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”. 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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