The government introduced legislation this week that includes removing the necessity for a ballot by people considering organizing their office if 65 percent of these sign card, or an approval form, saying they need union representation.
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada president Paul de Jong said Thursday workers have the right to vote on a matter, although the transfer is part of the first major overhaul of laws regulating management and union relations since 1988.
“It sounds totally inconsistent and undemocratic that we would have an automatic certification,” said de Jong, whose member companies employ over 25,000 construction employees.
“We don’t suggest that a marriage will come in and do harm to a workplace, but the concern is you always want these things to be transparent and democratic therefore how it comes about was entirely objective and fair.”
He argues this proposal along with many others, like allowing arbitration if negotiations between an employer and a newly certified union are ineffective to settle first contracts, could deter investment in Alberta.
That is a position shared by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, which says in a written statement Alberta’s economic growth over the past 30 years is mostly due to investments in the energy sector that might not have happened without stable labor requirements.
“The province is currently focused on bringing international investment in varied sectors of the economy, and these attempts will be undermined when the (labor) code swings from balance.”
Nevertheless, an official with Canada’s largest private-sector marriage calls the new laws a balanced approach to modernizing Alberta’s “antiquated” labor code.
Power to penalize
Joie Warnock, the western regional manager for Unifor, is happy such as being able to certify workplaces if there’s been interference with organizing drives that the Labour Relations Board will find the power to penalize companies who commit unfair labor practices.
As well, eliminating mandatory secret ballots reduces management pressuring staff’s odds, said Warnock, whose marriage has 15,000 Alberta members working in energy, manufacturing, transportation, and warehousing.
“The real problem about a secret ballot vote is all about preventing employer interference and opposition … Card-based certification denies employers the ability to intimidate and interfere.”
She’s also pleased arbitration will be permitted to settle first contracts, saying companies can drag out negotiations to place pressure on newly unionized staff.
She does not expect the labor code amendments will hurt investment.
“If (the company groups) were being really honest, they’d consider these criteria applied across other authorities and understand it’s not true … The legislation in Alberta is so unbalanced, this just brings them into the 21st century.”
Bringing Alberta’s offices into the 21st century
The first major overhaul of the province’s office rules in nearly 30 years proposes that Albertans be permitted to take unpaid leave to care for themselves and loved ones without the fear of losing their own jobs.
The reasonable and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act introduced would bring compassionate and maternity leaves up to standards and establishes new guidelines for overtime and vacation pay.
There’s also a proposal to reevaluate unions can be formed or disbanded.
Labour Minister Christina Gray said the modifications, hammered out with the support of the head of the Alberta Labour Relations Board, bring them in line with other states and would revise legislation.
“Our government couldn’t allow legislation that touches the lives of so many to be disregarded no more,” Gray explained.
People could be permitted to take leave when they had a death in the family, a child that was lost, sick, or were the victims of violence.
There are no provisions for leave in these scenarios.
Overtime will be banked at 1.5 hours for every hour worked instead of straight time. A minimum vacation would be two weeks away paid at four percent of a worker’s salary.
Employers would also be prevented by charging restaurant workers and gas station if customers left without paying.
The changes would allow for a marriage if membership cards had been verified by more than 65 percent of workers to be certified without a ballot. Greater than 66 percent would still expect a vote.
The proposed labour law upgrade comes after decades of this NDP calling for principles if the Progressive Conservatives have been in power. The New Democrats toppled the Alberta Tory dynasty in the 2015 election.
An expert on Alberta and workplace laws, Andy Sims, helped draft the legislation. He said it takes into consideration the state’s recovering economy and balances the interests of companies and employees.
The Alberta Federation of Labour had been worried that the government wouldn’t go far enough. It called for employees to have the ability to form a marriage without holding an official vote simply by signing a request or a card. The team also wanted a ban on replacement workers during a strike or lockout.
Gray said the government wishes to have the laws pass in time for it to go into effect in the new year.
The labour union in Edmonton sent a news release on Thursday, saying the labor law changes are too rushed to be fair or friendly.