining unit. This single-step process makes it easier for unions to become certified.

BC’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC) says the province has seen an increase in unionization in liquor stores. It is likely that cannabis retailers too will soon have to face the prospect of unionization in their stores.

What is Bill 10?

Bill 10 made significant labour-friendly changes to BC’s Labour Relations Code. The bill was introduced by the NDP government without any apparent consultation with the business community.

One of the significant amendments was the move from Two-Step Certification to Card Check Certification to ratify a collective bargaining agent.

As labour and employment law firm Mathews Dinsdale explains, prior to Bill 10, the certification of a union required 45% of employees in a proposed bargaining unit to hold signed membership cards, following which a secret ballot vote would be held by all members in the unit.

Bill 10 removed the mandatory secret ballot vote, which required majority employee support in order for a union to be “certified” to represent workers.

Under the card check system, a union needs only 55% of the proposed unit to hold a signed membership card in order to be certified automatically without a vote.

What are the Implications of Bill 10?

Removing the two-step certification could have significant implications.

Ryan Anderson, Partner at Mathews Dinsdale says, “Employees may not fully understand when they sign the card or they’re signing it in front of a group of people. Peer pressure, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation could happen.”

Under the previous model, employees had the chance to vote in secret and could change their minds before the decision was made final. The two-step process also gave employers the opportunity to talk to employees before the secret vote.

The province has switched between the two models before with a labour government tending to switch to the single-step certification. “Historically, you do see the number of union certification applications dramatically increase when there is a card check model. The success rate of applications also dramatically increases,” Anderson says. “The reverse effect is the same when a non-labour government comes into power and switches back to the secret ballot vote model.”

What Can Retailers Do?

If a retailer wants to prevent unionization from happening in their stores, Anderson says, “The number one thing is this: when employees go looking for help from a third party, it usually means the employer has done something wrong. Treat employees in a way that will reduce the likelihood that they will go looking to a third party for help.”

He adds, “It is more important than ever before to be totally plugged into an employee relations strategy and have a workplace communications strategy in place.”

There are strict rules around how you can communicate to employees about unions. The NDP also enacted legislation essentially stopping employers from saying anything negative about unions.

But Anderson says talking negatively about unions can be counter-productive anyways. “Talk about all the parts of the workplace that are great,” he says. “Be knowledgeable, equitable, and transparent about your compensation package. Have managers be visible and engaged. Make sure employees know they have a voice and can go to their manager with concerns. Demonstrate that you treat people with dignity, fairness, and respect. Do those things and why would an employee call a third party?”

Retailer Perspectives

Steve Dowsley is Chair of ABLE BC’s Cannabis Policy Committee and Co-Founder of Burb, a cannabis culture brand with retail stores in the Greater Vancouver Area.

“I see the validity of unionization when we see workers being taken advantage of. But what I see in the retail space and the people I am involved with through ABLE BC are organizations that are striving to improve every day—wages, benefits, training, workplace safety, etc.,” Dowsley says.

He personally believes the most efficient workplace is one where management is fairly addressing all of those key elements. “If that is the case, everyone is better off by not unionizing. Have a workplace where people feel safe, remuneration is fair, and there are growth opportunities.”

Cory Waldron is CEO of Mood Cannabis Co., with two stores in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. He has seen several stores in Victoria unionized. “This happened mostly because of working conditions, low wages, and not enough set policies around taking breaks or setting hours. Employees did not have clear and consistent tasks, roles, and responsibilities,” he explains.

Waldron can see the pros of unionization in the sense that it pushes retailers to become better employers. “It forces you to treat your staff well, pay them better wages, and have clear and consistent policies and procedures.”

Employees’ Rationale

Often employees won’t make more money when they’re unionized because higher wages are offset by the cost of union dues and other fees. However, they can have better job security and a work environment that is more in line with labour standards.

Waldron’s stores are not unionized. “In response to what was happening in Victoria a few years ago, one of the first things we did was speak with management about what was happening and what, if anything, we could do to make a work environment where staff wouldn’t be interested in unionizing.”

Improving Employee Benefits

Waldron and his team changed many policies and procedures to benefit staff. “We changed our pay raise structure, implemented raises across the board, and became a Certified Living Wage Employer. We also turned on the tips on our terminals. Employees have since seen quite a difference in how much they make monthly, with some making as much as $5 or $6 per hour more.”

If you are concerned about unionization in your store, reach out to a legal expert for advice. Dowsley says ABLE BC will also be hosting webinars for retailers on the topic.

Tags: ABLE BC (4), Alliance of Beverage Licensees (3), British Columbia (24), British Columbia cannabis (45), Cannabis Retail (398), cannabis staff (16), cannabis store union (3), Cory Waldron (4), Mood Cannabis (3), Steve Dowsley (1), unionization (1)