Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Alberta hamstrings union dues collection

In early January, my colleague Jason Foster and I wrote about Alberta’s efforts to hamstring its unions through oppressive union financing laws. The gist of the issue is that unions will now have to categorize their expenditures as either core (basically bargaining and grievance work) or non-core (lobbying, political activity). Then unions will need to go each year to each member to get them to agree to pay dues related to non-core activities.

This policy will reduce the funding available to unions to influence labour laws and public policy, both by giving members an opt out and by forcing unions to expend more money to collect their existing dues. The political goal is to reduce an important source of public opposition to the UCP government.

It is unclear how this is going to play out. Unions may decide to just label all activities as “core activities” on the argument that everything a union does provides benefits to members in the workplace. Or they may just ignore this requirement. Or they may challenge it in court.

This policy reflects a protracted attack by the government of Jason Kenney on workers and their unions. This has included making it harder to certify a new union, binding the hands of public-sector employers with secret bargaining mandates, passing laws that allow the government to declare pickets illegal, and requiring unions to get permission to picket certain worksites.

Since it appears the UCP will be a one-and-done government, it is hard to say how much impact these dues changes will have before they are likely repealed.

-- Bob Barnetson

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Alberta guts OHS rules

In late December, my colleagues Jason Foster, Susan Cake and Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull and I wrote about Alberta’s efforts to gut Alberta’s joint health and safety committee rules and undermine workers’ right to refuse unsafe work.

The short of it is that joint committee have fewer duties and fewer powers and are much more creatures of the employer. This will undoubtedly reduce their already limited effectiveness. While it was there, the government also eliminated the requirement for periodic inspections of the workplace, regular meetings of the committee, ongoing training for committee members, and most rights to see information about workplace safety.

The right to refuse dangerous work has also been watered down, with term dangerous work being dropped in favour of the weaker term “undue hazard”. An undue hazards is a hazard that poses a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of a person. The use of the terms “serious” and “immediate threat” narrow the kinds of danger work that can be refused. Most chemical and biological hazards, for example, do not pose an immediate threat.

The bar on employers’ retaliating for refusals has also been weakened. Previously, the employer could not discriminate against a work for refusing unsafe work. That has been narrowed to a bar on disciplining a worker. Practically, what this means is that an employer can now do things like assign a refuser crappy work or crappy shifts (because that is not discipline) if they refuse unsafe work.

Overall, this is part of the UCP governments efforts to reduce the financial cost to employers of safe workplaces. The negative impact on workers (in terms of injuries and deaths) is simply waved away. About the only good news is that the UCP is likely headed for electoral oblivion in May of 2023 so these changes stand a good chance to being scraped.

-- Bob Barnetson