Last week, Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government of Jason Kenney introduced Bill 32, the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, which constitutes ‘an attack on workers to the benefit of corporations and the rich’.
Lana Smidt, National Director of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Prairie Region, has written a letter to all members in which she explains that it’s a massive omnibus bill that amends six different labour and employment relations acts.
‘Don’t be fooled by the title of the Bill’ she warned, ‘it is, without a doubt, an attack on workers and unions to the benefit of corporations and the rich.’
And while members that work at Canada Post fall under federal jurisdiction, other CUPW members from private sector bargaining units may be targeted by this bill too.
‘At any rate,’ Smidt continues, ‘an attack on one group of workers almost inevitably has repercussions on others. This bill must be halted!’
Bill 32 is inspired by an ‘American approach’ to labour and employment relations – a shift to a low-road economic strategy that will promote low wages, poor working conditions, weak environmental standards and impatience with democratic dissent.
Numerous organisations in civil society and experts have analysed the proposed bill in detail and conclude it threatens workers’ bargaining power and workers’ political activities in their fight for better working conditions.
Smidt writes: ‘As mentioned, Bill 32 contains numerous changes. To better understand the scope of these, Jason Foster, a labour relations professor at Athabasca University has summarised the amendments in three categories.
‘These sections aggressively target unions and union activities. The bill requires unions to receive each individual member’s consent to collect the portion of dues not related to core representational activities.
‘This runs counter to Lavigne (1991) and is a punishment for the labour movement’s active campaign during and after the 2019 election.
‘The bill also severely restricts picketing by prohibiting picketers from “obstructing or impeding” anyone attempting to cross a picket line and requiring unions to seek permission from the labour relations board before conducting any secondary picketing.
‘These amendments, again, run counter to recent jurisprudence promoting picketing as a fundamental component of freedom of expression under the Charter, and will weaken the bargaining power of workers.
Insidious Damage amendments
‘These sections target technical and legalistic aspects of the labour relations system and are designed to quietly provide an advantage to employers, in particular employers seeking to avoid unionisation.
‘The bill eliminates timelines for certification votes. It also removes automatic certification as a potential penalty for an unfair labour practice.
‘Other sections restrict the scope of decision-making for arbitrators and make it easier for the labour board to overturn arbitration decisions.
‘Some of these amendments undo changes made by the NDP (New Democratic Party) while others chart new territory, but all take labour relations in the direction of benefiting the employer and making it harder to organise a union and defend a collective agreement.
Take Advantage of
Vulnerable Workers amendments
‘There are a number of changes to the Employment Standards Code (ESC) that make it easier for employers to side-step core employment standards.
‘As an example, the bill enhances employer flexibility through “averaging agreements”, which permit the averaging of working hours for overtime pay purposes.
‘Most significantly it removes the requirement that an employee consent to an averaging agreement, and allows the employer to unilaterally impose one.
‘Bill 32 also makes it easier to lay-off workers by reducing notification requirements, increases the time period where no severance pay is required, and excludes seasonal and contract workers from notification requirements.
‘These particular changes may seem minor, but when the law makes it easier for employers to lay off workers, the lay-off “threat” is enhanced, thus further shifting power to employers.
‘CUPW agrees with Professor Foster’s conclusion: “If passed, Bill 32 will have material impacts on hundreds of thousands of workers. Unionised workers will see their union advantage erode, workers wishing to be unionised will find the road more difficult, and the most vulnerable workers will be increasingly at the mercy of their employer”.
Lana Smidt’s letter goes on:
What can we do to oppose Bill 32?
‘The Alberta Federation of Labour has launched a campaign to let your elected representatives know workers oppose this legislation.
‘I invite all CUPW members to join the fight for all worker’s rights. All of us will be affected by this anti-worker bill.
‘Please visit https://www.afl.org/defend-worker-rights. In a few clicks, you will be able to send a clear message to your politician.
An injury to one is an injury all!’
‘National Director, Prairie Region
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, has also called the bill ‘unconstitutional’ and said: ‘We will fight on the political stage, we will fight in the courts, and if necessary, we will fight in the streets.’
McGowan added that a new definition of union activities means that any lobbying for things like health and safety or paid sick leave would be labelled as political and would therefore, according to the bill, severely limit unions’ capacity to advocate for their members.
The government estimates that the bill will save businesses more than $100 million per year, allowing employers to expand the types of jobs that 13- and 14- year old children are allowed to do, without a permit or oversight.
The balance of Alberta’s workplaces remains heavily tilted in favour of employers and this bill hamstrings unions with red tape and unconstitutional limits on their right to advocate for their members.
- Despite their employer’s heavy-handed union-busting campaign, nearly 100 LifeLabs workers in Toronto and Oshawa have voted in favour of joining the OPSEU union.
‘I always say congratulations to our new members, but these workers deserve extra praise and recognition for their courage and resolve. They faced down one of the most anti-union companies I’ve ever seen, and now they’ve won’ said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.
‘From CEO Charlie Brown down to its managers, LifeLabs will pull every trick in the book to keep its workers from exercising their Constitutional right to join a union: intimidation, misinformation, and desperate legal roadblocks at every turn,’ said Thomas.
‘But these couriers saw through all of the bluster and BS and they voted Yes to OPSEU. It’s a great day for them, and it’s a great day for our union – we’re that much stronger with them.’
The new group of OPSEU members at the privatised medical collection and testing company work as couriers, clerks, dispatchers, and in the mailroom.
A similar group of LifeLabs workers in Mississauga and Richmond Hill voted on joining OPSEU in May, but LifeLabs is blocking their votes from being counted over minor procedural issues. It’s just the latest in a long list of union-busting tactics used by the company.
After its workers in the Barrie area joined OPSEU in 2017, LifeLabs managers formed a ‘SWAT team’ to intimidate and prevent its workers in Toronto – many of them racialised women – from joining OPSEU. And last year, managers suspended the President of the OPSEU local representing the Barrie workers.
‘People across Ontario depend on the frontline workers at LifeLabs, especially during this pandemic. They’re risking their lives to keep us safe, but the company attacks them when they try to fight for decent wages and job security,’ said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.
‘Senior management should spend less time harassing their workers and more time stopping the huge privacy breaches that have landed it in so much hot water.’