For Your Information

Changes to the Alberta Labour Relations Code

Workers' Forum provides below some of the major changes to the Alberta Labour Relations Code contained in Bill 32. 

Union Dues Deduction, Opt-In Requirements

This provision is intended to make it as difficult as possible for a union and its members to set their own agenda according to their needs and in response to unfolding events. It blocks initiatives from the union's elected representatives and members alike, on the basis that all activities must conform to a pre-determined amount or percentage of union dues. This amount is to be set at a time and frequency as yet unknown and subject to arbitrary changes at any time. Government interference in how union dues are collected and used attacks the integrity, independence and collective rights of workers.

 The Kenney government is erecting a minefield that unions must cross in order to pursue any activities other than collective bargaining and "representing the interests of the members," which the legislation appears to restrict to grievances and arbitration. The red tape and requirements to do otherwise are massive.

First a union must produce a budget that determines percentages of membership dues to be used for "political activities and causes" and for "collective bargaining and representation of members' interests." No definition of what those terms mean is provided. Activities that require "election" by each member are to be defined in government regulations. Each member of the union has to provide a written election authorizing the union to collect dues on their behalf for "political activities and causes." This election can be changed at any time.

Dues cannot be collected until a union has complied with the requirement to state the amount or percentage of dues to be allocated to "political activities or causes" or other not yet specified activities. In addition, every worker covered by the collective agreement has to make a written "election" whether to contribute or not to funding designated for political activities and causes.

The union must keep the employer informed of all authorizations and revocations with the employer accordingly responsible for adjusting the collection of dues. Unnamed parties can launch complaints to the collection of dues. The legislation is silent as to who can launch such complaints. In response to a complaint, the bill gives the Alberta Labour Relations Board wide powers to change the amounts allocated for political activities and causes and even suspend the collection of dues altogether.

With this bill, the Kenney government attacks the right of workers to participate in political affairs through their own collectives, to develop their own independent working class politics, to manage their own affairs according to rules, methods and forms they themselves work out and organize without interference from their employers and governments, and to act in defence of the rights of all.

The arbitrary powers the bill confers through regulation-making are vast. Regulations can be introduced to determine what activities are included in "political activities and causes," when and how often unions can make changes to their dues structure or amount, and the proportion of dues allocated for "political activities and causes." These amendments apply to all existing labour legislation in Alberta, including the Police Officers Collective Bargaining Act, the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act and the Public Service Employee Relations Act. Academic staff associations, graduate student associations and postdoctoral fellow associations are not included at present, but the Act provides that they may be included in the future.


Picketing is already severely restricted in existing legislation, regulations and the use of court-imposed injunctions intended to make it ineffective. Bill 32 adds new restrictions including, "Obstructing or impeding a person who wishes to cross a picket line from crossing the picket line is a wrongful act."

Even stopping someone to provide information about the purpose of the picket and to ask people to respect the picket line would now appear to be illegal. Another new provision states that when an employer moves work to "employer allies" no picketing of that employer ally can take place without approval of the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB).

Bill 32 provides the government with a pretext to invoke Bill 1, the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act which became law on June 17. Bill 1 makes it an offence to "without lawful right, justification or excuse, wilfully obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the construction, use, maintenance or operation of essential infrastructure." The bill imposes heavy penalties not only for committing the offence prescribed under the act but for counselling people to commit the offence.

Certification Without a Vote

The UCP has previously passed legislation requiring a vote for union certification even when a clear majority of workers have signed cards. The Labour Relations Board has the power to certify a union without a vote in the case of clear misconduct of an employer, for example firing workers who were identified as leaders in the organizing drive. This power is now further limited. Instead of certifying the union, the Board must order a new vote and certify "only if no other remedy or remedies would be sufficient to counteract the effects of the prohibited practices."

First Contract Arbitration

Under existing law, the ALRB may order first contract arbitration when an employer refuses to bargain in good faith, or has engaged in unfair labour practices such as firing or intimidating workers. First contract arbitration is still included in the new Code, but made meaningless by the conditions imposed. Unfair labour practices by the employer cannot be considered. So long as the employer formally recognizes the union and agrees to meet, it can present any demands it wants, make no effort to negotiate, and can harass, intimidate and even fire workers without invoking first contract arbitration. In other words, the employer can engage in unfair labour practices with impunity.

Closing the Open Period

Current labour law provides for an "open period" during which workers can decide to change unions. This is a two-month period at the end of a two-year collective agreement, or the 11th and 12th month of subsequent years in multi-year agreements. Bill 32 now permits unions and employers to negotiate a new collective agreement prior to the open period. Once the new agreement is signed, no application can be made by another union. This process can be repeated endlessly. The union must supposedly inform employees that agreeing to the collective agreement will mean they cannot change unions. This clause could be more properly called the "company union clause" because its aim is to allow the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and employer-overlords to cook up backroom sweetheart deals and block union members from having any opportunity to challenge CLAC and change unions.

The ALRB found in the Firestone/Flint decision in 2011 that the practice of hastily signing a new collective agreement before the open period, a practice which is carried out only by CLAC, violated workers' rights to change their union. Bill 32 overturns this decision.

Mediation and Post-Secondary Binding Arbitration

Bill 32 makes all provisions in academic staff collective agreements to resolve negotiations by binding arbitration null and void including ongoing arbitrations as of July 7, 2020.

Before a strike vote or lockout occurs, the bill demands two levels of mediation with "enhanced mediation" added before a strike vote can take place.

Suspension of Union Dues

Bill 32 reverses changes made by the NDP government to remove language in the Labour Code that said the ALRB could order suspension of union dues in the case of an "illegal" strike. The ALRB may now order suspension of dues for up to 6 months in the case of what it determines is an "illegal" strike. The Board may direct employers to collect the union dues during an illegal lockout for up to 6 months.

Financial Statements

The law requires unions to provide financial statements "to each member" in writing. This measure is not about the rights of members to information. Far from it, the law deprives the workers of their right to decide. It will supersede the requirements of union constitutions and any regulations members have agreed to follow. By demanding that financial information be produced in writing to each member, the ability of the employer to gain access to this information is greatly enhanced, which is clearly the motive. For example, if a union is contemplating strike action it would normally not make public the status of its strike fund. Private employers are under no such demand to provide financial statements to their workers.

Construction Unions

Bill 32 makes several changes to the operations of construction unions in Alberta and to the rules governing major construction projects. Workers' Forum is studying these changes and will report on them in future issues of the paper.

This article was published in

Number 51 - July 30, 2020

Article Link:
For Your Information: Changes to the Alberta Labour Relations Code


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