Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford is picking sides in the labour dispute at the Shaw Conference Centre by refusing to meet with striking workers to discuss possible ways to end the strike, the Alberta Federation of Labour says today. The union had wanted to meet with the Minister to discuss the possibility of appointing a mediator or disputes resolution panel to end the strike.
"I fail to understand why the Minister is refusing to meet with us," says AFL President Les Steel. "But all appearances point toward the conclusion that the Minister does not want a resolution of this dispute."
The AFL sent a letter to the Minister (attached) requesting a meeting to discuss the possibility of a mediator or a disputes resolution panel to resolve the strike. The Minister's office replied indicating the Minister will not meet with the union or the AFL about the strike until it is ended.
"This is a classic catch-22. The Minister won't talk about a strike until there isn't a strike anymore."
Steel believes that by refusing to meet, the Minister is, in effect, taking sides in the dispute. "The employer has been convicted of bargaining in bad faith. They have shown themselves time and time again to be uninterested in finding a resolution to this dispute."
"But due to Alberta's weak labour laws, there is no penalty that can be imposed on the employer for their bad faith tactics. That leaves the Minister as the only recourse."
Which means, says Steel, that the Minister is passively condoning the illegal actions of the employer. "He is saying to those workers that he sides with the employer."
The Act allows the Minister to unilaterally appoint a panel to examine the outstanding issues and issue a recommendation. He has appointed such panels in the past, including during the ambulance workers strike.
"He seems willing to act when the employer wants a panel, but sits on his hands if the union wants one," Steel observes.
The Shaw Conference workers are on strike to reach a first agreement. They have been on strike for more than three months. Last month, the employer, Economic Development Edmonton, was found guilty by the labour relations board of bargaining in bad faith.
For more Information, contact:
Les Steel, President @ (780) 499-4135 (cell)
August 9, 2002
The Honourable Clint Dunford
Minister of Human Resources and Employment
Government of Alberta
Room 324, Legislature Building
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Dear Mr. Dunford:
I am writing to you regarding the strike at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre, which has now dragged on for over three months. I understand that Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401, has written to you requesting that you establish a Disputes Inquiry Board, under the provisions of Section 105 of the Alberta Labour Relations Code. I would like to assure you that the Alberta Federation of Labour supports that request, and urge you to act on it with all dispatch.
The Federation believes that the Employer's conduct in this strike is undermining the collective bargaining process and the intent of the Code. Specifically, the Employer is flagrantly disregarding a decision of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. On July 2nd, 2002 the ALRB rendered a decision finding that Economic Development Edmonton (EDE) had violated Section 60 (1) (b) of the Code, by failing to bargain in good faith. The decision outlined a pattern of misbehaviour by the EDE in unusually explicit language:
The Employer put forward proposals that it knew could never be accepted by the Union, in the context of this case. Some of the obvious areas of concern by the Union were with respect to basic and fundamental provisions such as union recognition and union security, and the Employer's insistence that it should be able to discipline and terminate employees without just cause. We find that the Employer insisted on its positions without a realistic possibility of change which forced the Union into a strike."
In its decision, the ALRB ordered the Employer to "Bargain collectively in good faith and make every reasonable effort to enter into a Collective Agreement." In response, EDE made minor cosmetic adjustments to its proposals and continued to stymie the negotiation process.
To give just one example: As you know, Section 135 of the Code requires that every Collective Agreement contain a method for resolving differences over the interpretation of the Agreement - a grievance procedure. Section 136 provides that if an Agreement does not have such a provision, it shall be deemed to contain a provision laid out in Section 136, which includes an arbitration procedure in the event the parties are unable to resolve an issue. This is, for example, the standard way Unions and Employers resolve grievances around issues of discipline on the rare occasions they are unable to reach a resolution internally.
These provisions of the Code are designed to set a minimum standard for Collective Agreements. But the EDE has proposed contract language that would remove from an arbitrator any discretion over appropriate punishment for employee misconduct, substituting instead automatic termination for any one of a long list of offences, regardless of circumstances. In other words, EDE is trying to "underbargain" the minimum standards of the Code.
In correspondence dated July 23rd (three weeks after the ALRB decision) signed by EDE legal representative Fausto Franceschi and addressed to Mr. O'Halloran, EDE outlines proposals that it knows cannot be accepted by the Union. Appended to two of these proposals is the following remark:
"EDE's proposal also reflects EDE's belief that the union continues to have minimal bargaining unit support. Almost all EDE bargaining unit employees continue to attend work as scheduled despite the union initiating strike action against EDE on May 3, 2002. Moreover, we are aware that a significant number of employees working at the Shaw Conference Centre have expressed the view that they do not consider themselves to be represented by the union, nor do they want any further involvement with the union. This, in part, explains EDE's position regarding union security."
In this statement EDE is announcing that, notwithstanding the results of a certification vote supervised by the Alberta Labour Relations Board, it is not prepared to treat the Union as the legitimate representative of the employees at the Centre!
This is not just a strike that has dragged on too long. By ignoring or circumventing decisions of the ALRB, by continuing to bargain in bad faith, the EDE is undermining the integrity of the Collective Bargaining process in Alberta, as well as the legislation that governs labour relations and the body that applies and enforces that legislation.
That is why the Federation urges you to respond favourably to the request of Mr. O'Halloran and the United Food and Commercial Workers, and exercise your authority under Section 105 of the Code to establish a Disputes Inquiry Board.
ALBERTA FEDERATION OF LABOUR