We need a new preamble to the Labour Code that recognizes unions and collective bargaining as a social goods. Alberta’s workplace laws need to support and facilitate the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, not block or undermine those rights.
Action: Alberta needs a Labour Code that is explicitly committed to supporting collective bargaining.
We need to remove the multi-stage process currently required to certify a new union bargaining unit. Workers should only have to vote once, by signing a card or a petition. The multi-stage process in the current Code opens the door for employer campaigns to threaten and intimidate workers. This is no accident: it was part of a conscious effort to discourage the formation of unions. This needs to stop.
Action: Alberta needs one-step certification (often referred to as “Card Check”).
Workers in the low-wage service sector and workers with precarious employment arrangements (part-time and temporary workers; people working under new employment models like Uber) are in the greatest need of union representation.
But, the current rules make it almost impossible for them to exercise their constitutional rights to join a union and bargain collectively.
The Code should be changed to give workers in low-wage and precarious jobs the right to organize across franchise locations and regions (or even entire sectors) so that our most vulnerable workers have at least a small measure of bargaining power.
Action: Alberta needs to give the Labour Relations Board the discretion to grant recognition and bargaining rights to precarious workers when they vote for it (often referred to as “Sectoral Bargaining”).
Employers often attempt to thwart the will of their employees by simply refusing to bargain, especially on first agreements. Under the existing rules, this is technically illegal. But there are no meaningful penalties, so the practice is widespread.
The Code should be changed so that the Labour Relations Board can intervene by imposing a settlement when employers are obviously dragging their feet and ignoring their legal obligation to bargain in good faith. This will provide a real incentive for the parties to bargain in good faith.
Action: Alberta needs first-contract arbitration.
The Supreme Court has ruled that working people have the constitutionally protected right to strike. The Court says that without that right, the constitutional right that all Canadians have to associate and join unions is meaningless.
Of course, while strikes are a right, no one would argue that they are pleasant. They should only be used as a last resort; and mechanisms should be put in place to help keep them as short as possible.
Unfortunately, our existing rules do the opposite. By allowing employers the right to use replacement workers, the current Code reduces employers’ incentive to bargain in good faith. The result is that strikes often last longer, and become more acrimonious, than they need to.
We need a ban on replacement workers so that both sides have a real economic incentive to reach a negotiated settlement in a timely manner.
We also need mechanisms to address the overwhelming power imbalance between workers and multi-national corporations, who can – and often do – use their huge economic clout to “starve out” striking employees. This kind of grossly unlevel playing field makes a mockery of the right to bargain collectively.
Actions: Alberta needs a ban on replacement workers and more options for arbitration to end prolonged strikes in the private sector.
The current Alberta Labour Code is filled with loopholes that make it possible for many employers to walk away from the legal contracts they’ve negotiated and signed with their employees.
Sometimes they use corporate re-organizations to claim that the company that signed a contract no longer exists and, therefore, the newly-minted version of the company is longer bound by its provisions.
In other cases, they cancel contracts with unionized sub-contractors and then hire non-union subcontractors to do the same work, often using the same employees.
Finally, in the construction sector, it is common practice for employers to get around union contracts by creating spin-off companies, which they claim are not party to the agreements and, therefore, not bound by them (this process is called “double-breasting”).
These kinds of shell games make a mockery of the right that Canadian workers have to join unions and bargain collectively. If companies were allowed to regularly renege on contracts that they had signed with suppliers or business partners, the business community would be up in arms.
We think Albertans should be equally outraged by loopholes that allow companies to renege on their contracts with employees.
Action: Alberta needs rules that make it more difficult for employers to renege on the contracts they’ve signed with their employees.
One of the most infuriating tricks used by private-sector employers in Alberta to stop their workers from joining unions has been the use of phony unions or employer-dominated unions. This is a strategy that was developed and promoted by a small number of employer-side labour law firms – who often gloat about the clever ways they’ve managed to “game the system.”
The scheme works like this: the employer invites a compliant union into its workplace and voluntarily recognizes it as the legal bargaining agent for it employees. This often happens without the knowledge of majority of employees, and sometimes without a meaningful vote. Alternately, the employer hires a handful of workers with ties to the phony union, then signs a deal with them before “staffing up.” New employees often have no idea that they’re covered by a sweetheart agreement cooked up between their employer and the phony union.
Once the phony union is in place, the law says that real unions can only challenge them during brief “open periods” at the end of a multi-year collective agreements. The employers then re-negotiate their agreement with the phony union before the deal expires, so that the “open period” never arrives.
The really sad thing is that this strategy works. Over the past 30 years, more new bargaining units have been created in Alberta by phony unions than by real unions. Other provinces have sniffed out these strategies and put a stop to them. Not Alberta.
Action: Alberta needs to give the Labour Relations Board more tools and more discretion to deal with phony, employer-dominated unions.
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