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."
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
Swiss Chalet case shows how employers can use weak laws to rip-off workers
EDMONTON – Alberta's poorly written minimum wage laws are subject to abuse, says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 (UFCW 401).
"Employers are taking advantage of weak two-tiered minimum wage laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta," says Furlong. "A case before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) shows how unscrupulous employers can classify minimum-wage earners as 'liquor servers,' even though they rarely if ever serve booze, in order to pay them the lower of the two minimum wages."
The case, brought to the ALRB by UFCW 401 on behalf of workers at the West End Swiss Chalet in Edmonton, centres around the employer's attempt to pay workers the liquor servers' minimum wage of $9.05 an hour, rather than the general minimum wage of $9.40 an hour (will increase to $9.75 on September 1), though they rarely, if ever, serve alcohol. The $9.75 minimum wage allows for the 'occasional' service of liquor, which is precisely the situation of the workers at Swiss Chalet.
"Servers at Swiss Chalet serve chicken and ribs, not martinis and scotch," says Doug O'Halloran, President of UFCW 401. "But the employer is demanding that they accept the lower wage, the one for workers who frequently serve booze. The employer is prepared to lockout these workers in order to get his way and pay them a lower minimum wage than they're entitled."
"There are nearly 26,000 Alberta workers earning minimum wage and only a small minority – like the workers at this Swiss Chalet - have the protection of a union," says O'Halloran. "If one dodgy employer has figured out a way to screw these workers out of $0.35 an hour, you can bet that there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other employers doing the same thing."
"There should be one wage for all minimum wage earners in Alberta, one that allows them to earn enough to stay out of poverty," says Furlong. "An all-party committee of the Legislature in 2010 also recommended that there be one wage for all minimum-wage earners, but the government caved to the restaurant lobby and ignored that advice."
"Now the chickens have come home to roost. Employers in the restaurant industry are using the government's shoddy laws and lax enforcement to swindle the lowest-paid workers in the province."
Douglas O'Halloran, President, UFCW 401, 403-861-2000
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, 780-720-8945
Lack of protection for Alberta farm workers was highlighted Aug. 20 by Alberta's New Democrats and the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The two groups used the occasion of the AFL-designated Alberta farm workers day to urge the provincial government to extend occupational health and safety laws and workers compensation benefits to farm employees.
NDP agriculture critic David Eggen said his party issues the call every year to increase standards under which farm workers can be protected.
"It's very dangerous work and farm workers are not being protected with the basic rights that other workers have here in the province of Alberta," Eggen said at a Lethbridge news conference.
"They're far behind the rest of Canadian farm workers. It shows callous disregard to an important sector of our population."
Shannon Phillips, AFL director of policy analysis, said previous Progressive Conservative governments have explained lack of farm worker protections as a way to avoid intrusion on family farm operations.
"We find that excuse to be just that," said Phillips, adding the explanation is a red herring for government failure to provide adequate worker protection.
"There is no excuse any more. And we also have a premier on the record saying that she is going to do this."
In her leadership campaign, Alberta premier Alison Redford said farm laborers should have protection.
However, no changes have been made to legislation since Redford's election earlier this year that would affect farm worker status.
Phillips said many farms are large commercial operations with workplaces like any other, so workers deserve the same protections offered in other sectors.
In a later interview, Eggen echoed those opinions.
"The large farms that have been amalgamated into companies and corporations now need to be the very first up to give full rights to their workers," he said. "In regards to smaller operations, we can have a differentiated approach, with the provincial government providing some of those premiums to the smaller operators. Large corporate farms need to pay full freight on their workers' rights and compensation immediately."
Eggen and Phillips noted recent evidence that the province no longer tracks and reports farm worker fatalities. Queries were instead directed to dated data on the Canadian Farm Injury Reporting website.
However, agriculture ministry spokesperson Stuart Elson said Aug. 23 that 2011 farm injury and fatality statistics would be posted within a few days.
"We just want to make sure we are respecting the privacy of the families, but we're actually going to be putting up some updated stats."
He said concerns were raised about the level of detail in Alberta farm fatality reporting, so the process was reviewed.
"We will be posting it pretty quickly.
At the news conference earlier in the week, Eggen expressed concern about lack of available 2011 data.
"I think the statistics have been embarrassing, quite frankly. We have seen historically 160 deaths here in the province of Alberta around farm workers since Alberta started to keep the statistics."
Alberta is the only province that excludes farm workers from occupational health and safety laws and from regulations governing hours of work, overtime and vacation pay.
Phillips said the matter has been studied for years by successive PC governments but with no action taken.
"This thing has been studied and studied and studied to death. Over the nine years that the provincial government said they were consulting on this topic, 160 people died."
The Western Producer, Friday August 31 2012
Provincial labour federation supports Occupy Calgary, Occupy Edmonton: Union leaders condemn unfair treatment of working families across Alberta and beyond
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers across the province, made a clear declaration of support for the Occupy Calgary and Occupy Edmonton movements today. The protest actions are set to begin on Saturday in Edmonton's Winston Churchill Square and Calgary's Banker's Hall.
Unfair economic strategies that punish working families and recent attacks on the rights of Canadian workers to strike and collectively bargain are key factors in their support. A statement released by the Federation read:
"The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) believes in fairness for working families and all Albertans. As a result, we support the Occupy Edmonton and Occupy Calgary movements in their call for democratic and peaceful intervention into an economic system that has been failing to address the concerns and meet the needs of working people locally, nationally, and on a global scale."
AFL president Gil McGowan said the Federation's support of a movement that has spread to financial centres across North America is grounded in concerns that are specific to Alberta. "It doesn't add up," he said. "You have an affluent few in this province who are rewarded with billions of dollars of our public funds through generous giveaways, and at the same time there doesn't seem to be enough stable funding for our children's classrooms from year to year. How is that fair?"
Government attacks on workers are also top of mind for labour leaders. Alongside other provincial counterparts across Canada, the AFL is speaking up against the recent spate of unprecedented anti-union legislative maneuvering by governments. "Canada's workers have fought for historic victories that benefit everyone, like paid maternity leave. When you suddenly have a government that wants to take away the right of working people to negotiate fair conditions from their employers, you're going to see people stand up for what's right."
McGowan also adds that struggles faced by working families are not only unfair but unacceptable in such a wealthy province. "We can no longer ignore the obvious. Corporate wealth generated from our resources isn't reaching Alberta's families. We support the Occupy movements because they offer a sign of hope that things can change."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888 (cell)
October 2011: Labour Code Review; Keystone XL pipeline; no protection for TFWs; safety on construction sites
- The Alberta government has embarked on a biased and secretive review of the province's Labour Code that threatens to introduce Tea Party inspired, Wisconsin-style changes to the rules governing workplaces. Affiliates of the AFL have united in their opposition to the union-busting and possibly illegal changes – and have warned the government to expect unprecedented labour unrest if it pushes ahead. For AFL September 28th press release; AFL August 26th press release; September 5th op-ed
Unions in bid to stop Canadian jobs being shipped down Keystone XL pipeline
- While Alberta and Canada's political leaders acted like sales executives pitching TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S., it was left to unions to fight for Canadian jobs. The AFL and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) went to Ottawa to explain to MPs that the pipeline would mean hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S., but only a handful of permanent jobs in Canada. Meanwhile, new research showed that the Alberta government is set to fall even farther behind its target of refining 72 per cent of bitumen in the province, with a predicted drop to only 50 per cent by 2017. For more information, see AFL September 22nd press release and July 19th press release ...
Flood of TFWs heading to Alberta, but government still failing to protect them
- Alberta is bracing for a new influx of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), but little is being done to make their workplaces safe. A court case against companies charged in the death of two Chinese TFWs in 2007 has been delayed for another year, meaning important lessons on how to keep workers safe will also be delayed. Meanwhile, AFL research revealed that there could soon be 100,000 TFWs in Alberta, but the government has failed to take any concrete action to fix the flawed program that has seen so many workers abused. For more information, see AFL September 16th press release and July 28th press release.
Alberta government fails to enforce safety rules at construction sites
- A CBC investigation showed that provincial safety rules were routinely being ignored on residential construction sites, putting the lives of workers at risk, but the government failed to response to calls from the labour movement for a more rigorous system of random inspections. Instead, the government ordered a one-time blitz of construction worksites – but undermined its effectiveness by warning employers when inspectors would be visiting. For more information, go to September 23rd CBC story and AFL September 12th press release.
- Labour Code: Tell Redford to scrap the review! A review of the Labour Code launched by the Employment Minister is full of union-busting proposals. We need all affiliates to let the government know what they think of these ideas, but time is running out so submissions must be made NOW! For more information on the review and the AFL's reaction, see the top LabourBytes news story. For more info ... (AFL letter to affiliates (October 5th) and the Joint Statement from the Executive Council, September 28th
- October 10: Thanksgiving
- October 10: World Mental Health Day
- October 17: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
- October 18: Persons Day, commemorating the anniversary of the 1929 ruling that declared women to be persons in Canada
- October 21/22: Facilitators Re-facilitators Conference
- October 24-28: CUPW National Convention
- October 25-27: UNA AGM
- October 27-28: HSAA Labour Relations Conference
- October 31-November 4: CUPE National Convention
- November 4-6: 45th Annual Alberta NDP Convention
- November 11: Remembrance Day
- November 16: International Day of Tolerance
- November 18-20: Parkland Institute 15th Annual Fall Conference
- November 25: International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women
- December 4: AFL Women's Committee December 6th Commemorative Brunch and Morning of Solidarity
Did you know ...
- The Alberta government has set a target of upgrading 72 per cent of our bitumen in the province.
- Currently, only 61 per cent is being upgraded in Alberta and the government predicts that figure will fall to 50 per cent by 2017.
- Various studies show that the Keystone XL pipeline will create between 99,000 and 550,000 jobs in the U.S., but only about a dozen permanent jobs in Canada.
- Alberta has 45,578 barrels of proven oil reserves per person living in the province, more than Saudi Arabia (10,125), Iran (1,766), Iraq (3,782) and Kuwait (40,067).
- The value of Alberta's oil sands is estimated to be $1.41 trillion.
The Alberta Federation of Labour claims anti-union construction firms want to amend the labour code to include unfair restrictions and union-busting measures, but others say the changes are all about increasing competitiveness.
"The changes being proposed in the government's review of the code are an unjustified attack on unions and hundreds of thousands of working Albertans," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
The AFL executive met in Calgary on Sept. 28 to issue a statement that calls on the provincial government to stop a proposed review of the labour code.
A group of non-union construction firms, called the Construction Competitiveness Coalition, are involved in a fact-finding process with Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk to investigate the need to undertake a formal review of the labour code.
McGowan claimed this preliminary investigation was started at the request of the coalition, which includes members from Merit Contractors Association, the Christian Labour Association of Canada and the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.
He is concerned that the terms of the review were set by this group, which is calling for union-busting measures.
"While those who sought the review claim it is under the guise of making the construction industry more competitive, the truth is the complete opposite," said McGowan.
They are asking the government to take sides and give an unfair advantage to them in competing against employers who work with traditional unions."
Merit Alberta vice-president Bill Stewart rejects McGowan's view about the suggestions being made by the coalition to Minister Lukaszuk.
"We want to provide investors with certainty, in terms of cost and schedule, but now it is being characterized as union busting," Stewart said.
"There is nothing that we are proposing that will affect the relationship the traditional unions have with their employers and employees."
According to Stewart, one of the main tasks undertaken by the coalition was to clarify language in Division 8 of the labour code.
"In B.C. and Saskatchewan, the labour code allows for an all employee, wall to wall, bargaining unit," he said.
"In the world of independent unions, they don't organize workers on a craft by craft basis. But, the labour code does not allow wall to wall bargaining units, as they do in other jurisdictions in this country."
Division 8 of the Alberta labour code allows major developers, such as Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, to negotiate an agreement with the traditional building trades that spans the whole life of the project with a no strike, no lock out provision.
However, during the last oil boom period, the major developers wanted to employ workers for their construction projects from all available sources of labour involved in the industry.
For example, CNRL's Horizon project was built under an "inclusive agreement", which allowed everyone on site, including union, independent union and non-union.
From the union perspective, Division 8 of the Labour Relations code is considered to be unconstitutional because it is being used to force construction workers to be represented by an organisation and contract they had not voted to support.
"Other developers who want to use this provision, are at risk that if it is put in place there will be a lawsuit," said Stewart. "There is a need to clarify the language in the code so it addresses these Charter issues."
Another change proposed by Merit is legislation to prohibit unions from using member dues for political activities without the prior consent of their members.
"Merit has been advocating to allow people to opt out of the portion of their fees that is not related to the negotiation of a collective agreement," said Stewart.
According to Stewart, Canada is the last country in the world that still allows this to go on.
From the union's perspective, Merit does not practice what they preach because they were a large contributor to the recent campaigns for the leadership of the Alberta progressive conservative party.
Another proposal would ensure greater labour mobility by preventing unions from fining members for working for employers they deem to be hostile.
Finally, the coalition seeks to ensure that the restrictions on the use of Market Enhancement Recovery Funds (MERFs) are maintained.
They consider this to be an unfair bidding as these funds had been used by some craft unions to subsidize commercial bids of their signatory construction companies, in a way that distorted fair bid competition.
Journal of Commerce, Wed Oct 5 2011
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Labour unrest to be expected if province proceeds with ‘Wisconsin-style’ labour law changes: Union leaders united in condemning biased and secretive process
Alberta is heading for unprecedented workplace unrest if the province proceeds with a biased and secretive review of the Labour Code, union leaders warned today.
"The changes being proposed in the government's review of the code are an unjustified attack on unions and hundreds of thousands of working Albertans," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
The executive council of the AFL meeting today in Calgary issued a joint statement calling on the current premier and the new premier to stop the Labour Code review initiated in the summer by Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
About two dozen union leaders will present a copy of the joint statement to Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Gary Mar's campaign headquarters at 4340 Macleod Trails South, Calgary, at 3:00 p.m. today (Wednesday).
The statement says: "As representatives of many of Alberta's largest unions, we are truly proud of the important role that our members play every day in building the Alberta economy. We consider ourselves partners in the project of building a broadly shared prosperity in Alberta: a prosperity that benefits individuals, families and communities along with businesspeople and investors. We agree that the government should strive for a stable labour relations climate in Alberta. But stability comes from good and productive relations between workers and employers – and good and productive relations are based on respect. Unfortunately, the current review process is neither fair nor respectful. It needs to be scrapped."
Representatives of all the unions on the AFL's executive council unanimously condemned the Labour Code review process as "biased, unfair and perhaps even unconstitutional."
"The review was launched at the behest of a coalition of anti-union employers; the terms of the review were set by this group; all of the changes under consideration are union-busting measures, and the lawyer appointed to lead the review has a long history of acting against unions," says McGowan. "While those who sought the review claim it is under the guise of making the construction industry more competitive, the truth is the complete opposite. They are asking the government to take sides and give an unfair advantage to them in competing against employers who work with traditional unions. The ramifications of these changes would affect all workers in the province, not just construction workers," he says.
"Albertans will not stand idly by while the provincial government embarks on a U.S. Tea-Party inspired, Wisconsin-style attack on workers and the middle class who have built this province. The government should expect a Wisconsin-style response from Alberta workers," says McGowan.
The joint statement says: "The review as currently designed is the very antithesis of a fair and balanced process. We would go so far as to say that it is a 'kangaroo court,' not befitting any government in a country with strong democratic tradition like Canada."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Immediate action is needed to make worksites safe as Alberta braces for a boom in foreign employees, says Alberta's largest labour group.
A criminal case against companies involved in the death of two oilsands employees has been delayed and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers, says that's bad news for Alberta workers.
The two workers died in April 2007 at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Horizon project, and another four who were injured, were Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) unfamiliar with Albertan workplace procedures and safety standards.
"The Alberta government failed to take the necessary measures to ensure our standards were being maintained — and the workers paid the price with their lives," said AFL President Gil McGowan.
"Alberta is on the cusp of another boom in bringing in foreign workers — we could have more than 100,000 TFWs here soon. We need to learn the lessons from this tragedy now in order to ensure the same fatal mistakes aren't made again. This trial delay makes learning those lessons more difficult."
The number of applications to bring TFWs into Alberta approved by the federal government soared by 37 per cent between 2009 and 2010, rising by 11,655 to a total of 42,885. Add that to the 57,774 TFWs already working in the province in 2010 and Alberta could soon pass the six-figure mark.
A total of 53 charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act have been laid against CNRL, Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Ltd. and SSED Canada Ltd. The companies were to go to trial Oct. 3, 2011, but the case has been put over until Oct. 1, 2012.
"We cannot ignore or fail to enforce our rules just because these are foreign workers," said McGowan.
"The government must be more serious about its responsibility to inspect worksites and enforce its rules, or more workers will die or be hurt."
"We have to make sure that these foreign construction firms, whether they come from China or other countries, are not importing Third World labour and health and safety practices along with the temporary foreign workers that they use."
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Thurs Sept 22 2011
Letter to the Editor
Re: "Still solid," Letter, Sept. 7.
The Merit Contractors Association (Alberta) needs lessons in geography and reality.
Geography first. The oilsands are in Alberta - not "elsewhere." Now, the lesson in reality. These oilsands can be developed only in Alberta. You can't "go elsewhere" to get at them. Alberta's oilsands contain proven oil reserves of 171.3 billion barrels, the third largest proven crude oil reserve in the world.
Despite current fears over the economy, demand for oil will stay high. Royal Dutch Shell predicts global energy demand will triple by 2050. This means oil prices will remain at a level that encourages investment in our oilsands. Only eight per cent of the world's oil reserves are available to companies such as Exxon-Mobil, BP/Amoco, ConocoPhillips or Royal Dutch Shell without any restrictions. More than half of that eight per cent is in Alberta's oilsands.
The threat that investors will "go elsewhere" is an empty one. The labour code review that Merit seeks has nothing to do with Alberta's competitiveness. It is an attack on unions and is intended to undermine its competitors - employers who happily use unionized labour and are still able to win half the building contracts in the province. What Merit has asked for is that the Conservative government plays favourites, by tipping the scales in favour of Merit members over other employers. They are seeking a Merit Advantage, not an Alberta Advantage.
Gil McGowan, Edmonton
Calgary Herald, Mon Sept 19 2011
Edmonton Journal, Mon Sept 19 2011