Three-quarters of B.C.’s 350 government lawyers have submitted union cards, continuing a fight for collective bargaining dated back to 2013.
The BC Government Lawyers Association (BCGLA) advocates for the civil lawyers who represent the provincial government in court, provide it with legal advice and draft provincial legislation.
The association has sent the union cards to the BC Labour Relations Board (LRB) in what it calls a bid to be treated like other government employees.
The BCGLA had hoped that, with the passage of Bill 10 earlier this year (the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act), government lawyers would be entitled to start negotiating their own contract, pay and working conditions like any other union.
But, they say, they are prevented from doing so by a provision of the Public Service Labour Relations Act originally passed in 1973.
“The BCGLA is asking the LRB to say that is a denial of the lawyers’ right of freedom of association, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” the association said in a statement.
The association said exclusion of government lawyers from collective bargaining is something it has been trying to change since 2013, culminating in a legal action that commenced in 2019, set for hearing in February 2023.
In the meantime, the lawyers complied with the terms of Bill 10 and are submitting the results to the LRB.
“Who we choose to negotiate for us is up to us, no one else. Three-quarters of government lawyers want our association to represent them, not someone the employer chooses,” BCGLA president Gareth Morley said.
“Bill 10 has given five million British Columbians the choice to join or create a union, but we remain excluded. Elsewhere in Canada, government lawyers have the right to bargain for themselves, but the B.C. government has refused to allow us to organize, and that’s wrong,” he said. “We just want to negotiate with our employer just like other government employees.”
The association asserts that given it has exceeded the minimum 55 per cent threshold, the LRB should order the government to recognize it and negotiate in good faith.
Instead, the government, which is also the employer in this case, is trying to coerce the lawyers to join a different, unrelated bargaining organization of the employer’s own choosing, the BCGLA said.
The BCGLA points out the BC Crown Counsel Association negotiates its own contracts as a bargaining unit with the government. Further, it said, provincial legal aid lawyers in B.C. chose the union representing them.
The Crown association represents 450 Crown counsel employed by the Ministry of Justice's Criminal Justice Branch throughout the province. Since 2000, that association has acted as the sole bargaining agent for all B.C. Crown counsel.
“We’re not asking for anything special, we just want the same treatment as the other lawyers who work for government," Morley said.
In a statement to Glacier Media, the Ministry of Finance said it would be inappropriate to comment given litigation is before the courts.
"The opportunity to join a union has not been denied to them," the ministry said.
"We do have a statutory model in B.C. that was enacted decades ago to protect labour stability and public services for the people who rightly expect them — while also maintaining workers’ rights — including these valued lawyers," the ministry said. "We believe that granting the LSB lawyers collective bargaining rights in accordance with the statutory model under the Public Service Labour Relations Act is appropriate."
Editor's note: This story was updated on Dec. 5 with comment from the Ministry of Finance.