Banned from the boardroom
The Ubyssey (University of British Columbia)
VANCOUVER (CUP) — Two labour groups are taking to the B.C. Supreme Court to challenge a controversial bill that bans union executives from serving on the boards of post-secondary institutions.
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE) and the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) filed notice Monday that they were challenging legislation that bans faculty from sitting on a university or college board of governors while serving on the executive of a union.
They argue that the legislation, known as Bill 18, undermines union members’ Charter rights.
“[Bill 18] says you have to choose between whether you are going to be active in your union or on the board of your institution,” said Philip Legg, communications director for the FPSE. “You shouldn’t have to make that choice. Being active in your union is a right that you have. It’s called the freedom of association.”
Bill 18 was brought to the legislature in late 2011 by Minister of Advanced Education Naomi Yamamoto and became law in April 2012. The court challenge was brought after the legislation was used to remove a union-affiliated faculty member from the Vancouver Island University board.
Yamamoto argued that allowing union executives to serve on post-secondary boards is a conflict of interest.
“The legislation guards against the conflict of interest that results if an individual is — at the same time — representing an institution as a board member and sitting at a bargaining table as a union executive member,” Yamamoto wrote in a statement.
"Being active in your union is a right that you have. It’s called the freedom of association.”
But according to UBC Board of Governors faculty representative Nassif Ghoussoub, the Province is sending universities a mixed message on what constitutes a conflict of interest. He said that if the provincial government is going to start declaring conflicts of interest for union executives, they should also examine whether a conflict exists for those in management positions as well.
“The University Act doesn’t specify who can represent [students and faculty] and who cannot,” he said. “Now they want to add that people who are on the executive of faculty associations cannot. But in the same vein, they should add that faculty members in management are also in a conflict of interest.”
The challenge is expected to have far-reaching implications for other controversial aspects of the bill. Another provision gives a board the ability to remove an elected representative with a two-thirds majority vote. Ghoussoub pointed out that two-thirds of the UBC Board of Governors is appointed by the Province, enabling appointed members to remove elected representatives.
Legg said they expect the constitutional challenge will be “lengthy and expensive.” But he said that their members felt they have no other choice.
“We met with the minister in December, and we asked a very basic question: What is the problem this legislation will fix? And she couldn’t point to any example that we felt justified the removing of union activists from a board,” he said.
“We’re quite resolved on this one.”