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Member FAQs

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There are many questions surrounding Unions, organized labour and everything that the Building Trades of Alberta does on behalf of its members. Here you will find answers to some of your questions. If you have a question that is not answered here, please ask! There are a lot of assumptions that get made on the jobsite or on the street - the more we can get the truth out, the more we can help people understand what it is that we as the Building Trades Unions do, the more support we will all see.

To see some common myths about unions (and have them busted!), click here to take you to our parent organization, the Canadian Building Trades Unions.

Have a look through these FAQ and let us know what you think. What else needs to be said?


What is the BTA?

The Building Trades of Alberta is a labour organization that was created in 1906 with the express purpose of speaking on behalf of Alberta building trade unions and their members. The BTA receives its mandate from its executive board, which is made up of the business managers from the 21 affiliated local unions in Alberta. The BTA supports the efforts of the locals to get work for members through political activism and relationship development with owners and contractors, engaging in public relations programs involving Alberta schools to promote careers in trades, and any other avenue that the executive board decides could benefit our members.

What does the BTA do for its members?

As noted in the BTA Mandate, the BTA 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 in order to secure the best possible working conditions and quality of life for skilled workers and their families. What this means is that the BTA works to

·         promote a safe industry

·         help influence legislation, regulation and government sentiment toward organized labour,

·         create alliances and partnerships with owners and contractors,

·         participate in boards, associations, committees and other industry groups,

·         develop programs that support under-represented groups in the trades, and

·         develop programs that highlight the value of unionized labour in order to help create more opportunities for work for our members.

What is the difference between the BTA and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) or Merit Contractors?

BTA, CLAC and Merit are three organizations essentially representing three different philosophies regarding skilled labour in Alberta. The BTA supports each skilled trade in its own union and works within that framework to help the local unions provide work for their members. CLAC lumps all the trades together under one banner, so that there is less differentiation between the work that the various trades are able to do. CLAC is generally regarded as an “employer-friendly” union.  Merit Contractors is a non-union organization that is run by and for the contractors. Workers do not receive the benefit of union protection, training or wages. Essentially, the BTA works to represent the workers, while CLAC and Merit work harder to ensure the employer is represented.

Who negotiates the contracts for tradespeople?

The BTA has no role or authority to negotiate any contracts for any members. To learn more about the contract negotiation process, please contact your local.

Who determines drug and alcohol testing policies on worksites?

Industry worked together to develop the Canadian Model for D & A testing. To learn more about the Canadian Model, visit the Construction Owners Association of Alberta website.

What unions are affiliated with BTA?

The Building Trades of Alberta is affiliated with 21 locals representing 16 trade unions. The Business Managers of each local make up the executive board of the BTA, which determines the activity and focus of the BTA. The affiliates of the BTA can be found here.

What role does the BTA have in the development of labour (and other related) legislation?

While the BTA has no direct role in the development of legislation, a large part of the BTAs mandate involves working with the government in power, along with various committees and associations to influence the form the legislation takes. This influence ranges from discussions with MLAs and Ministers to hosting events with industry colleagues to preparing submissions and recommendations for government to review.

What impact do Alberta’s building trades have on the growth and development of the province?

Alberta’s building trades are critical to the growth of Alberta first and foremost because without tradespeople doing their work, Alberta would literally have no infrastructure upon which to grow. The men and women who work in the skilled trades build and maintain the infrastructure that provides power to the province as well as the roadways and bridges that we all use to transport ourselves and our goods around the province. Residential and commercial buildings are built by the skilled building trades as well. Beyond the fact that our members build the structures that power our province and provide buildings for people to work in, our members also live in Alberta, meaning that they pay taxes here and buy stuff here, which also supports the growth of Alberta.

How does the BTA work with other provincial councils across Canada?

Each province or region has its own provincial trades council, and there is also a national council (Canada’s Building Trades Unions – CBTU) which works to support our efforts. The different locals talk and share successes and challenges, offer advice and talk about particularly successful campaign or programs, so as to strengthen the voice of organized labour across the country.

Why join a union?

There are lots of reasons for joining a union. This link to Unionized Labour lists their top ten, but there are many more. Joining a union isn’t for everyone, but it is for people who believe that workers do better when they speak with one voice. There will always be people who say that their union doesn’t do anything for them, but these people forget that the union is only as strong as its members, so when they say that their union isn’t doing anything, they mean THEY aren’t doing anything.

As a union member, how do I find work?

One of the benefits of working in the unionized building trades is that the locals find work for you. Each local has a job board that available work gets posted to, and that the worker can choose from to work. Locals promise employers a certain number of workers for each job, and the job board is how they fulfill those obligations.

Why do we need unions?

Since workers first banded together to demand fair wages and working conditions, unions have been setting the standards that benefit us all. Before unions, most people worked 12-hour days, 6 or 7 days a week. Children did the most dangerous work in factories and nobody got paid when they were sick.

Today, most workers enjoy benefits—such as maternity leave, vacation pay, and protection from discrimination—that unions fought for and won. But not everything is rosy. Employers keep people in part-time jobs to avoid contributing to government benefits. Young people work without pay as interns and without the protections that paid employees enjoy. The government allows companies to pay temporary foreign workers less than Canadian workers. Unions still have an important role to play in building and maintaining a fair and equitable Canadian workplace.

Historically, unions were responsible for the creation of the middle class, by working to ensure that people could earn a living wage. As unions have seen a decline in recent years, there has also been a decline in the middle class and in increase in the gap between the wealthy and the average person. Unions are needed to help maintain the middle class and to ensure a more equal distribution of wealth in society.

How do I join a union?

There is some variation between locals, so confirm the details based on the trade and local you want to join, but in general, what is required to join a union is to work for a signatory employer, which is an employer with an established relationship with one or more local unions and a commitment to hire union tradespeople. Following that, you submit your membership application and initiation fee to the local, work a set number of hours for your employer (depending on the collective agreement) and complete your probationary period with your employer, if applicable.

If you join a union as an apprentice, you will also have the obligation to progress through your training in a timely manner. The specifics of the training period vary between trades, but typically, the apprenticeship period is three to four years, with a set number of classroom hours and work experience hours required each year in order to progress from first-year apprentice to second-year, third-year, fourth-year (if applicable) and journeyperson.

What does it mean to be a member of the BTA?

All members of the affiliated locals of the BTA are members of the BTA. The BTA works hard to maximize opportunities for our members to find meaningful, safe work and to provide for their families. The BTA does this by working to support your local (see What does the BTA do for its members?).

As a member of the BTA, there is also a responsibility on you to represent the skilled building trades professionally, just as you do for your local. The more that BTA members are seen in industry as professional, safe and collaborative, the more work there will be for BTA members in the future.

Another important role for members is to be involved. This means attending local meetings, participating in local events and discussions and talking up the unionized skilled trades to friends, family and colleagues, as well as talking to political leaders in your community about what is important to you. It is important that the BTA and our members are seen to be engaged, contributing members of our communities, so that people can have a real understanding of the value that we bring to the province and an appreciation for our contributions.

Why is safety so important to the BTA, its affiliated unions and partner contractors and owners?

The number one reason that safety is important to us is that safe practices allow you to go home to your family at the end of your shift. As a BTA member, we care that you are healthy and able to perform the role you have chosen. Further, studies have shown that safer worksites are more productive, and that is good for everyone. Finally, paying attention to safety practices demonstrates that you are invested in the work that is being completed at the work site, and that is the kind of commitment that owners and contractors want in the men and women who work with them. This means increased opportunities for jobs in the future.

What kind of training is available through the unionized building trades?

In general, the training that is provided is safety training and skills development, but each local provides different training to its members, so have a look at your local to find out what is offered.

What kind of advancement opportunities are available to me through the unionized building trades?

The skilled trades in general are an excellent platform to build a career on, but the unionized trades offer additional avenues for you to advance. In addition to supervisory roles on the worksite, there is the opportunity to move into quality assurance or leadership roles. Within your local, there are many types of leadership opportunities such as stewardship, worker representative, training or even business manager. The locals often provide leadership training to help you along this path as well. Further, many construction business owners got their start on the tools, so there is no limit on how far you can go with the right support, opportunity and drive.

How does the BTA work to help under-represented groups find employment in the trades?

The BTA believes that the best people for the job are the ones that we want to work with. That’s why we work with several groups to help encourage under-represented groups into the trades – the more people get exposed to the opportunities in the trades, the higher overall quality of tradespeople there will be. There are three main groups that the BTA works with to help make this happen: Build Together, Helmets to Hardhats and Trade Winds to Success (see each entry for more details).       

What is Build Together?

Build Together started as a CBTU-initiated program, but now has a dedicated Alberta chapter supported by the BTA, with representation from each of the 16 affiliated trade unions. The committee, run by women, promotes, supports and mentors women in the skilled trades, working with them at every stage of their career, with a particular focus on respect in the workplace.

What is Helmets to Hardhats?

H2H is a national program which provides veterans with the opportunity to achieve journeyperson status in over 20 different building and construction industry recognized trades.       

What is Trade Winds to Success?

One of the largest aboriginal programs in Canada, Trade Winds to Success was formed as a partnership between Alberta’s Union Training Trust Funds and willing Aboriginal communities, dedicated to helping Aboriginal people access opportunities in nine skilled trades. The program provides comprehensive pre-apprenticeship training and support throughout the client’s apprenticeship and into their employment.

What is a pension?

A pension is a personal savings plan that is supported by your employer by making contributions of your behalf, deductions at the source or both. Funds set aside in the pension plan are to be used to assist you once you retire, as monthly payments to you will be made from the plan. There are many different rules and  calculations that go into determining how large the payments into pension plans are, who can make the payments, how much is paid out to you every month and how long the pension payments can last, so be sure to ask your local for information specific to your plan.

Important things to know about your pension in the unionized building trades, which is different from most other pension plans, are that the plan is a privately-funded pension and that at is a multi-employer plan. Additionally, most pension plans are defined contribution pension plans, as opposed to the defined benefit pension plans that can sometimes be found in the public sector

What is the difference between a privately funded pension plan and a publicly funded one?

A privately-funded pension plan is a fund which is created solely from contributions from the employer and/or employees participating in the plan. This is important because it means no matter what happens in the fund, no additional money (for example, tax payer money) is used to ensure that pension payment obligations can be met. Public sector plans are supported in part by tax dollars. This is why people often get upset when discussions about pensions received by government workers, nurses municipal employees or anyone else contributing to or receiving benefit from a public sector plan. This is a very important distinction between the pension plan that unionized skilled trades workers participate in and public sector plans.

What is the difference between a single employer pension plan and a multi-employer pension plan?

Most pension plans are single-employer plans because traditionally, employees would only work with one employer for their entire career. This means that their single employer was completely responsible for the security of the pension plan, so if the employer was in trouble, that could endanger the retirement of all its employees too. This made the government create strict rules around funding pension plans and ensuring that even if the employer went out of business, the employees would still get the benefit of their pension plan.

In construction, employees rarely work for only one employer. This led to the creation of the multi-employer pension plan for trades workers. All employers contribute to a central fund for your pension plan, helping ensure that you have security upon retirement. Having many different employers contribute to the plan makes it much less likely that any employer failing could hurt the pension plan, so special rules have been made by the government related to ensuring each multi-employer plan remains able pay all pension obligations. Regardless of the rules created to ensure the safety of the plan, a multi-employer pension plan is inherently safer than a single-employer plan.

What is the difference between a defined contribution (DC) pension plan and defined benefit (DB) pension plan?

A DC plan is very much like an RRSP. You know each month exactly how much you will be contributing to the pension plan, but you do not know how big your pension cheques will be when you retire. That will depend on how much you paid into the plan and how well the plan invested your money. The advantage of the DC plan is that you can easily budget how much you will pay. The disadvantage is that you are only guaranteed payments until you run out of money. It is possible to outlive your DC pension plan, so be sure to have additional money available to you to help ensure a comfortable retirement. The Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security (OAS) can be used to help cushion your retirement as well.

A DB pension plan provides a guarantee of how big your monthly pension cheque will be when you retires (based on a calculation that included your income and years contributing to the plan) and guarantees that you will receive the cheques until you die. In some case, payments to a surviving spouse can be guaranteed for a period of time as well. The disadvantage of a DB plan is that all that guaranteed income upon retirement has a price – calculations are made to determine how much money will be needed to ensure there is enough money for the payments and, in the event of poor returns from investment, this could create very large payments into the plan while you are working.

Some pension plans are exploring a “target benefit” approach, which is a hybrid of the above two pension plan types. Payment amounts into the plan are guaranteed, with periodic adjustment if needed, but the benefit is also guaranteed, within a range, or target. If the value of the fund decreases, the guaranteed benefit will decrease, until it reaches the bottom of the approved range. Conversely, the benefit could increase in the event of strong performance by the plan.