Labour board gets more requests to impose unions on Alberta companies that impede union drives

The Alberta Labour Relations Board is seeing more requests to impose unions on companies accused of unlawfully thwarting efforts to organize unions in workplaces.

'The Alberta board's decision is not out of line with what's going on across the country,' labour group says

The Alberta Labour Relations Board is considering four new applications to award a union in a workplace accused of unfair labour practices. (CBC)

The Alberta Labour Relations Board is seeing more requests to impose unions on companies accused of unlawfully thwarting efforts to organize unions in workplaces.

The board is currently considering four complaints relating to small and mid-sized companies in Alberta: Cropac Equipment in Nisku, Alpha Steel Builders in Calgary, Concorde Baggage Services also in Calgary and Best Western Rocky Mountain House Inn & Suites.

The complaints claim employees at the businesses were fired, threatened or intimidated while in the midst of an organizing drive.

The unions behind the drives are asking the board to grant them remedial certification, meaning union locals are certified at the workplaces without the need for employees to sign union cards or vote.

The board was granted that power last year by the NDP government as part of sweeping changes to labour relations under the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act.

Last April, the board exercised its authority for the first time, certifying a union at a Calgary hotel after it determined an employee leading an organizing drive was unfairly fired.

The board has already found one the companies, Concorde Baggage Services, guilty of unfair labour practices and is considering whether to award remedial certification.

The board is being watched closely by business groups in the province such as the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.

The umbrella group represents 124 community chambers across Alberta, with a membership of 25,000 small- and medium-sized businesses.

The business community is worried about a "windshield wiper effect," said spokesperson Jason Leslie.

"Policy changes could potentially cause employers or provide circumstances or an environment where employers may not have the benefit of balanced rulings or judgments through the ALRB," Leslie said.

"It's a little too early to tell if there's a trend in that direction," he said.

Hassan Yussuff, Canadian Labour Congress president, says recent decisions by the Alberta Labour Relations Board are in line with the rest of the country. (Canadian Labour Congress)

The ability to impose unions on companies that have "poisoned" the process recognizes the right of workers to organize, said Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff.

According to the group, labour boards in six provinces and federal government jurisdictions can order remedial certification as a result of an employer directly interfering with a union organizing effort.

It's due in part to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that joining a union is a fundamental right protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Yussuff said.

"The big question that now arises from the ruling in 2015," Yussuff said, "is what is the penalty when that fundamental right has been breached?"

"The Alberta board's decision is not out of line with what's going on across the country," he said.  

If an employer was to challenge through the courts a labour board order of remedial certification, labour groups across Canada will rally, Yussuff said.

"We will be there all the way to the Supreme Court, because I think this is a fundamental question," he said.

About the Author

Kim Trynacity is an award-winning journalist and CBC Alberta's provincial affairs reporter. You can reach Kim by email at kim.trynacity@cbc.ca or on Twitter @ledgewatcher