|August 9, 2005
Past Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) President, now AFL Secretary-Treasurer Kerry Barrett, is warning workers in the province to take
a careful look at some of the 'unions' that are supposed to represent them.
"Anti-union employers have always used a variety of tools to try to prevent workers from exercising their democratic right to union
representation," says Barrett. "One of these tools is the 'dummy' union - established with the cooperation of the employer to block the
formation of a real union representing the workers' interests."
Provincial union leaders have long argued that Alberta's labour laws put obstacles in the way of legitimate unions trying to organize
workers. Employers can use loopholes in the law to threaten and intimidate workers, refuse to bargain with the union, and employ
"But the dummy or 'rat' union," Barrett points out, "comes into the workplace with the full cooperation of the boss. Workers are
encouraged to sign up, and the employer will either help the 'union' win the certification vote or offer 'voluntary recognition', eliminating the
need for a vote by the employees.
"This is a sweet deal for both the dummy union and the employer. The former gets the exclusive right to represent employees and collect
dues. That latter gets a union that is compliant - that doesn't bargain hard for its members or protect their rights under the contract."
Barrett says the AFL sees these dummy unions appearing in Alberta on a regular basis: "Whether they call themselves unions or
'associations', the basic story is always the same. These are unions in name only. Their real purpose isn't to represent their members
but rather to accommodate the employer. The Labour Relations Code is supposed to bar company unions, but here, as in so many
other cases, the law does a very poor job of protecting workers' rights."
Barrett points out that straightforward company unions are only a part of the problem: "We also have to contend with groups like CLAC
(the Christian Labour Alliance of Canada). CLAC isn't a company union, but we think it does much the same thing, even though the
Alberta Labour Relations Board has ruled that it's a bona fide trade union.
"The majority of CLAC's members in Alberta come from workplaces certified through voluntary recognition. That means that nobody in
these workplaces ever voted to certify CLAC as the union - nobody except CLAC itself and the employer that is. There's nothing wrong
with voluntary recognition per se, it's provided for in the Labour Relations Code, and it allows union-friendly employers to accommodate
workers desire for union representation without going through the adversarial certification process. But when a union relies on voluntary
certifications to the extent that CLAC does, when more than half a union's members come from deals negotiated with employers rather
than from a democratic vote, it does tend to make you suspicious."
There are good reasons why employers might want to see CLAC be the union certified in their workplaces. For one thing, CLAC's
'philosophy' practically guarantees that the employer doesn't have to worry about employees taking strike action. While CLAC doesn't
absolutely rule out the possibility that a local may take strike action, it almost never happens, and the union's reluctance to strike is well
known to employers. As well, CLAC frequently negotiates 'no-strike' contracts in which local unions effectively give up the right to strike.
"Nobody likes strikes," says Barrett, "and unions don't choose the strike option lightly, but giving up the right to strike unilaterally means
depriving your members of an important piece of economic leverage. A union that has the right to strike and is really trying to represent
its members would be slow to use the strike weapon, but even slower to abandon it entirely.
"What are we to make of a self-styled 'bona fide trade union' that gets half of its members in the province of Alberta from one voluntary
recognition - from Save-On Foods - and then signs a no-strike contract with that employer."
Barrett says it's time for the labour movement in Alberta to take a stand against dummy unions. "We'll be talking to our affiliates and to
the Canadian Labour Congress about this issue. We have to educate our members and the public about the problem, and we have to
be prepared to confront dummy unions wherever and whenever they appear."
Source: Alberta Federation of Labour