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Respect in the Workplace



Below is the text of the recommendations submitted to the provincial government's Labour Code Review, on behalf of the Executive Board of the Building Trades of Alberta. 



The Building Trades of Alberta (BTA) is pleased to offer our submission on areas of the current Alberta Labor Relations Code that require improvement.

The Building Trades of Alberta coordinates and promotes the interests of 16 Alberta Trade Unions whose 75,000 members work in the residential, commercial, and industrial construction, maintenance, and fabrication industries. The Building Trades of Alberta’s mandate is to support its affiliated Building Trades unions in securing the best possible working conditions and quality of life for skilled workers and their families.

To that end the 16 affiliated trade unions of the BTA have lived with and endured the implications of an unbalanced labour relations code for the past 30 years. We are now advocating for and proposing that this government take the steps necessary to level the playing field and restore the fairness and impartiality that has been desperately missing for the last several decades, nothing more, nothing less.

We would suggest that the following areas be reviewed and our recommendations be adopted and implemented as part of the forthcoming Alberta Labour Relations Code review.

Double Breasting, Spin-Offs and Common Employer Applications

A key element of Canadian labour legislation since World War II is that once employees join a union, their employer cannot circumvent that choice by transferring their work to another part of the operation, thereby denying that work to those employees who chose to be represented by a union. Successor rights and common-employer legislation, requiring that bargaining rights flow with work as it is sold or transferred to related entities under common control, has always been a part of modern Canadian labour legislation.

Unfortunately in Alberta our current legislation has been crafted in such a way, over the years, that it has come to be accepted that an employer in construction can double breast or create a spin-off company such that the threat of a union application to have the operations declared under common control and direction have been negated. Legislation that enables contractors to have the ability to do this has negatively impacted workers’ rights and impeded the union’s ability to effectively negotiate a fair collective agreement. The contractor has essentially been afforded the ability to force change on each group by threatening to do the work with the other arm, effectively circumventing the bargaining process and creating labor unrest by pitting worker against worker.

In order to restore fairness to the process of determining a common employer application and to mitigate the practice of double breasting we make the following recommendations: 

1.      The common employer provisions that apply to everything but construction, set out in sections 47 (1) and (2) of the Code, are virtually identical to the provisions of sections 192 (1) and (2), which specifically apply to the construction industry. We propose to remove section 192 and section 47(3) from the Code. If this were done, common-employer declarations in the construction industry would be governed by the same provisions as those in every other industry.

2.      Do not restrict the Alberta Labour Relations Board from making retroactive common employer declarations. Alberta’s restriction on retroactive remedies encourages secrecy and cover-ups. (Delete the following words from 47 (2) …, effective as of the date on which the application was made…). This change would act as both a deterrent and encourage more up-front transparency by contractors.

3.      Unions that seek to use the Board’s powers to compel production of key records are inevitably faced with claims that they are involved with a “fishing expedition”. The information required to prove a common employer application is often not readily available to the worker or the Union, therefore we recommend that the onus be placed on the Employer to disclose the information required when a successorship or common employer application is filed. There is no detriment to respondent companies if they are requested to disclose the basic nature of their inter-relationships.

4.      We would further recommend that in section 47(1) the reference to the words “carried on” are ambiguous and require clarification. Adding definition to the meaning and intent of “common direction and control” would ensure the ability to capture a broader range of relationships. Our recommendation would be to insert language requiring a common employer declaration where the employer has the power to exercise common direction and control, even if that power is not being exercised.

Certification Related Issues

When a sufficient majority of employees have taken their own time to consider and decide whether to support a Union’s application for certification they should not be required to restate that preference in a formal vote. It is blatant and obvious that the current requirement of the code to hold a formal vote, no matter the level of support, intends to provide opportunity for the employer to influence the choice of the workers through the use of its undisputed power over employees to pressure, coerce, intimidate, scare or otherwise inappropriately influence the employee to vote against the union.

We would therefore recommend the following:

1.      The Labour Relations code be amended to allow for automatic certification, as is provided for in most other Canadian jurisdictions, if the Union applies for certification with proof of support by more than 50% of the bargaining unit employees. The process of certification votes should continue for those situations where the Union files an application for certification with less than majority support.

2.      We would further recommend additional amendments to the code that would allow for automatic certification in circumstances where employer misconduct or an unfair labour practice can be proven in organizing or certification efforts.

Expiry Dates of Collective Agreements

The Alberta Labour Relations Code requires that all Registration collective agreements expire on April 30th biennially. The ALRB has ruled that construction collective agreements between Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and Employers can expire on any date and be for any term. The common expiry date for registration collective agreements means that all enter into collective agreement negotiations at the same time and generally conclude agreements in the same time frame, both of which were intended to bring stability to the construction. There is no rational labour relations purpose for the CLAC collective agreements in construction to have any different expiry dates or timelines except to give CLAC an unfair market advantage and to favour CLAC over traditional building trades unions.

We would therefore recommend the following:

1.      Change section 183 of the Alberta Labour Relations code to apply to all collective agreements that cover construction in Alberta so as to level the playing field between all unions operating in construction.

Special Construction Industry Recent Statutory Additions

In 2008, additional requirements were added to the code with respect to organizing, revocation of bargaining rights and market enhancement recovery funds in the construction industry via Bill 26 of the 27th Legislature. In the first session of 2008 a Bill was introduced, then passed in three days and received Royal Assent 5 days later. These changes only affect the construction industry and are not contained in any other jurisdiction in Canada thereby restricting the Unions ability to represent their members and restrict workers ability to belong to and remain in a Union.

We would therefore recommend the following:

1.      The immediate repeal and removal of sections 34.1, (prohibiting the ability of certain workers to vote on certification applications) section 52(4.1), 52 (4.2) and 53.1 (allowing for the unfair revocation of bargaining rights) and sections 148.1 and 148.2 (prohibiting the use of market enhancement recovery funds)

First Contract Arbitration

The affiliated unions of the BTA not only represent workers in the construction industry but also in the maintenance, fabrication and manufacturing industries. Each of these industries are affected by the lack of first contract arbitration. Once a collective agreement has been established over 90% of them are settled thereafter in a timely manner with no strike action or employer tactics. Employers will delay and manipulate the bargaining process for the first agreement and in some instances blatantly bargain in bad faith especially when the parties were adversarial through the certification process. Some jurisdictions in Canada have found that the threat of first contract arbitration has improved this situation. We would recommend a reasonable time frame for negotiations by the parties followed by mandatory arbitration through an ALRB appointed arbitrator. We sincerely believe that this is beneficial to not just the Union and the Employer but more importantly to the worker. The process of a first agreement is very emotional and takes a toll on the workers. Alleviating those pressures would be a positive for all the parties involved. The Alberta Labour Relations Board currently has no ability to impose interest arbitration to settle the terms of the first collective agreement between a newly certified Employer and a Union when the parties cannot come to an agreement.

We would therefore recommend the following:

1.      The Alberta Labour Relations Board be given legislative authority to impose first contract arbitration under the appropriate circumstances regarding all first-time collective agreements including both the construction and maintenance sectors.

Access to Sites

It is often the case in Alberta that workers are employed and housed in remote locations where access to the housing and/or camps are under the strict control of the Employer and owner client. Given that workers are housed on or near these remote private worksites, often without the ability to leave the site or camp via their own vehicle due to mandatory fly in fly out provisions, Union organizers have no ability to meet privately with workers off site. Nor do they have the ability to meet with them during their time off, away from the work site or camp due to the distance workers may live from the remote site. The inability of these workers to meet privately with union organizers on their own time off is highly detrimental to their ability to exercise their right to join a union. Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Canada statutes all provide for union access to sites where employees reside on land owned or controlled by owner clients.

We would therefore recommend the following:

1.      Provisions be added to the Alberta Labour Relations Code granting the ALRB the right to make orders requiring Employers and /or private entities to allow Union organizers access to such remote sites on terms as set by the ALRB and mandate that such applications will be dealt with expeditiously.

Unions of Convenience

Over the years, Alberta Employers have worked with unions of convenience, such as the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), to undermine the opportunities for bona fide trade unions that operate independently of Employers, to be certified. In many cases, and particularly in the construction industry, CLAC has achieved certification with only two employees supporting the application because they were the only workers on the job at the time of application. This creates a scenario where many other workers, often a significant majority yet to become employed by that employer on that particular worksite or project, will have no say in selecting whether they wish to join a union or not or the type of union they wish to join. The current process, in essence, blocks a traditional trade unions opportunity to organize before the workforce has ever reached a majority of employees that would eventually be employed on site due to a lack of scrutiny of the process employed by these employer dominated unions.

We would therefore recommend the following:

1.      Provisions should be added to the Alberta Labour Relations Code, and powers afforded to the ALRB, that require greater scrutiny of the process utilized by non-traditional building trade unions in seeking to certify and organize workers, especially in cases where a very small percentage of the anticipated total workers are represented in the certification application.

Registration Bargaining Rights

Our current legislative framework lacks clarity in regards to the ability of the parent union of an internationally recognized Local Trade Union, to establish separate or additional bargaining rights within the same jurisdiction where a certificate has been properly granted and where those bargaining rights have been legally established with the Local trade union under the registration bargaining regime. A case currently exists in Alberta where a parent union continues to frustrate labour relations by operating a separate Local for the sole purpose of securing work outside of the registration bargaining framework. To continue to allow an international parent union to do so deprives employers, certified to its affiliated local, the contract benefits for which, through Registration bargaining, they have paid. It also provides their competitors with a labour supply, and perhaps also a pricing advantage, that those bound by registration cannot obtain directly from the Local, due to the conduct of that Local’s parent organization. This recommendation is put forward to restore the integrity of and stability of the registration bargaining regime for the benefit of the public, owners, Building Trades unions and contractors to ensure in the future that collective bargaining relationships between REO’s and Building

Trades unions are not disturbed, circumvented or undermined from interference by International unions and other Locals through arrangements to engage in negotiations outside of registration, or through workforce delivery outside the hiring hall arrangements set out in the collective agreements.

We would therefore recommend the following:

1.      The Alberta Labour Relations Code be amended to include provisions that where a trade Union is named in a registration certificate, the registration certificate applies to the parent organization and affiliated trade union locals of the parent organization of the trade union as if they were named in the registration certificate

In Canada, the rights of workers to join together to be represented by a trade union of their choice, the right of that trade union to bargain collectively on their behalf, and the right of the workers and their trade unions to strike if necessary are constitutional rights under the Canadian Charter of rights. At the very least, working people in Alberta should have the same rights and protections when it comes to exercising their constitutional rights to organize and bargain fairly as other jurisdictions in Canada and it is appropriate that labour law in Alberta reflect these rights.

We very much appreciate the opportunity to share our recommendations for bringing Alberta’s labour relations laws in line with mainstream Canada

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the Executive Board of the Building Trades of Alberta.


Warren Fraleigh

Executive Director

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The Building Trades of Alberta is about PEOPLE, PARTNERSHIPS and COMMUNITY. We coordinate and promote the interests of 16 Alberta trade unions whose 75,000 members work in the residential, commercial and industrial construction, maintenance and fabrication industries. We provide solutions to meet the challenges of an ever-changing industry in an energy conscious world.

  • We work on Industrial, commercial, and institutional construction projects – as well as on maintenance projects – throughout Alberta.
  • We partner with contractors and employers to deliver projects on budget and on schedule.
  • We provide the most reliable, productive, and safest building trades workforce available.
  • We believe in investing in our people. We are the largest supporters of apprenticeship and training for building trades workers in the private sector. Our union training facilities and programs set the standard in the construction industry.
  • We believe in investing in Alberta and in our communities. Through the Building Trades of Alberta Charitable Foundation, our members have donated over $6 million to worthwhile charities throughout Alberta.

Who are the Building Trades of Alberta members? We are your friends, your neighbours, and the volunteers that make our Alberta communities better places to live.


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