In this second article in our three-part series highlighting recent changes to Alberta’s labour and employment legislation, we focus on changes to Alberta’s labour relations regime. As a result of the enactment of Bill 17: The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act in 2017, a number of significant changes to Alberta’s Labour Relations Code (“LRC”) are now in effect, as follows:

Certification: Card-based certification has been implemented. If between 40% and 65% of employees sign union cards, a vote will be required. If over 65% of employees have signed a card, no vote will be required. The Alberta Labour Relations Board (“ALRB”) may order a vote in any situation where there is doubt as to the authenticity of the support or where the ALRB feels it is necessary. A minimum of 40% support is required to hold a secret ballot to revoke a union’s certification. Where an employer is found to have engaged in an unfair labour practice, the ALRB may grant remedial certification. Where a union has engaged in an unfair practice, the ALRB may revoke the union’s certificate.

There is no more restriction requiring employees in the construction industry to have worked for an employer for 30 days to participate in a union certification vote.

First Contract Arbitration: First contract arbitration will now be directed to end difficult negotiations between an employer and union. The post-certification freeze on changing terms and conditions of employment has been extended from 60 days to 120 days. Unions may request assistance from the ALRB if 90 days have elapsed and no collective agreement has been reached.

Expanded Arbitrator Powers: Unions and employers may ask for a supervised strike or lockout vote prior to the expiry of a collective agreement. Arbitrators may extend the time available for a grievance matter after the expiration of the time frame set out in a collective agreement. Arbitrators may also:

  • make interim orders;
  • expedite proceedings;
  • set dates;
  • work with parties to resolve differences; and
  • apply solutions in accordance with other employment legislation.

In addition, various incremental changes are now in effect.

Subject Change
Unfair Labour Practices Employers now bear the onus of proving that their actions of discipline, dismissal or alleged intimidation do not constitute unfair labour practices.
Application Ban The 90-day ban on a labour union making the same or a similar application for union certification has been confirmed.
Dependent Contractors The definition of employee under the statute now includes dependent contractors who only work for one employer. As a result, contractors may now unionize and bargain collectively.
Essential Services Continuing care facilities, and health care laboratories and blood supply services are now included within the essential services provisions of the LRC. Strikes will be allowed, however, essential services agreements must be in place to ensure continued operation during labour disruptions.
Remote Site Access New provisions to the LRC facilitate communication between unions and employees in remote or inaccessible places.
Electronic Hearings and Submissions Electronic hearings and submissions are now permitted in grievances and arbitrations.
Union Review Process Where a union’s review process is approved by the ALRB, an employee will have to use that review process for complaints of unfair representation against the union.

See here for our first article in the series in which we outlined the changes to Alberta’s employment standards.