The Reason for the Labour Code Amendments: Rewarding Your Friends

A day after the government tabled its anti-worker Bill 26: The Labour Relations Amendment Act, Albertans are wondering what would motivate such a blatant attack on constitutionally-protected rights. The answer, says the AFL, is the Bill is a reward for the Conservatives' friends in the anti-union Merit Contractors and Progressive Contractors (PCAC) Associations.

"Not many Albertans know who the Merit Contractors or the Progressive Contractors associations are," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "They have a knack for staying below the radar somewhat. Yet, Albertans need to know they are the driving forces behind the anti-worker Bill tabled in the Legislature yesterday."

"These changes didn't just come out of nowhere, and they weren't cooked up in the 2 months since the election," observes McGowan. "Merit and PCAC have been lobbying for these changes for years. And they finally got their Christmas morning."

"This Bill is about rewarding your friends in the construction industry at the expense of fairness and the well-being of thousands of construction workers."

Merit and PCAC are both organizations founded on the principle of "open shop", which is a model of labour relations which downplays unions and enhances employer rights. Both organizations have a long track record of taking anti-union stands on policy issues. Many of their members are well-connected in the Conservative party - including some who were instrumental in the defeat of MLA David Eggen in Edmonton Calder this spring.

Merit has been lobbying for restrictions on salting and MERFs for a decade. In a 2002 report called "Building A Labour Relations Code for the 21st Century", Merit directly calls for the amendments in the legislation. On MERFs: "One of the more insidious strategies to emerge in Canada & is so-called market enhancement recovery funds." (p. 32) On salting: "some unions are perverting these protections through an organizing tactic & called "salting'." (p. 27)

In its explanation for the Bill, Employment and Immigration Minister Hector Goudreau pointed to a 2004 report examining labour relations in the construction industry. The report has two recommendations - identical to the provisions in Bill 26. The committee consisted of three Conservative MLAs, a representative from the Merit Contractors and a representative from the Building Trades Council. (The Building Trades representative wrote a dissenting report opposing both recommendations.)

One of the MLAs, Brent Rathegeber, went on to become the Director for the Progressive Contractors Association after his defeat in 2004. PCAC is now headed by former Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) Director Co Vanderlaan. CLAC is infamous in construction for its employer-friendly, collaborationist approach to unionism (so-called "alternative unionism").

"This bill is not about levelling playing fields, it is about handing a big stick to the most rabidly anti-union employers in the construction industry," McGowan concludes.

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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President  @  780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)

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