Alberta labour board certifies union after hotel fires worker organizing union drive
Labour board uses new power for 1st time to certify union without a vote or union card signing
For the first time since it was awarded new powers, the Alberta Labour Relations Board has certified a union after an employee was fired while leading an organizing drive.
"We were buoyed and obviously happy by the decision, because it does send a signal in the province of Alberta that we have caught up with the way the law ought to be," said Tom Hesse, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union local 401.
Last September, Aaron Doncaster, an employee of the Hilton Garden Inn & Homewood Suites in downtown Calgary, claimed he was fired while launching a campaign to form a union.
After an investigation, the labour board agreed.
"The employer terminated Mr. Doncaster's employment because of his activity in support of the union," effectively ending the union drive, board vice-chair Gwen Gray said in a 37-page decision.
Gray issued a remedial certification, which is awarded to employees if it's believed an employer disrupted efforts to organize a union.
Normally, 65 per cent of employees must sign union cards or vote in a membership drive before a union can be certified.
The ruling is a breakthrough in Alberta, Hesse said.
"Because Alberta has been a conservative jurisdiction for so many years, with labour laws that were very much behind the times, it is novel in that sense," he said.
The board was awarded the authority to issue certifications last year as part of sweeping changes to labour relations under the Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act.
It's a power the board lost in 1988.
Until last year, if a union organizer lost his or her job, the board could reinstate them and grant the union limited access to the worksite, but nothing more.
"[It] would have been relatively hollow and not sufficient to send a message to employers they shouldn't be doing this, and not sufficient to remedy the harm done," Hesse said.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said even casual observers acknowledge the old labour relations framework in Alberta was designed to "actively discourage Alberta working people from exercising their right to join a union."
Prior to the ruling, there were no meaningful consequences for employers who engaged in intimidation tactics, McGowan said.
"They actually fired people, they made all sorts of threats," he said. "Employers were found guilty multiple times for these kinds of practices but they never faced any consequences."
Doncaster got his job back and was awarded back pay.
In a statement, hotel general manager Robert D'Orazio said while the company disagrees with the decision, "we intend to fully comply with its directives and to co-operate in their implementations, subject to applicable laws."
D'Orazio said negotiations are underway with the new union, and the company looks forward to negotiating the first collective agreement.
Union numbers rise sharply after changes
Changes to the Alberta Labour Relations Code have resulted in the highest number of new union certifications in Alberta over one year in a decade.
The changes grant automatic certification of a union without a secret-ballot membership vote, if it's determined the union has at least 65-per-cent support of the members.
Labour groups complained the secret vote was a process stacked in favour of the employer.
By the end of March 2018, 104 unions were certified compared to a decade low of 40 certifications the previous year.
According to the labour board, most of the new unions are in the construction industry and health-care services such as private long-term care facilities.