The Coalition of BC Businesses and the BC Teachers’ Federation Court Case

The Coalition of BC Businesses has announced that it has applied for intervenor status in the British Columbia government’s appeal of the BC Supreme Court ruling ordering the government to restore certain language to its collective agreement with the BC Teachers’ Federation. Intervenor status gives an applicant the right to participate in the case proceedings, and to make submissions to the court on the legal issues involved in the case. The full text of the original Supreme Court ruling is here, and here is the text of the Court of Appeal decision staying the implementation of the ruling until the appeal process has been completed.

I don’t have access to the Coalition’s complete application for intervenor status, but I want to make a few comments on the Coalition’s public statement regarding its application.

The Coalition’s stated mission is to be “an advocate and voice for small and medium sized businesses on labour and employment issues in British Columbia”. And it’s pretty clear that its perspective on those issues is not a union-friendly perspective. For example, the Links section of the Coalition’s website, instead of providing directions to relevant BC legislation such as the Employment Standards Act or the Labour Relations Code, sends visitors to the blatantly anti-union LabourWatch organization.

Incidentally, although the BCTF case involves a public sector union, the industry organizations that make up the Coalition’s membership are primarily private sector employers. I looked at the “members” page on the Coalition’s website a few days ago; I looked for the same information today and the page came up as “not found”. The cached version of the page is now also unavailable. However, here is a post by another blogger listing the Coalition’s member organizations.

The Coalition’s statement repeats the BC government’s claim that implementing the BC Supreme Court ruling will cost the province $2 billion. But according to this story, Education Minister Peter Fassbender has stated that the $2 billion figure includes the cost of implementing the court ruling and the cost of meeting the BCTF’s wage demands in bargaining (at least as of May 31, when he provided this information). So apparently not all of that $2 billion is related to the estimated cost of implementing the Supreme Court judgement – and there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation of how that estimated cost was calculated.

The Supreme Court ruling did not order the government to spend a specific dollar amount in restoring the working conditions the court found that the government removed through legislation. So it is misleading to frame the Supreme Court judgement, as the Coalition has done, as the court dictat[ing] the line items of the provincial government’s budget […or] put[ting] limits on government’s ability to make fiscal decisions.”  The Supreme Court ruling stated that the implications of the disputed issues could be addressed “through collective bargaining and the tools already existing to resolve labour disputes”.

There was, however, a dollar figure that the Supreme Court did specify in the ruling – its order for the government to pay $2 million in damages to the BCTF “to provide an effective remedy in relation to the government’s unlawful action”. This action included, in the court’s opinion, bargaining in bad faith on the part of the government. Interestingly, neither that $2 million award for damages nor the finding of bad faith bargaining are mentioned in the Coalition’s statement.

The Coalition then goes on to claim that “if the ruling is allowed to stand, our government will be required to either raise taxes, return to deficit spending or cut vital social services. This will reduce British Columbia’s competitiveness and will have a negative impact on our economy and on the employers and employees we represent.” This line of reasoning seems to be based on a great many assumptions. For one, it seems unrealistic to suggest that there are only three ways to fund the cost of obeying the ruling, when that cost hasn’t even been accurately determined yet. For another, directing more provincial funding toward education could result in a better-educated, more skilled, and more productive workforce – which would improve, not hurt, BC’s competitiveness, economic stability, and labour market opportunities. The Coalition says it wants to “foster a positive relationship between employers and employees and a climate for new economic growth, opportunities and jobs.”  Recognizing education’s potential benefits and investing in it to realize those benefits – rather than treating the cost of education solely as a huge expense – would contribute greatly to achieving the business and economic goals that the Coalition claims it wants to achieve.

The Coalition says it represents more than 50,000 small and medium businesses throughout the province. I don’t know how the Coalition’s membership decides to undertake actions such as the application for intervenor status. But I would like to think that, among all the people involved in those 50,000 businesses, there are at least a few who don’t agree with the Coalition’s position on this dispute. There must be some who believe that the BC government should respect the Supreme Court’s decision and should  instead concentrate on moving forward with bargaining and repairing its relationship with the BCTF. It is a very sad day in our province if every business owner or employer agrees with the Coalition’s weakly argued and poorly justified position.

UPDATE: The Western Convenience Stores Association, a member of the Coalition, has asked the Coalition to withdraw its application for intervenor status. The association’s executive director states, “It was our understanding in approving the Coalition’s request to apply to intervene in the case that the application would not represent a position on the dispute.”

UPDATE:  Poco Building Supplies, which belongs to Coalition member organization Building Industry Supply Association, has posted on Facebook that it does not support the intervention. Its post states, “None of the [BISA] members were asked for input or received notice of the BCCB’s plan to ask for Intervener Status.”

UPDATE: The Coalition has now posted a new statement on the application on its website. However, the statement does not address the process by which the Coalition decided to undertake the application, or whether or how its membership was consulted in that process.

UPDATE: “Please boycott intelligently“: a thoughtful reminder from a fellow blogger on the most effective way to express concerns to businesses who belong to Coalition member organizations.