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Bill banning union leaders tramples rights, critics say

Dec 04 2011

The B.C. government is under attack for planning to bar faculty union leaders from sitting on university and college boards.

Faculty and staff associations say proposed legislation targets labour unions and tramples on their members' rights and freedoms.

"We find this very odd and disturbing," Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C., said. "It takes away people's democratic rights to sit on the board of governors and to function and to be voice on the board."

The legislation, known as Bill 18, was introduced this fall, but only received first reading. Debate is expected to resume in the spring.

Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto said the backlash from labour groups, though surprising to her, had nothing to do with the delay.

"I actually wanted a full debate on this," she said. "We just ran out of time. But it does actually give me an opportunity to talk to some of the people who are concerned."

Yamamoto said the bill was designed to prevent conflicts of interest by preventing executive members of faculty and staff associations from serving on boards of governors.

"All we're saying is that a person or individual can't be sitting on the board if they're simultaneously negotiating terms of their own conditions of work and salary and wages, and also represent the institution," she said.

But unions and faculty associations argue that post-secondary schools already have clear policies to guard against such conflicts, and that it's unfair to single out union members for special scrutiny.

A university president, for instance, would have to step out of a meeting if his salary and benefits were being discussed, just as a union official would have to leave if the board was talking about faculty contracts or staff grievances, Oliver said.

The bill also includes measures that would allow appointed and ex-officio board members to get rid of elected members by a two-thirds vote.

Yamamoto said the government currently has the power to remove an appointed board member, but there are no remedies to oust an elected member for misdeeds. She declined to cite a specific case in which that has been an issue, but said there have been a few instances where boards were hamstrung.

"We're just trying to even the playing field there," she said.

But the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. said the legislation, as it stands, unfairly focuses only on elected members. The bill also fails to define what would constitute "cause" for ousting an elected board member, thereby giving government appointees and ex-officio members sweeping powers to get rid of someone, the confederation said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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