Labour Laws

Issue Overview

E-mail Print

Labour Code Review:

Alberta has a history of protracted labour disputes, often with unions seeking first contracts, including strikes at Lakeside Packers, the Calgary Herald and the Shaw Convention Centre in Edmonton. In many workplaces, unions have been decertified or crumbled before an agreement could be reached.

The first agreement between a union and employer is always the most difficult to negotiate. The relationship between the two parties has not yet been fully established.

In Alberta, when parties are at an impasse, the only option left for the workers is a long and often ugly strike. In other provinces, one of the parties can apply for first contract negotiation. This measure has proved to be effective at reducing strikes and helping to establish first contracts.

To avoid long, bitter disputes, Alberta needs similar legislation.


Long and bitter workplace disputes happen too often in Alberta, frequently involving unions seeking first contracts with employers, including the strikes at Lakeside Packers, the Calgary Herald and the Shaw Convention Centre in Edmonton.

Alberta's labour law contributes to this problem because, unlike other provinces, it does not provide for first-contract arbitration.

The Alberta Federation of Labour believes some of these disputes could easily be avoided if the government amended its labour laws to allow for first-contract arbitration.

Our labour laws make it much harder to form union than in other provinces, which explains why Alberta has the lowest rate of unionization compared to other provinces, at 22.4%.

In some provinces, employers who try to intimidate workers in a union drive face stiff penalties, including automatic certification for the union. Here, in Alberta, the usual punishment for any employer offence is a slap on the wrist.

But even if the union succeeds in an organizing drive, the labour laws give the employer another chance to stifle the rights of workers. The law allows for a decertification vote after 10 months, so all the employer has to do is drag their feet in bargaining and wait for the clock to run out. After nearly a year of pressure intimidation, it can push the workers to decertify. Even if the union claims the employer is bargaining in bad faith, the employer knows the law doesn't contain any meaningful penalties.

The simple solution is first-contract arbitration, under which either party in a dispute over a first collective agreement can apply to have the dispute go to binding arbitration. This encourages both sides to come to a deal they can live with, because they know one will be imposed on them if they don't. In provinces with first-contract arbitration in their laws, the majority of first-contract disputes are settled, and without the long and ugly fights seen in Alberta. It is a recipe for peace in the workplace.