Dear Working Wise:
I live in a province where being a “union member” isn’t always popular, yet I recognize the value of having a union at a workplace. Right now, there is no union at my worksite, but I and some of my co-workers are interested in joining one. What do we need to do to form or join a union? What can my supervisor do to me if they find out about my interest? Can I be demoted or fired if we’re not successful? Is there a difference between a private and public sector union? Signed, Wanting to be a union member
Well, you are right. Union membership is not as common in Alberta as it is in other parts of Canada. Approximately 30 per cent of Canadian workers belong to unions, but only 22 per cent of Albertans are unionized.
There are two ways to start the process of unionizing your worksite. The most common is to work with an existing union operating in your sector to help organize your worksite.
You can also create a new union by getting employees together to draft a constitution, sign up members and elect officers. Either way, a union must be certified in order to have the right to negotiate a collective agreement with an employer on behalf of employees in that bargaining unit.
Certification involves a union submitting an application to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (Board) and satisfying several conditions, in order to have a representation vote among employees of that worksite.
So long as the majority of those who vote are in favour of being represented by that union, the Board certifies the union. In cases where an employer voluntarily recognizes a union, this certification process is bypassed.
All Canadian workers eligible for union representation are covered by labour relations legislation. The legislation protects employees against employers who threaten to take actions such as shutting down a worksite or reducing wages to penalize employees that join a union or participate in union activities.
Employees in Alberta who experience threats from their employer should contact the Board at 780-422-5926 in Edmonton or 403-297-4334 in Calgary.
In Alberta, the majority of workers fall under the provisions of the provincial Labour Relations Code, however certain groups, such as those working in the public service and in federally-regulated sectors, fall under other types of labour relations legislation.
One key difference in the legislation governing the public and private sector is that strikes and lockouts are prohibited for most public sector unions and employers, therefore they must use compulsory binding arbitration to resolve their collective bargaining disputes.
Additional information on the collective bargaining process and the rights and obligations of unions and employers can be found in A Guide to Alberta’s Labour Laws at www.alrb.gov.ab.ca/guidecontents.html.
Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Strachey is a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. This column is provided for general information.