Do you recall a time when I wrote about something other than COVID-19? Though that may be a faded memory, the time has come once again for me to address labour relations topics beyond the pandemic.
My current interest is in our provincial neighbours to the east and their dealings with labour unions. I think it’s fair to say that Alberta is somewhat less friendly towards labour unions than is British Columbia, and that’s being proven (abundantly) in 2022.
The “Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, 2020”
Back in 2020, the Government of Alberta introduced the “Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, 2020” (allegedly) to support economic recovery, restore balance in the workplace, and get Albertans back to work. On February 1 and August 1, 2022, this new legislation will impose substantial changes to the way unions disclose their finances and to how those finances are generated in the first place.
It’s hard for me to see this legislation as anything but a full-frontal attack on labour unions in Alberta. It may be worth noting that it was introduced back in 2020, in the midst of the initial waves of the pandemic (there I go, talking about COVID-19, again). I occasionally mention Naomi Klein’s excellent book, “Shock Doctrine”, and I wonder if the Alberta government saw an opportunity in 2020 to advance an anti-union agenda while the province (and world) was distracted by the pandemic.
Dues paid by union members are the primary source of funding on which trade unions rely. Without dues, unions simply couldn’t exist. It’s a bit of a pyramid-shaped system; a union’s thousands (or even millions) of members pay monthly dues (usually a percentage of their monthly wages) and those dues go towards paying the administrative and other costs of the organization. Unions in turn feed some financial support up the pyramid to provincial and federal and international labour alliances and to labour-friendly causes.
Commencing on February 1, Alberta’s unions will have to disclose the amount or percentage of those dues which are spent on so-called “non-core” activities. Those non-core activities are ones which don’t directly benefit union members on the shop floor, such as political activities, social causes, charities, non-governmental organizations, and organizations supportive of a political party.
They will also be required to disclose the amount or percentage of dues spent on “core” activities such as collective bargaining, representing union members in proceedings, investigations, or hearings related to their employment, educating and training union members and union staff, engaging in activities that relate to the operation and governance of the union, etc.
Without a doubt, Alberta’s labour unions will not be pleased with having to make this kind of disclosure. If it hasn’t already been commenced, expect a legal push-back from the unions. Unfortunately (for them), the new “Restoring Balance” legislation only gets worse from there.
Also effective on February 1, 2022, union members will not be required to pay the amount or percentage of the union dues relating to “non-core” union activities. Members will be able to opt in to pay for such activities, but the system will default to a presumption that members wish to opt out.
Unions will be precluded from taking any sort of retaliatory action (expulsion, suspension, discipline, etc.) against a member for not opting in to pay dues to cover “non-core” union activities. Nor can labour unions take any action to coerce or intimidate or entice a union member to elect to pay for “non-core” union activities.
Later, in August, new rules compelling trade unions to provide financial statements to their members will also come into force. In essence, unions will have to disclose the financial condition and operation of the union to their members, including sources of income, expenditures, assets and liabilities. And, the financial disclosure to members regarding “core” and “non-core” activities will be expanded to include a list of its “non-core” activities, the persons or entities paid by the union in relation to its “non-core” activities, and any other information reasonably necessary for members to make an informed election as to whether to opt in to pay dues for “non-core” activities.
An Attack on Unions’ Territory?
This all, in my view, adds up to a significant invasion by the Alberta government on the traditional turf of trade unions. Without a doubt, a significant percentage of union members will choose not to opt in to pay dues for “non-core” activities, which means that unions can expect to experience substantially reduced revenues (for the moment, at least). And it means that unions will have less money available for “non-core” activities such as political activities.
It’s difficult to see this as anything an attempt by Alberta’s U.C.P. government to undermine the financial stability of trade unions and to minimize their influence in provincial politics. Stay tuned to see how this legislation lands with unions and their members as 2022 progresses… and don’t expect to see anything of this nature arriving in B.C. anytime soon.
Readers who have business interests in Alberta are welcome and encouraged to contact Lee Carter at Field Law LLP in Calgary, at [email protected], on whose work the contents of this article are largely based.
This item is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Informed legal advice should always be obtained about your specific circumstances.