Bill proposes big changes to union funding, picketing

Labour leader calls legislation unconstitutional, vows to fight it

Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping and associate minister of red tape reduction Grant Hunter announce Bill 32 in Edmonton Tuesday.

Alberta is set to become the first jurisdiction in Canada to require employees to opt-in if they want their union dues to go toward political parties or causes.

Bill 32, the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, tabled in the legislative assembly on Tuesday, still requires union members pay dues for what the government considers “core union activities” but mandates that employees opt-in if they want to pay dues toward political parties or causes.

Minister of Labour and Immigration Jason Copping said the move was part of the UCP government’s election platform.

“It is unacceptable that unions are campaigning against Alberta’s key sectors that employ the workers they are supposed to represent,” he said.

Gil Mcgowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called the bill unconstitutional and suggested unions are prepared to fight back even if the UCP majority in the legislature means the bill will likely pass.

“We will fight on the political stage, we will fight in the courts, and if necessary, we will fight in the streets,” he said Tuesday.

Mcgowan said union leaders are scheduled to meet to discuss their next steps.

He said the government is trying to silence the unions because they often speak out against government decisions and that the bill will weaken unions and therefore weaken workers’ rights.

“Corporations also lobby governments and run campaigns but they won’t face the same cumbersome restriction on their freedom of expression as unions,” he said.

“Of course, that’s the whole point. Corporations and the wealthy already have far more power than workers, but Jason Kenney and the UCP want to tip the scales even further in their favour.”

The new legislation says union members do not have to pay fees related to “general social causes or issues,” charities, any organization linked with a political group or anything else the government can decide through regulations.

If passed, the bill would also require that unions get permission from the labour relations board before they are permitted to picket anywhere except outside their place of employment. Additionally, the bill would make it illegal to obstruct or impede a person who wishes to cross a picket line.

“Our government supports workers’ right to strike and picket but we must balance the rights with the right of job creators while remaining focused on economic recovery,” Copping said prior to the bill being tabled.

The minister said that if a union wants to picket outside a location that is not its primary workplace, it will have to go to the labour board to prove that location is an “ally.”

“Part of that is to make sure that a union isn’t picketing an employer who they believe is an ally, but actually isn’t and disrupting their business,” Copping said.

Copping said the change is strictly related to picketing due to a labour dispute and would not impact unions that wanted to hold a rally at the legislature, for example.

Employees’ union dues will be suspended if they are on an illegal strike and employers will have to continue paying union dues if there is an illegal lockout.

Bill 32 updates rules for collective agreements so they can be renewed early but only if employees consent. It also requires that financial information about unions is disclosed to members.

If employees choose a new union, under the new law the existing collective agreement will still apply until it expires.

Copping accused the former NDP government of making changes to labour rules that “pushed the balance to the union side” and insisted his government was simply trying to restore balance.

For her part, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Bill 32 brings in “union busting strategies to shut down the free speech of working people.” She said she is expecting a court challenge.

“In essence, the one job (Premier Jason Kenney) is creating here is the job for the lawyers because without question, this bill is going to find its way to the courts because he’s breaching charter right after charter right of working people throughout this province,” she said.

Outside of the new rules directed at unions, Bill 32 also makes changes the government says are aimed at reducing red tape.

Employers now have either 10 or 31 days to give someone their final paycheque after they’ve been terminated. Government officials say this change is meant to better align with businesses’ pay periods so companies don’t have to generate additional cheques outside of that cycle. The government estimates that will save businesses $100 million a year.

Employers will no longer need employee’s written authorization to deduct an amount that was overpaid to them on a paycheque.

Under the new legislation, temporary layoffs that are not related to the COVID -19 pandemic could last for 90 days in total within a 120-day period, up from 60 days. COVID -19 related layoffs can continue to be up to 180 consecutive days.

Employers will no longer have to include vacation pay and general holiday pay in the average daily wage calculation.

The government is also expanding the types of jobs 13- and 14-year-olds are allowed to do without a permit.

Copping said that includes jobs like dishwashing, light office work or janitorial work. Various health and safety standards that are already in place will continue to apply, he said.

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