Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Organizing increases in wake of Alberta labour law changes

Last week, CBC ran an article with some preliminary data about how Alberta’s new labour laws are affecting unionization. In 2017, Alberta allowed organizing drives with the support of 65% or more of workers to be certified without a vote (called card-check certification).

Previously, any organizing drive required a vote of all the workers. (This is still required for applications that have between 40% and 65% support.) A vote entails delay which employers historically have used to interfere with workers’ right to decide on unionization.

There is a large body of research that suggests that when governments move to card-check certification, the number of organizing drives increases as does the success rate—often dramatically. This is because employers have less chance to scuttle organizing drives through illegal interference.

Not surprisingly, the number of workplaces that were unionized in 2017/18 under card check jumped to 104, from just 40 the year before (which was under mandatory vote). The number of certifications does vary from year to year (often reflecting economic activity) and we’d need more data before we could estimate what amount of this change is due to the new rules.

Similarly, the percentage of certification applications that failed at vote dropped, from 42% to 7%. Basically, under the new rules, employers had less chance to pressurize workers and skew the vote because there often was no vote.

Another change likely reducing employer interference is that the Labour Board now has the power to certify a union if the employer interferes in an organizing campaign (e.g., firing an organizer to put a chill on the campaign). This happened earlier this year in Calgary and I’m told another similar application is coming forward.

What this suggests, albeit it tentatively, is that the changes made to Alberta’s labour law by the NDs has begun to make it easier and safer for workers to exercise their associational rights.

-- Bob Barnetson

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