Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board Act and other Acts and to provide for certain other measures, is the federal government's response to last year's decision in Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada, where the existing labour relations scheme for RCMP members (and the absolute exclusion of RCMP members from unionizing under the Public Service Labour Relations Act, of which they would otherwise be able to avail themselves) had been declared unconstitutional. Bill C-7 tries to bring RCMP members under the PSLRA, but with significant procedural and substantive differences in how that Act applies to RCMP members vs. other public servants.
(It also seems to change the name from the PSLRA to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act for some reason, possibly because the government sees the RCMP as part of the federal public sector without truly being part of the public service?)
Bill C-7 is currently before the Senate but has not yet been proclaimed into law. This means that the federal government has now missed the (extended) deadline set by the Supreme Court, the upshot of which is that right now RCMP members lack a collective voice with which to deal with management., because the unconstitutional Staff Relations Program (which was a management-controlled venue which previuously allowed RCMP officers collectively to raise concerns, and didn't have sufficient independence to pass constitutional muster) has been disbanded, and Bill C-7 has not yet been proclaimed to replace the SRP with something else.
Quick! Bring a Certification Application!
It's a bit of an odd situation. RCMP members couldn't unionize under the Public Service Labour Relations Act because they were excluded from the statutory definition of "employee" under that Act (and only "employees" can certify a bargaining agent under the PSLRA, just like other labour relations statutes in Canada.)
The statutory exclusion was struck down in Mounted Police Association in 2015, and the deadline to introduce new legislation has passed. That means that in the interim, RCMP members are technically now "employees" (without restriction) under the PSLRA, and able to exercise their rights to unionize thereunder with any union they please (subject to the usual requirements of delineating an appropriate bargaining unit, proving majority support within that unit, and so on).
As Michael Mac Neil of Carleton Univerity wryly tweeted:
Of course a union would probably be foolish to do so; bill C-7 will likely be proclaimed shortly. (And the Mounted Police Association of Ontario, at least, states it's "eagerly awaiting" the new legislative framework, which doesn't suggest an appetite to upset the applecart by filing for certification right now.)Quick, make an a certification application under the PSLRA! #RCMP #labourlaw https://t.co/AohyRPhQDq— Michael Mac Neil (@michaellawcarl) May 17, 2016
Further, the amended Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act sets out that there will be a single bargaining unit, covering all RCMP members and reservists in Canada, and that such a bargaining unit is the only possible bargaining unit under the Act.
238.13 (1) Subject to section 55, an employee organization within the meaning of paragraph (b) of the definition employee organization in subsection 2(1) that seeks to be certified as the bargaining agent for the group that consists exclusively of all the employees who are RCMP members and all the employees who are reservists may apply to the Board, in accordance with the regulations, for certification as bargaining agent for that group. The Board must notify the employer of the application without delay.
The Act further sets out that the bargaining agent - i.e. union - that represents the RCMP members can't represent any other bargaining unit (s. 238.15), and the bargaining unit can't include anyone other than RCMP members and reservists (s. 238.16).
In other words, while RCMP members can select their bargaining agent (in Mounted Police Association there were three associations seeking representation rights, one based in B.C., one in Ontario, and one in Quebec, so there may be some competition for that role), they all have to select the same one, and that bargaining agent can only represent the RCMP. So, we won't be seeing the United Steelworkers or United Food and Commercial Workers representing RCMP members any time soon.
Choice in bargaining agent notwithstanding, it's quite similar to "designated bargaining agent" labour relations models, such as those designating unions for teachers and nurses. But the practical effect is that any pre-existing union, even if successful, couldn’t maintain representation rights after the passage of the new Act.
So practically speaking, RCMP members are collectively without representation until Bill C-7 is passed; when it will be passed depends on the Senate's schedule. But should the government take too long in implementing the new regime, I wonder if one of the staff associations involved in the appeal in Mounted Police Association would take matters into its own hands and apply for certification for a group of RCMP members, if only to encourage the government to move things along?
(I'll answer my own question: No, they probably wouldn't, for the reasons already given.)
Bill C-7's Restrictions on Collective Bargaining
Bill C-7 hasn't been uncontroversial; there are still provisions, unsurprisingly unpopular with RCMP members, that strictly limit what any prospective RCMP union will be able to negotiate for its members.
Specifically, s. 238.19 of the new Act states:
So: no negotiation over pensions (governed by the federal superannuation and pension acts), nor wages if the government (as it did in Meredith) sets, by statute or regulation, what wages will be. No negotation over probation periods, performance appraisals, or discharge or demotion procedure. (Would that mean that negotiating a grievance procedure under which discharge or demotion could be challenged is also off the table?) No negotiation regarding duties or conduct while on the job. Frankly, it's difficult to see what substantive areas are left for an RCMP union to negotiate.238.19 A collective agreement that applies to the bargaining unit determined under section 238.14 must not, directly or indirectly, alter or eliminate any existing term or condition of employment or establish any new term or condition of employment if(a) doing so would require the enactment or amendment of any legislation by Parliament, except for the purpose of appropriating money required for the implementation of the term or condition;(b) the term or condition is one that has been or may be established under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pension Continuation Act, the Public Service Employment Act, the Public Service Superannuation Act or the Government Employees Compensation Act; or(c) the term or condition relates to(i) law enforcement techniques,(ii) transfers from one position to another and appointments,(iii) appraisals,(iv) probation,(v) discharges or demotions,(vi) conduct, including harassment,(vii) the basic requirements for carrying out the duties of an RCMP member or a reservist, or(viii) the uniform, order of dress, equipment or medals of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The RCMP itself has portrayed these changes as ensuring that RCMP members can "exercise their Charter-protected freedoms, including freedom of association," but I think these restrictions raise the question of whether the new Act prevents "meaningful collective bargaining", in the sense used by the Supreme Court in B.C. Health Services in 2007 and in Mounted Police Association, Meredith v. Canada, and Saskatchewan Federation of Labour in 2015. In Meredith a rollback of negotiated wage increases was not unconstitutional, but this Act prevents both present and future negotiations on a whole host of issues. Job security, wages, pensions, the ability to challenge whether your dismissal was for just cause, having some say in the employer's ability to transfer employees from one workplace or job to another...these are important issues that many unions negotiate hard for. To have them taken off the table entirely seems to leave any RCMP union the ability to nibble around the edges of its members' terms and conditions of employment, but leaves it without much actual clout. In other words RCMP members may be able to exercise sufficient choice in selecting their union, and their union may have sufficient independence from the employer, to satisfy the (quite basic) requirements set out by the Supreme Court in Mounted Police Association.
But whether the union could actually engage in "meaningful collective bargaining" is another issue. One of the reasons the health sector legislation passed by the B.C. Liberals was struck down in B.C. Health Services was because the legislation not only made significant changes to negotiated terms and conditions of employment; it also prevented any negotiation between health care unions and health care employers regarding those, and other, contractual terms.
It's worth noting that the B.C. Liberal government is facing another Charter challenge which is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada, this time regarding a prohibition on negotiating class sizes in the public school system. It's a similar issue, though to a lesser degree - to what extent can a government limit the ambit of collective bargaining without running afoul of s. 2(d)'s guarantee of freedom of association? (Mind you, no Canadian government has gone as far as Scott Walker's Republican administration in Wisconsin, which limited collective bargaining in the public sector only to wages - and any wage increases were then capped to the Consumer Price Index, at that - but there is still significant uncertainty about just how far a government can go.)
I would not be surprised if the courts haven't seen the last of the RCMP unionization saga.