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Double-breasting happens – every tradesperson knows it does. And every tradesperson knows it is unfair and should be eliminated. However, there are some other things that tradespeople “know” about double-breasting that we want to help clear up.
What is double-breasting?
Double-breasting occurs when an employer operates a union wing and a non-union wing, although the arrangement is not typically as clear as that. The purpose of double-breasting is to allow an employer to circumvent the choice of employees to unionize by transferring the work that they would typically do to the non-union group, in order to deny work to the employees who chose to be represented by a union. Usually the employer will operate as a management group and that group will then hire the non-union wing on a contract basis, which makes it appear as though the non-union entity is not technically part of the employer.
Why is it allowed?
Double-breasting is not actually allowed in legislation. The Labour Code has something called a common employer provision which was created to ensure that “established bargaining rights are not eliminated because of a corporate reorganization or split” (http://www.alrb.gov.ab.ca/procedure/26(f).pdf). This means that companies cannot create separate groups within their structure to limit the ability of its employees to organize or to receive protection from unions. Companies are certainly allowed to create different divisions as required for business purposes, but they are not supposed to end up creating union and non-union divisions that do the same work.
Where does it happen?
Under the Code, every industry except construction has the ability to actively enforce this legislation, which is why double-breasting really only seems to appear in our industry. The Code relating to the construction industry places far more onus on the union to request a common employer declaration, which is a finding by the Labour Board that two or more entities operate under common control and direction, which would require the employer to eliminate non-unionized operations. The employer has the ability to say that cooperating with the review would cause a hardship and that the union is merely “going on a fishing expedition”, and therefore not provide the information needed to substantiate the claim by the union.
What can be done about it?
Having the legislation changed to place the onus on employers to provide records to prove the need for separate divisions would bring the construction industry in line with every other industry in Alberta and would be a good start. This is one of the recommendations that the BTA has made to the government under the current Labour Code review. See the full submission on our home page. You can get involved too. Read the submission and talk to your MLA to let them know how important this is to you. Visit www.enddoublebreasting.com and sign up to have a letter sent on your behalf to your MLA. The more people we can get involved in the conversation, the more the government will have to listen, so add your voice!
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The government has opened up the Labour Relations Code review to engage Albertans. The Building Trades of Alberta, along with other labour groups including the AFL, AUPE and UFCW have taken the lead in providing the government with strong direction regarding what needs to be done to the Code in order to make it fair, current and more in line with the legislation found across Canada. Have a look at the BTA submission to the government on our home page at www.bta.ca.
In response, many groups who support non-union jobsites are trying to coordinate efforts to get their message to the government. They have been saying that the legislation as it currently exists is fair and balanced and any changes to it would only serve to upset that balance. They say that the current structure of the labour legislation is creating a stable investing environment that encourages businesses to come to Alberta; that it contributes to the Alberta Advantage. They say that with everything that the government has to deal with, now is not the time to open up legislation and review and update it.
Let’s have a look at the arguments that the other side is trying to use when they fight changes to the Code and see why they don’t hold water.
First, the current legislation is anything but fair and balanced. The power and the choice is in the hands of the employer. Interestingly, the same groups that are arguing that the Code is fair and balanced argued the opposite under the previous government! But now that the government is willing to have a look at the Code and to level the playing field, they claim Code needs no changes. It is easy to see that they are not interested in fair – they are looking to maintain the advantages they have had over workers for years. The BTA has always fought for the rights of workers, and we are finally in a position to have a government that will consult with us.
The second argument that opponents to opening up the Labour Code use is to claim that the current laws create a favourable, stable investment environment. Alberta has always been a resource-rich province which encourages national and international investment, but the type of investment that an economy attracts makes a difference too. Countries with abhorrent human rights practices and no safety or workers’ rights unfortunately draw a lot of investment due to the cheap labour and lack of regulation. Obviously no-one is advocating for that in Alberta, but if we don’t ensure that the workers, the people who live in Alberta and help to build the province, receive appropriate protection and rights under the Labour Code, then we are headed down that road.
Finally, opponents of updating the Labour Code say that now is not the best time to take on this project. When would be the best time? When oil is back over $100/barrel? When then existing legislation has helped marginalize unions by maintaining the balance of power in favour of employers? Review of legislation is kind of like having kids: there is never a good time to do it and by the time you think it is a good time, it’s too late.
The best time to look at labour laws and finds ways to improve the protections available to workers will always be RIGHT NOW.
The fact of the matter is that Alberta has some of the oldest labour laws in the country. The laws were created by an anti-labour government to assist employers. The BTA is working to try to get the laws changed and to create an even playing field. Visit our home page to review the submission that the BTA sent in to the government regarding the changes needed for the Labour Relations Code to truly be fair.
How can you get involved? Help make the changes recommended in our submission a reality by connecting with your MLA and letting them know how you feel. At a minimum, visit www.enddoublebreasting.com and add your name to the list of concerned Albertans. By adding your name to the list, a letter will be sent to your MLA on your behalf, asking him or her to support legislation which will help end the practice of double-breasting.
Comments? Questions? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some of you may have seen that the Supreme Court of Canada, on February 2, ruled against Merit Contractors on a case involving union membership at Manitoba Hydro. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out here.
This was a positive note for organized labour, to see that the courts were willing not only to protect the rights of workers and but to protect the role of the union in providing that protection and ensuring that workers are all treated equitably. In fact, the courts felt so strongly that what Merit was arguing did not serve the public interest that Merit was forced to pay all costs, including those incurred by Manitoba Hydro and the unions involved (Insulators, Electricians and Operating Engineers).
Merit had been fighting this case for the last five years, at the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, Manitoba Court of Appeal and finally, at the Supreme Court of Canada.
From its very beginning, Merit Contractors has functioned to try to weaken unions and remove them from the construction industry altogether, and one of their main focuses is on getting labour legislation changed in order to remove protections for workers. They tried this in Manitoba and failed. They attacked the legislation in Nova Scotia in 2014. They tried to bully the Alberta Government into making changes to their programming by posting an open letter to the Premier last year.
We need to remember that we do not work in a vacuum. While the unionized building trades works to keep members employed, safe and well-trained, groups like Merit are working to destroy what our Locals have worked to build. We need to ensure that our government knows we are here and we are strong. If you haven’t contacted your MLA yet and shared your thoughts, please do so. Click here to look up your MLA if you are not sure who they are. If you don’t know what to talk about, the BTA can help. We built a policy book that lays out the things we are fighting for and we are always looking for ways to add your voice to ours to ensure we get heard.
Together we are strong and together we can help ensure a prosperous tomorrow.
Regardless how you feel about the political goings-on in America these days, and no matter what you think about Donald Trump as a leader, he has already done a few things in office that can potentially give those of us in the trades some hope.
First, he approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The Keystone XL pipeline will help Alberta get more of our product to market and provide many construction jobs while the pipeline, which starts in Hardisty, Alberta is being built.
Second, he pulled America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The agreement took seven years to negotiate, and with America leaving the agreement, the TPP cannot be ratified. The agreement was slated to be the largest free-trade agreement in history, reducing or eliminating many tariffs and other barriers to trade. However, it also threatened the Canadian skilled labour force as it would allow foreign companies working in Canada to bring in workers from their country and would not require them to ensure that Canadian workers with the same qualifications be given the first opportunity for employment.
Finally, Trump met with North America Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey and other union leaders to hear their thoughts on what needs to be done to “create jobs, re-build America’s infrastructure, further develop and harness America’s abundant energy resources, raise the wages of working-class Americans, and move people off of public assistance and into the American middle class”.
All three of these actions have the potential to benefit skilled trades workers, not just in America but here at home, as well.
What do you think? Could President Donald Trump be good for the unionized trades? Let us know at email@example.com.
Well, here we are in a brand new year. An opportunity to look ahead, to move forward, to forge a path. But before we do that, maybe we should clear the air a little regarding 2016.
There seem to be two camps regarding the year we just closed out: either it was a pretty good year, or it was an awful year. There are certainly arguments for each. Here are just a few of the ones I found online:
and my personal favourite, from everyone’s favourite Canadian astronaut: Chris Hadfield Reminds Us of All the Good Things That Happened in 2016.
Add to that the fire in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and then the recent 18-month high in the price of oil and approval of two pipelines out of Alberta, and it’s hard to decide overall what kind of year 2016 was. On a personal level, it’s much easier to determine, and I sincerely hope that you had more good than bad last year.
However, it’s now 2017 and it is time to look forward. Make a decision to have a positive impact on the people around you – get involved. Help others. Show people what it means to be kind and supportive – to treat people with respect. Take some time to invest in yourself. Try something new.
Have a look at this article: One Memorable Day, Once a Month. It suggests that we try taking one day a month to commit 100% to something. Anything. And to use that to grow. I’m going to try it and so are several of my friends. Why don’t you, too? It’s like a resolution, but better, because it’s only one day a month – totally doable.
Let me know what you think. Share what your plans are for 2017. What are you going to commit to?