Unions file court challenge of BC Liberals’ Advanced Education amendments

Bill 18 Undermines Charter Rights Say Union Presidents

Two labour groups representing post-secondary education workers filed notice today in the B.C. Supreme Court of a constitutional court challenge to the B.C. Liberals' recently adopted Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act.

Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators (FPSE) and Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) joined forces to ask the court to overturn parts of Bill 18, which bans union activists from serving on college, institute and university Boards of Governors.

"The provincial government has made a fundamental error in passing Bill 18," said Cindy Oliver, FPSE president. "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. That's what we have done this morning."

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 an elected faculty or staff representative on Board 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, at least not until the BC Liberals decided to make it a problem," said Oliver. "The provisions in Bill 18 that bar our members from standing for the position of faculty-elected representatives on their institution's Board of Governors are wrong-headed, uncalled for, but most of all, unconstitutional."

"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. That's the case we are making to the court, in asking that the government withdraw the offending provisions of Bill 18."

"The real frustration for our two unions is that we are forced to engage in lengthy and expensive litigation because the B.C. government isn't prepared to listen and draft legislation that respects existing rights," concluded Oliver. "Our post-secondary institutions deserve better leadership from the provincial government. However, in the absence of that leadership we are turning to the courts and look forward to advancing this case as quickly as possible."

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.