Rumours have been swirling around the Alberta business community for months that the government intends to revamp the province’s labour code. If there’s substance behind these rumours, we need to talk.
Three specific changes to polices that play a fundamental role in defining the relationship between employers and employees are said to be under consideration: card check certification, contract arbitration and banning the use of replacement workers.
Currently, if employees wish to form a union, a secret ballot vote takes place requiring a majority of votes cast in favour of unionization. A “card check” policy would make it much easier to certify a union – requiring just a signature from a percentage of employees. Unions support card check processes for obvious reasons, but employers prefer a secret ballot process that encourages discussion and debate and ensures a majority of employees are consulted.
In one case involving a card check certification, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario sent two carpenters on a Saturday to build a shed while their co-workers enjoyed a day off. Because these two workers constituted the entire work force that day and signed union cards for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, dozens municipal employees who had no say in the matter wound up as certified union members.
Currently, once a union is certified as the bargaining agent for a group of workers, the union and management are required to start negotiating a first collective agreement. If a first collective agreement can’t be reached, the union or the management may request the services of a mediator. The government cannot impose a first contract on the business – but the changes being discussed would change all that and tip the balance of negotiations in favour of unions.
Banning the use of replacement workers in Alberta in the event of a strike would also tip the scales toward unions. Currently, Alberta businesses can hire replacement workers during strikes.
If implemented, these changes would radically change the relationship between employers and workers in Alberta – possibly for the worse. These changes would stack on top of recent policy changes that have impacted Alberta’s overall competitiveness, such as dramatic increases in the minimum wage and corporate and personal tax rates.
Many business leaders are afraid to speak out on these issues. They fear being branded “anti-union” or being off-side with a government that derives a great deal of support from organized labour.
Alberta companies have successfully worked with unionized employees for decades and many wouldn’t change a thing, but those relationships were built on labour relations rules that made sense for both employers and employees. Other companies fear government changes will make it easier for a small, vocal minority of employees to impose a collective agreement on workers who may not support it.
Let’s get the issues out in the open and have an honest conversation. We need to have a public conversation and go through an open, full and true consultation with all Albertans about Alberta’s labour relations rules – rules that have, for the most part, delivered solid economic growth, high wages for workers and safe working conditions.
Alberta Enterprise Group is a member-based, non-profit business advocacy organization. AEG members employ more than 150,000 Canadians in all sectors of the economy.