Top Ten Reasons to Amend the Alberta Labour Code

The Alberta Labour Relations Code was written in 1988 and has remained virtually untouched since that time.  Over the coming months, I will be writing a new blog series titled “Top Ten Reasons to Amend the Alberta Labour Code” in an effort to initiate an online discussion about the need to update this antiquated (cold-war era) legislation.

Much has happened in the world since 1988, including significant labour legislation changes in British Columbia and Saskatchewan, as well as Europe, the USA and most developed countries throughout the world.  The time has come to update this 23 year old piece of legislation in Alberta.

The governments of British Columbia and Saskatchewan have responded with labour code changes that made their workforces more nimble, fair and competitive.  As a result, these provinces have created a labour relations environment that is more conducive to attracting investment to their provinces.

In response to these changing circumstances in western Canada and around the world, a group of construction leaders formed a coalition to find ways to combat Alberta’s increasingly uncompetitive construction sector.  The group is called the Construction Competitiveness Coalition and its participants operate in both union and non-union environments.  Most of their recommendations are based on labour code changes that have already taken place in other provinces and jurisdictions around the world.  I will write a detailed blog about each of the recommendations in the coming months.

The opportunities for Alberta to become more competitive through Labour Code amendments generally fall into three (3) categories:

  • Creating economic advantages though cost and schedule certainty;
  • Creating bargaining structures for today’s workplaces; and
  • Improving fairness for employees and employers.

The top ten reasons to amend the Alberta Labour Code are:

Recommendation 1:   Amend Division 8 to address potential issues under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Recommendation 2:   Adopt legislation similar to that in British Columbia, which allows for the continuation of collective agreements in situations where a union becomes the bargaining agent for a workforce and there is an existing collective agreement in place for that workforce.

Recommendation 3:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to allow contractors to complete existing work under the labour obligations that existed prior to certification.

Recommendation 4:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to allow for certificates in the construction industry that cover all of the employees working for an employer.

Recommendation 5:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to put into law a provision that allows for early renewal of collective agreements when all parties are in agreement and employees consent.

Recommendation 6:   Maintain the current approach to the “build up principle” in construction.

Recommendation 7:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to prohibit unions from fining workers for the crime of working with an employer not affiliated with the union.

Recommendation 8:   Amend the Alberta Labour Code to prohibit unions from using union dues to support activities other than fulfilling the union’s obligations under the Code unless the union obtains prior consent of the employee.

Recommendation 9:   Improve Alberta Labour Code provisions that address market enhancement recovery fund (“MERFs”), which are illegal bid subsidy schemes.

Recommendation 10: Amend the Alberta Labour Code to clarify limits on the use of picket lines.

If you are still reading, you must be wondering what much of this means!  These are complicated but critically important matters.  Many of these policy recommendations have been implemented throughout the country and around the world and despite fierce opposition from union leadership, they have resulted in better, more competitive workplaces and happier workers.

I look forward to diving into each of these recommendations over the coming months and engaging in this important dialogue.


Public Sector Forced to Support an Anti-Business Agenda

There is a battle brewing in Canada between the rights of individual Canadians and the agenda of union leaders.  The battle lines are being drawn and based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be a difficult fight.

Canadians want changes – in Quebec, they want an end to ties between unions and organized crime and an end to wide-spread corruption.  In Ottawa, the federal government has introduced legislation that forces unions to publically disclose their finances.  In Alberta, there is a growing group of businesses, politicians and citizens who understand that Alberta’s Labour Relations Code needs to be updated if the province is to once again become competitive.  The last time Alberta’s Labour Code was significantly amended was 1988 – a full generation ago.

Union leaders, on the other hand, want the status quo and they appear to be willing to protect it at all costs.

However, the cost to Canadians of doing nothing about these critically important public policy issues is far too great.  Harold Wilson once said, “he who rejects change is the architect of decay.  The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”

Canadian labour laws are causing decay in our Country and it’s important for us to tackle the causes of this head on.  Canadian union leaders will dismiss calls for change and will use every tool at their disposal to stop progress from happening. We must be vigilant and stay the course.

The federal government has recently introduced a Private Members Bill on union financial disclosure. This legislation is necessary given the fact that Canadian unions essentially have the power of taxation on their members with absolutely no requirements for transparency.

The Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), the union that represents Alberta’s public sector workers, is one of very few unions that make some of their financial information available.  Based on those records, it’s clear that Alberta’s bureaucracy is forced to support the unions’ own anti-business agenda through mandatory union dues or forced wage deductions whether they support the union’s agenda or not.

The AUPE’s financial records show that in 2011, $928,399 has been set aside for a “labour laws campaign” and another $368,922 has been reserved for an “anti-privatization campaign”.   While unions have every right to advocate for these causes and fight these campaigns, individual union members must have the right to decide whether they want to participate financially in these activities.  The problem in our current labour relations system is that public sector workers are forced to pay the bill for these campaigns through direct and mandatory wage deductions even if they disagree with the campaign or if they choose not to be card carrying members of their union.

In other words, the very same public servants who are asked to prepare briefing notes, policy drafts and legislative documents for politicians are forced, through mandatory union dues, to pay for an agenda that is directly in conflict with the job they work hard at, most often with pride, each day.

The inherent conflict of interest here is absolutely mind boggling.  It’s the ultimate example of the tail wagging the dog and should be deeply troubling to every single politician who wants to make Canada a better place to live and raise a family.

In Europe, governments have amended labour legislation to allow individual employees to opt out financially from political causes their unions choose to engage in.  In Europe, governments have also imposed strict financial disclosure rules on unions to ensure that these institutions are accountable.

With recent developments in Quebec and Ottawa, Canadians have started to take some steps in the right direction on labour law reform.  It’s time for Canadian provinces to join the rest of the world and take a larger step by embracing labour code changes such as those suggested in this blog.  If Alberta is to ever return to the Alberta Advantage, it needs to get ahead of other provinces by making the first move in this direction.

 If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep walking.

Buddhist Proverb


Alison Redford’s Leadership Win and Unions

One the funniest and most ignorant comments on Twitter about Alison Redford’s PC Leadership win last weekend has been coming from both the left and right side of the political spectrum – mainly, the idea that Alison won the election thanks to unions.

While it’s true that Redford met with the Alberta Teacher’s Association and promised to put $100 million back into Alberta classrooms within 10 days of being elected to office, she does not owe her win to organized labour.  Instead, she owes her win to teachers, parents, students, nurses, doctors, engineers, electricians, janitors and every other Albertans who gave her their vote – whether they work in a unionized environment or not.

Alison Redford’s campaign was focused on policies that matter to everyday Albertans.  She talked about increasing accessibility to Alberta’s public healthcare system and providing predictable and sustainable funding for education.  She had ideas about making Alberta a global energy capital, as well as thoughts on economic diversification and job creation.  She talked about those expensive cell phone charges that annoy Canadians to no end.

On the specific topic of labour and unions, Alison is on record several times indicating that she is fully aware that the Alberta Labour Code hasn’t been touched since 1988 and that she supports a review to ensure that Alberta’s labour market remains competitive relative to other provinces in Canada and jurisdictions around the world.

So I just can’t help but laugh when I see tweet like “#pcldr chosen by unions” from a known NDP supporter or “I can’t believe we have a ‘conservative’ Premier in Alberta that is now beholden to unions …”

Of course this is nothing more than filthy and meaningless political rhetoric from terrified opposition party supporters who know that Alison is one of the most intelligent and capable leaders the PC Party has ever elected.

However, Albertans need not be afraid.  While Alison Redford did win the election with the help of teachers, she is NOT beholden to unions.

Take if from David Climenhaga, the most hard core union sympathizer I have ever met, who said in a recent blog that:

…while it’s a fact Alberta labour leaders can’t usually deliver their members’ votes to anyone, union members are paying attention and labour votes matter anyways.  In other words, you can’t tell union members what to do, but they’ll figure it out for themselves.”

David is right – individual union members don’t blindly follow what union bosses tell them to do.  The fact that teachers may have supported Alison Redford’s leadership bid because she promised to put money back into classroom has nothing to do with the union itself.

In fact, I look forward to testing Mr. Climenhaga’s conclusion that “Alberta labour leaders can’t usually deliver their members’ votes anymore” when the Alberta government undertakes a labour code review.

Will individual union members run to the polls to take down a government that considers an idea such as eliminating the fines that a union can charge its members for working for a non-union company?  I doubt it.

Will individual union workers get fired up about potential amendments to the labour code that could allow them to opt-out of paying the portion of their union dues that go towards political causes they don’t want to support?  I can’t see that happening.

What about recommendations that would allow both union and non-union construction workers to work harmoniously and efficiently side-by-side on the same jobsite.  Do you really think union members will drop their tool belts and run to the polls to vote against the Party their hiring hall tells them is making them commit this atrocity?   I wouldn’t hold my breath on that ….

If Alison Redford is beholden to anyone its Albertans – she campaigned directly to them with policies that matter to their everyday lives.  I am confident that as long as Alison Redford continues to do what is right for individual Albertans and Alberta’s economy, she owes nothing to unions themselves.


A Bold Tim Hudak is Ready to Take Ontario in a New Direction!

Ontario PC Party Leader, Tim Hudak, released his Party’s election platform last weekend and showed the people of Ontario just how serious the Ontario PCs are about becoming the new government in that province.  The document is bold and ambitious, which is consistent with this leader and exactly what Ontario needs to get turned around.

Cleverly called the “Changebook”, Hudak and his Party have set a clear direction through this document that will make many Ontario residents excited.  Its focus is on putting “more money in families’ pockets, guarantee services and cleaning up government – it’s progressive and it’s conservative.   It’s the stuff winning campaigns are made of!

Of particular interest to this blogger is the section of the Changebook about making “Ontario labour laws fairer for union members and taxpayers”.  I am impressed that Hudak included these policy statements in this document.  It shows the he is not afraid to stand up for what is right on the labour front – something most politicians in Canada have struggled with.

The policies in this section are substantial: “giving individuals the right to a secret ballot in certification votes; introducing paycheck protection so union members are not forced to pay fees towards political causes they don’t support; requiring unions to be transparent and open with their financial information just as businesses and charities are.”

These policies address the issue of workplace democracy and transparency and are critically needed in Canada.  They address the rights of individuals within the collective.  It’s a subtle and complicated topic, but it’s critically important for Canadians to discuss.

One policy in this area is about increased financial transparency for unions.  This is long overdue.  Transparency is becoming more important in all aspects of business, government, charities, etc. … and unions must be held to the same standards.

Some people will kick and scream about how these policies are an assault on unions and the rights of workers.  They will make emotional arguments about how Hudak is trying to screw over the working man when in fact these policies will do the opposite – they will give individual workers rights vis-à-vis their union – they will correct an imbalance that currently exists in ALL Canadian unionized workplaces.

These are important rights to have.  Think about the fact that workers in Ontario’s construction industry do NOT have the right to a secret ballot for union certification votes.  That in itself is appalling in a modern Canadian democracy.

Now think about the fact that construction workers had this right stripped from them immediately after Dalton McGuinty became the Premier of Ontario.  Why?  Because Mr. McGuinty won the election with the help of $5 million in attack ads paid for by the “Working Families Coalition”, which is an organization made up of Ontario unions – primarily building trade unions.

Think about it – the “Working Families Coalition”, made up primarily of Building Trade Unions spend $5 million on negative attack ads to help McGuinty win the election.  As soon as McGuinty wins, he strips construction workers the right to a secret ballot so that it’s easier for these unions to get organized.  More organization means more money in union coffers and more money for attack ads to help the Liberals.  These things were not done in the interest of the Ontario construction worker; they were done in the interest of the Ontario Liberals and union bosses.

The “Working Families Coalition” is at it again this election – according to estimates, they are planning to spent up to $10 million of mandatory union dues on this round of American style personal attack ads.

This could be the reason that Hudak took it a step further and is campaigning on paycheck protection – or the right for union workers to opt out of having to contribute financially towards political causes they don’t support.  This type of legislation is needed in every province in Canada.

This right to disassociate financially from the political view of one’s union is just as important as the right to be part of that union or the fundamental right to association, which is guaranteed by the Charter.

Individual union members do not all support the same political parties or causes.  In fact, many unionized construction workers in Ontario will likely support Hudak and his PC Party in the next election.  These workers MUST be given the right to opt-out of paying dues that go towards the Ontario Liberals or other causes they do not believe in.

Imagine how you would feel if someone took a mandatory deduction from your paycheck to contribute to a political party you do not support?  It would not be accepted in a non-union setting and should no longer be tolerated in a unionized environment.

By introducing these policy pieces as part of his comprehensive “Changebook”, Hudak is showing the people of Ontario that he truly is ready to be the bold and deliberate leader they so desperately need.  He is proving that he understands what helping Ontario families ACTUALLY means and that he is willing to stand up for THEIR individual rights.

This is the kind of leadership Ontario needs and the kind of leadership that is needed across the country.

Kudos to Tim Hudak for putting forward a bold and ambitious policy agenda and best of luck in the next election – real working families across Ontario need your help.


Moral Dilemma

The debate about union dues is a difficult one because participants are typically emotionally involved due to their deep seeded political beliefs about unionism.  As such, the discussion goes back and forth and often misses the point, while the question at the core of the issue gets tossed to the side.

I have much respect for Mr. David Harrigan for engaging me on this debate.  As a principled leader with the United Nurses of Alberta, he has a lot of knowledge about how his union works.  However, every point he makes in my mind misses the core point of the debate.

I share our last exchange because it illustrates this well.  Please read it and share your thoughts …


David Harrigan | November 3, 2010 at 6:50 AM | Reply | Edit

I agree, it has been an enlightening debate. I suspect that you and I will likely never agree on this one. But there are some things we do agree on.

I agree that unions must be democratic and must allow free, open and democratic votes about how money is to be spent.

Where we disagree is I believe that majoritarianism must hold the day, and the will of the majority rule.

This is the way things work in every organization that Albertans belong to, be it their local soccer association, their government, their services organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, their workplace social fund, any club. The Merit Contractors Association doesn’t give a rebate to its members if one of them disagrees with a particular stance.

I believe that the suggestion that unions, and unions alone, should be forced to do so is illogical and wrong.

I think you may be correct as well on the issue of absolute individual choice, and it essentially boils down to a libertarian vrs majoritarianism view.

Also, like you, I tend to get offended when any group starts trying to use the word “family” as exclusively applying to their values. I noticed in the US the protestant religious right began doing this years ago. Having grown up in a close, Roman Catholic, liberal family, very little of their views were shared by me.

As you say, a most interesting debate!

pcinyyc | November 3, 2010 at 11:08 AM | Reply | Edit

David – polling suggests that the majority of Canadians AND union workers agree with my point of view. Why don’t you have a free, open and democratic vote (secret ballot) of your members on this topic and go with the voice of the majority?

The question can be simple:

“Do you agree or disagree with your union forcing deductions directly from your salary to pay for partisan political activity”?


“Do you agree that you should have a right to opt-out of the portion of your union dues that goes towards partisan political activity”?

Chambers of Commerce, Associations and other groups put questions to their members and go with the will of the Majority. However, none of these organizations take forced deductions from people’s salaries to pay for the activities that are voted on.

I think this is the area where you and I disagree most. You say that to pick on unions and unions alone is illogical and wrong. But unions are the only institutions that forcefully deduct wages to finance partisan political agendas.

Don’t you see a moral issue here?

Further, you say that unions should be open and democratic and must allow free votes on how money is spent. I agree with you – and if the majority of union members vote and agree that union money should be spent on political advocacy I totally support that. This isn’t about a union’s right to participate in the political process.

However, the next question (the first question, really) to union members needs to be “do you support financing these activities through wage deductions”.

This is the most important question here and the one question union leaders don’t want to ask. Without asking this question, the claim that unions are democratic institutions is something I can’t begin to entertain.

I respect that you will fight for your institution because you have strong beliefs in what it does. However, I will continue to fight for the rights of the individual worker because I have a moral problem with the premise behind HOW your institution finances its political activities.


Guest Blog by Brian Dell: Unions Flex Muscles (again)

The following blog was posted on by a guy named Brian Dell, whom I have never met.  As you can see, Brian is a like-minded blogger.  I would like to thank Brian for agreeing to be a guest blogger on PCinYYC.


Much of what I blog about is based on well research facts – Brian presents some of these facts in his blog.  Now that I have your attention, I hope that you enjoy the continued education …. PP


Brian’s blog starts here ….


Section 29 of the Alberta Labour Relations Code explicitly allows unions to demand collective agreements whereby “all the employees… are required to be members of a trade union.” Only employees who convince the Labour Relations Board that their “religious belief” prohibits them from being a union member are exempt from this coercion, in which case an employee could potentially get his or her union dues directed to a charity instead of the union.


When Edmonton McClung introduced its motion to bar unions from forcing Albertans to pay dues that are then used for political purposes, the constituency association noted that Alberta is one of the few jurisdictions in the world that denies individual employees the right to opt out of having to pay mandatory union dues that are then used for political messaging.


In early 2008, in the lead up to the March 3 provincial election, an outfit calling itself “Albertans for Change” but in fact run by union bosses ran a series of TV and radio attack ads paid for by forced union dues. When the Merit Contractors Association and the National Citizens’ Coalition called attention to the fact that this astroturf group was using mandatory dues for activities unrelated to the core union activities of collective bargaining and grievance administration, the Alberta Federation of Labour responded saying Merit Contractors and the NCC were “simply trying to further their union busting agenda” and cited a 1991 Supreme Court of Canada case, Lavigne v. OPSEU. However, Mr Lavigne was not a member of and not required to join a union, unlike the case in Alberta where union membership is often forced. Indeed, when the Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened in the case to support the union position, the CCLA concluded that “Lavigne’s protection is in his right to join or not to join” a union. Remove that protection and the Lavigne case is distinguishable.


Alberta Union of Public Employees spokesman David Climenhaga trotted out the “but the courts say” argument on his personal blog after the Wildrose Alliance AGM earlier this year to contend that passing a particular “right to work” law would be “a pointless gesture.” The McClung members who proposed the motion here anticipated this sort of retort, however, by attaching a legal opinion solicited by Merit Contractors from a Calgary law firm.


I might add that, in specific response to blogger Ken Chapman’s claims that the facts cited by the motion’s supporters were “unsubstantiated” and in need of “proof,” the union practices at issue here are prohibited in New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and the 47 countries of the Council of Europe. While far left Canadian judges like Claire L’Heureux-Dubé have held that freedom of association implies no freedom to not associate, Article 20(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly affirms that negative right: “No one may be compelled to belong to an association.”


The European Council of Human Rights, perhaps the most famous of the Council of Europe’s bodies, ruled in 1981 by an 11 to 3 vote that a 1975 agreement between British Rail and three trade unions requiring union membership as a condition of employment violated Section 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights (to which all Council members are a party). The 2006 case Sørensen & Rasmussen v. Denmark made it clear that a “closed shop” is still in violation even if it were made clear to a prospective job applicant in advance that union membership would be a condition of employment. “[T]here is little support in the Contracting States for the maintenance of closed shop agreements,” the Court added. The 2007 decision Evaldsson et al v. Sweden prohibited the use of union dues from non-members for non-bargaining (ie political) purposes, with the Court disapprovingly noting that “they had to pay the fees against their will to an organization with a political agenda.”


Although it is currently the case that in the United States unions can spend a member’s dues on politics, members have the right to opt out, a right that is currently denied in Alberta. Unions are currently in a panic about Republican gains in elections tomorrow because of fears that the GOP will change the obscure opt out procedure to an opt in requirement for dues union leaders want to spend on politics.


At this weekend’s PC Alberta AGM, union supporters tried to shout down opponents. When the vote was taken, it appeared close enough that some called for a count, a contention supported by the Edmonton Journal which described the margin as “narrow”, but the moderator dismissed a count as unnecessary and the union supporters declared victory. According to CTV, “[d]ozens of people, apparently union members, bought party memberships specifically for that vote and defeated the motion much to the dismay of many long-time party members.” The number of “Ten Minute Tories” might well have been significantly higher. In 2006, the Journal reported that a coalition of unions “apparently plans to buy as many as 10,000 Tory memberships” to get their man into the premier’s chair. As it is, the current chair of the government caucus, Robin Campbell, is a former union boss. South of the border in New Jersey, the AFL-CIO spends a quarter million per year running a “candidate school” to get their (Manchurian) candidates elected, and with considerable success given that this union school “has groomed more than 160 current officeholders.”


I nonetheless take some comfort in the fact a few grassroots PC members came to the AGM prepared to get their battle on against this economic phenomenon known as a labour supply monopoly or, in popular parlance, a union.



At the Wildrose Alliance AGM during the summer, there was essentially no floor battle to speak of since the unions had, in effect, pulled off an inside job. After cordial meetings with Alberta unions during the months leading up to the AGM, floor-crossing MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth spent essentially all of their microphone time on the convention floor lobbying for closed shops and the killing of party planks like the one that protected “the democratic right to a secret ballot,” thus precluding the need for more transparently union-affiliated speakers to make the case. Party leader Danielle Smith, who had previously had her own tête à tête with AUPE’s boss (photo above at right), told media outside the convention room that the union coddling constituted a display of “sophistication.”


I relate the disturbing ties between the Wildrose caucus and union lobbyists in order to note that apparently every elected politician is either running scared from the unions or in their pocket. In the US, the Associated Builders and Contractors (a merit shop coalition) noted a study last year that found that union slush funds had contributed more than $1 billion to contract bidding schemes that increased the cost of construction projects for taxpayers. The equivalent slush funds in Alberta, known as MERFs or “Stab funds, were finally targeted by the Alberta government in 2008 by Bill 26, which also aimed to put a stop to the union practice of “salting” (having their people respond to hiring ads and then, after having been hired just in time to vote to unionize, walking off the job to leave the employer both short manpower and unionized). The schemes Bill 26 corrected were so outrageous the union bosses knew they could not organize popular protests against the bill, but provincial lawmakers were still so afraid of union muscle they passed the bill as the very last measure of the spring 2008 sitting and at 3:15 AM in the morning. Legislature personnel were furthermore so intimidated that security guards at the Leg were placed on high alert.


There are four major political parties in the province (five if you include the Alberta Party) and the leadership and/or caucus of none of them seems prepared to make an issue out of the fact that Alberta tolerates closed shops where Europeans do not, and that provincial legislation adds insult to injury by allowing unions to pile mandatory dues to be used for political lobbying on top of mandatory membership. The PC members who voted against the McClung proposal giving workers a right to opt out of having mandatory dues used to fund leftist causes are ultimately traitors when you consider the fact that in 2008 such money was used to fund a media assault on the PC Party, but “traitor” implies an allegiance that can be betrayed.


Albertans are entitled to a political alternative. The NDP accordingly has a good excuse for, say, not supporting the 29 Old Dutch employees whom the UFCW union and the Alberta Labour Relations Board say should be fired for refusing to pay union dues. For 38 years the UFCW and Old Dutch collective bargaining agreement provided for a voluntary dues check off. In the wake of a lengthy labour dispute, however, UFCW demanded that the dues be made mandatory.


Even though mandatory dues are virtually cost free to employers, Old Dutch did not agree. The obvious solution in the union’s view then became getting the government to step in and amend the Alberta Labour Code. This summer, the Stelmach government indicated that it would side against the 29 workers. Perhaps the Wildrose Alliance could have said something about this instead of going on about legal disputes in other provinces.


Union Dues – it’s time for a Progressive Conservative approach – Part 2

Thank you very much for your comments on my original blog on union dues – I’m thrilled we can have this discussion and allow Albertans and Canadians to decide where they stand on this important public policy issue.

You ask whether shareholders should get rebates if they don’t support the political contributions made by the company they invest in.  The difference between being a shareholder in a company and a worker who is legally compelled to pay union dues is that a shareholder can choose to take their money out of one company and invest into another.  Union workers are compelled to pay these dues as a condition of their employment.

A shareholder has the opportunity to invest in any company and has the freedom to associate and support companies, organizations and causes that are in line with their political views.  My argument is that workers should have the option to either opt in or out of activities not related to collective bargaining and other core union activities.

With respect to citizens being able to opt out of paying a portion of taxes if they don’t agree with the direction their government takes on an issue, I suggest you make the highly erroneous assumption that unions should be afforded the same institutional recognition as governments.

Governments are responsible for providing public goods and services such as defence, monetary policy etc to all citizens. We cannot renounce being a citizen and our citizenship obligations. The issue here is that as a condition of employment people are compelled to pay union dues, which is akin to a tax. Since a union should not have the same institutional recognition as a government, is appropriate for a union to “tax” its members to support these causes? If a portion of these dues are being used to support causes, issues and political parties that the individual does not support, that individual should have the right to voluntarily opt in or opt out.   Unions are not governments – it’s very dangerous to make these types of parallels.

Your third argument is an interesting one given the actions of Albertans for Change during the last election and the Working Families Coalition in Ontario. No mention was made of labour law/collective bargaining in those ads. Rather, the advertising constituted an ideological attack against the Stelmach government. All employees that are forced to pay the portion of dues that support these ads are being compelled to associate with these ideological views.  While the Charter provides a freedom to associate, the flip side of that right is the freedom to disassociate.  Compelling employees to pay union dues to support such ideological attacks is therefore a violation of their right to disassociate.

I also got a few tweets on this blog and most people made the same arguments as above.  However, one was different and I want to address it.  @noleftandright tweeted “if union members want to control expenditures they should run for union office of whatever sorts and state their case”

My response is that if union bosses want the province to have labour legislation that is more closely aligned with their ideological views, they should run for MLA and state their case to the whole population.  Why should a worker who just wants to make a living and provide for his or her family be compelled to contribute to these causes through mandatory pay deductions?  If the worker is compelled to pay these dues as a condition of employment, why should it also be their responsibility to run for union office if they don’t like it?  The government has the responsibility to ensure legislation protects employee rights.  The employee should have the right to disassociate from their unions political view and current Canadian legislation doesn’t respect that right.

These are my arguments … I welcome yours!


Union Dues – It’s time for a Progressive Conservative approach

As I prepare for the upcoming Alberta PC Annual General Meeting, I contemplate what it truly means to be a Progressive Conservative in the province of Alberta.  A quick look at the 2010 PCAA Constituency Resolution Book reaffirms that I belong to the right party – many policies in the booklet represent both a progressive and a conservative approach to the issues affecting our province.  One such policy is Edmonton McClung’s “A” resolution regarding the Labour Relations Code.

The resolution reads:  Be it resolved that, the Government of Alberta introduce amendments to the Labour Code to permit individual employees to opt out of contributing a portion of their union dues if their union dues are used to fund union activities which are unrelated to the core union activities of collective bargaining and grievance administration.

In simple terms, it’s reasonable that employees are forced to pay union dues for collective bargaining and core union activity, but should have the option to not pay into their union’s political activities.  Individual employees should have the right to put their hard earned money toward the political party of their choice or not at all.

People are usually surprised when I tell them how antiquated Canada’s Labour laws are.  The assumption is that Canada is on par with the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to the rules surrounding unionization.  The fact is, however, that Canada is behind the United States, as well as many European countries – most of which have long histories of socialist governments.

Interestingly, research indicates that Canadians clearly support reforming how union dues are collected and used.  A 2008 Nanos Research poll for the National Post and Global National on workplace issues found that only 16 per cent of working Canadians felt union dues should be used to make contributions to political parties.  Similarly, only 17 per cent of respondents felt union dues should be spent on partisan political advertizing campaigns.  Most respondents also felt that it would be fairer to pay lower dues to cover the costs of collective bargaining and agreement administration, but not be forced to pay for union activities relating to non-collective bargaining activities, such as supporting or opposing political parties and social causes.

Contrast this with what has happened with union dues that Canadians have been forced to pay.  As an example, during the Ontario provincial election in 2003, five construction union affiliates of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario joined three other unions to form the “Working Families Coalition”.  This group ran the $5 million dollar negative attack ads that helped bring down the ruling Progressive Conservative government.  Shortly thereafter, construction industry employees lost their right to a secret ballot in unionization elections.

Remember the “No Plan” ads that slammed Premier Stelmach and the PC government during the 2008 election?  Those were a result of monies largely collected through forced union dues by various Alberta Building Trade unions, who helped organize and fund the “Albertans for Change” group that spent more that $2 million on this advertizing.  To put this in context, this was more than the three opposition parties spent on advertizing; it even included spots that ran during the Super Bowl.

It is time for legislators to bring Canadian labour laws in line with the rest of the industrialized world.  What’s needed is a transparent and accountable structure that balances the rights of employees who support their union being politically active and want to contribute further to its political objectives, with the rights of employees who believe that money they are legally required to pay to a union should be limited strictly to negotiating and administering collective agreements.

To create this balance, unions should be prohibited from spending dues that are legislatively mandated for the purpose beyond what is needed to maintain a collective bargaining relationship with the employer.  Funds collected for these purposes should be accounted for separately and segregated from funds that may be collected and used for other purposes.

The rights of unions and union members to voluntarily engage in political activism or support political causes and parties should also be dealt with.  Most jurisdictions address this by requiring separate political action accounts from which all voluntary donations and expenditures are accounted for, reported on and audited.

The issues raised in this resolution are core to what it means to be a Progressive Conservative in the province of Alberta.  It is not my belief that unions have no place in our society, nor do I believe that unions should not participate in political activities.

However, one must ask:  Is it appropriate for unions to spend more on advertising than the political parties themselves during an election campaign?  Is it fair that the millions they spend to support political causes are being financed by working Canadians who are required by law to pay dues?

Being a Progressive Conservative in the province of Alberta is about balance, pragmatism and common sense.  The Edmonton McClung “A” resolution regarding the Labour Relations Code is about striking that balance.  At the upcoming AGM, I encourage all Progressive Conservatives to participate in this policy session and to support this resolution.  I will be providing the session details shortly.  Stay tuned!