Proposed changes to Alberta labour laws will hurt Alberta workers

Printer-friendly version
Appeared in the Calgary Sun, May 30, 2017

The Notley government’s planned changes to Alberta’s labour laws, the latest move in a series of economically damaging policies, will stunt investment and limit the number of new jobs for Albertans.

Labour relations laws regulate interaction among unionized workers, their union representatives, and employers. They establish rules for unionizing a workplace, negotiations between unions and employers, whether a worker must pay union dues as a condition of employment, and much more. Such laws can have a wide-ranging effect on the economy, particularly if they are biased and unduly favour one group—in this case union organizers at the expense of both workers and employers.

According to empirical evidence from around the world, jurisdictions with labour regulations biased towards unions have fewer job opportunities, less investment and lower economic growth. Why? Because biased laws make it harder for workers to change jobs in search of better pay or work conditions, and they restrict the ability of employers to respond to consumers or market changes. Biased laws can also increase the cost of hiring workers and/or reduce the return on investment.

The Notley government’s planned changes will make Alberta’s labour relations laws more biased, hurting workers in the process.

For example, the government wants to end the requirement of a secret ballot vote when workers decide whether to approve or reject a union as their representative—a process referred to as union certification. If passed, the new rule would allow unions to bypass a secret ballot vote and automatically certify if they sign up a sufficient number of workers through so-called “card check”—65 per cent plus one.

Forgoing a secret ballot vote violates a fundamental democratic right, as automatic union certification may not reflect the true desire of a majority of voting workers. Without the anonymity of a secret ballot, union organizers may pressure workers into supporting union certification. Any dissention or disagreement can become confrontational, especially in cases where unionization is controversial. Even without outside pressure, some workers may be uncomfortable publically voicing their opinion for or against unionization.

The Notley government also wants to allow union certification without a card check in some cases. According to the proposal, the Labour Relations Board could certify a union if it believes an employer is engaged in unfair labour practises (intimidating employees that favour unionization, for example) during a union drive. And employers accused of unfair labour practises will be presumed guilty and have to prove their innocence. This raises the prospect of a union being certified without the consent of the workers it’s meant to represent.

Finally, the government wants to allow third-party picketing during labour strikes. This means a union on strike can picket and disrupt the operations of businesses not directly involved in the labour dispute. For example, striking workers might picket their employer’s suppliers or a retail business that sells their employer’s wares. Third-party picketing not only causes disruption for businesses not involved in the dispute, it also gives the union an undue advantage by getting third parties to pressure the employer to settle the strike.

Together, these proposed changes from the Notley government will further undermine—rather than facilitate—prosperity for Albertans and their families.

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.