Two labour groups representing post-secondary education workers in British Columbia have filed a constitutional court challenge against a recently adopted bill that bans union activists from serving on college, institute and university boards of governors.
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE) and the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) filed notice with the B.C. Supreme Court on June 11, asking it to overturn parts of Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act.
"The provincial government has made a fundamental error in passing Bill 18," said FPSE president Cindy Oliver. "We met with the Minister after Bill 18 was first tabled and pointed out the constitutional problems embedded in her legislation, but she has ignored our input and that leaves us little choice but to launch a court challenge of the legislation."
Court documents detail how Bill 18 has forced one of FPSE's faculty-elected Board members at Vancouver Island University (VIU) to be removed from that institution's Board of Governors because the member also sits on the local faculty association executive. Under provisions of Bill 18, local union executives are barred from serving as elected faculty or staff representative on Boards of Governors.
"To date, the B.C. government has not been able to point to a single problem that Bill 18 is supposed to fix," said BCGEU president Darryl Walker. "We've joined this court challenge because our members' democratic rights have been significantly impacted by Bill 18."
Walker noted that a BCGEU faculty member at Northwest Community College (NWCC) was forced off the college's Board of Governors because he is an elected member of the local union executive.
"For as long as there have been faculty-elected positions on the Boards of our public post-secondary institutions, the issue of those faculty also being active in their local union has never been a problem," said Oliver.
"Forcing a duly elected Board member to be removed because of involvement with their union is an affront to democracy," Walker said. "The government's conflict of interest claim is unfounded, because elected board members don't receive any special benefit from their decisions.
BCGEU asks for mediator in dispute with province over contract for 65,000 public servants
The BCGEU is also asking the B.C. Labour Relations Board to appoint a mediator in its ongoing dispute with the provincial government over a new contract for 65,000 public servants, whom it represents.
"We're still too far apart on the substantive issues," Walker said in a news release last week. "We're not ready to walk away from the table yet. We want to exhaust all options first. If mediation fails to produce a deal, we'll be walking."
In May, the workers voted 82 per cent in favour of strike action to back contract demands.
Negotiations have been ongoing since Jan. 10.
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