Employers' group calls for change to Alberta labour laws

A group representing Alberta's non-unionized construction industry hopes the results of a new survey will convince the government to make changes to the province's labour laws.

Merit Contractors Association, which represents more than 1,300 "open shop" or non-unionized construction industry employers prov-incewide, wants the Redford government to make good on one of the promises it made during the election campaign. As part of their 2012 election platform, the PCs proposed introducing legislation making it mandatory for trade unions to disclose their annual financial statements to their members. They also proposed to give union members the right to opt out of any portion of union dues that fund activities unrelated to collective bargaining.

Peter Pilarski, Merit Con-tractors Association's vice-president for southern Alberta, said he believes changes to legislation are important because employees are fed up with having their union dues used to make political contributions or support certain social causes. During the 2008 provincial election campaign, for example, a series of anti-Conservative attack ads were paid for by "Albertans for Change," a coalition of the Alberta Building and Trades Council of Unions, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. In Ontario's 2011 election campaign, a coalition of unions dubbed "Working Families" spent $2.1 million on ads attacking PC leader Tim Hudak.

"If belonging to a union and paying union dues are a condition of employment for me, I should have some rights as to where that money's going. The feeling I think Canadians have is they don't have those rights right now," Pilarski said.

A survey commissioned by Merit Contractors and released by the organization today seems to indicate support for Pilarski's premise. According to the survey, conducted by Leger Marketing, only 35 per cent of the 501 employed Albertans interviewed believe union dues are well-spent, while 41 per cent do not. Seventy-two per cent of respondents believe union members should have the right to opt out of certain union activities, while 63 per cent think unionization itself shouldn't be mandatory in any workplace and employees should have the option of opting out entirely.

The survey results are based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans.

Martyn Piper, executive secretary treasurer of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers, said his union already makes its financial information fully available to its members and he has no problem with the idea of a provincial law requiring that type of disclosure from all unions.

What he is opposed to, however, is the premise of Bill C-377, a private member's bill currently before the federal House of Commons which would require unions to make all of their financial information publicly available online. He said that level of disclosure would jeopardize the privacy of everyone from pension fund recipients to vendors and contractors.

"It's our members who should know how the finances are spent," Piper said. "Do we want the rest of the world to know what we do with our finances? I don't think any organization wants that, either personally or professionally."

Piper disagreed with the idea that people should be able to opt out of certain portions of their union dues, arguing unions make their decisions democratically and members - just like in any other organization - must abide by the will of the majority. He said those who don't want to be unionized at all are free to choose an alternative workplace.

Piper added he believes advocates of such legislation are unfairly putting unions in a bad light.

"The problem is people don't understand us and they don't make any attempt to understand us," he said. "There are always people who want to attack unions, but at the end of the day, to what end?"

In spite of what was proposed in his party's campaign platform, deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to amend Alberta's labour laws. He said he will soon be inviting both sides - employers' groups and union officials - to sit down and discuss how to keep Alberta competitive while growing the labour force at the same time.

'Both sides have ideas on how to accomplish that, but those ideas are not always parallel," Lukaszuk said. "There is a balance there, and that means that either one of those two visions cannot be adopted holus-bolus."

Labour Study

Conducted by Leger Marketing, based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans

- (results weighted by age and gender to ensure demographic representation)

- Percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements:

- Union dues are well-spent - 35%

- Union dues are not well-spent - 41%

- Employees should have the ability to opt out of non-core union activities - 72%

- Unionization should not be a mandatory condition for employment and that employees should be able to opt out of all union dues - 63%

- Workers should be able to obtain financial information about their union - 94%

- It should be mandatory for all unions to publicly disclose their finances - 86%

- Unions have a positive role in ensuring job security - 81%

- Unions are relevant today - 40%

- Unions were once relevant, but aren't anymore - 45%


The Calgary Herald, August 31, 2012

Byline: Amanda Stephenson


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