Analysis: The fastest growing union in Alberta has never gone on strike

An analysis of every active certificate issued by the Alberta Labour Relations Board in 2020 shows that more a third–38 per cent–were issued to unions or employee associations that are not considered to be a part of the broader labour movement.

These certificates are issued after a union or employees’ association gathers enough signed cards in order to have a vote and then a majority of workers in that bargaining unit vote to join the union or employees’ association. That organization then has the ability to negotiate a contract for that particular bargaining unit of workers.

Members of LIUNA Local 92 working on the Suncor shutdown in June. Photo via Building Trades Alberta

The organization that earned the most certificates in 2020 with 29 was Construction Workers Union, Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) Local 63. The fastest growing union in Alberta has never once gone on strike in this province, is often described as a “pro-employer” union, and has a history of siding with business lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business on challenges to pro-union policy. CLAC also had the most certificates in 2019 with 22 and the most in 2018 with 75. 

The organization with the second most certificates in 2020 was the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 with 27. UFCW Local 401 signed a contract with Sobeys this year that affected thousands of members who work at Safeway locations across Alberta. UFCW is an affiliate with the Canadian Labour Congress and broadly considered to act in the interests of its members, not bosses.

The public sector union with the most certificates was the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees with five, followed by various locals from the Canadian Union of Public Employees with four and the United Nurses of Alberta with three.

In total there were 98 certificates issued in 2020 with 15 going to public sector unions, 46 going to private sector unions and 37 going to pro-employer unions or employees’ associations. Organizing activity is down overall–from 114 certificates in 2019 and 224 certificates in 2018. 

Since being elected in 2019 Jason Kenney’s UCP government has introduced multiple labour bills that have rolled back legislation introduced by the Alberta NDP which had brought Alberta labour law in line with many other provinces. 

These companies saw CLAC win certification votes at their workplaces this year: 

  • Tartan Industrial Services Ltd.
  • BakosNDT Ltd.
  • PCL Builders Inc.
  • PCL Energy Inc.
  • Triple J Pipelines (2019) Inc.
  • AECOM Oilsands Construction Ltd.
  • Flatiron Constructors Canada Limited
  • Basilian Industrial Services Limited
  • Soogadin Field Services Inc.
  • LTS Build Services Ltd.
  • Technical Workforce Inc.
  • Aecon Construction Solutions Inc.

AECOM signed six separate agreements with CLAC Local 63 for bargaining units that included electricians, carpenters, plumbers and pipefitters, labourers, operating engineers, ironworkers and insulators. 

Aecon signed three separate agreements with CLAC Local 63 for bargaining units that included pipeline construction labourers, pipeline construction pipefitters and pipeline construction operating engineers. Aecon was also a 50/50 partner in SA Energy Group and was responsible for construction of large portions of the Trans Mountain pipeline. However after SA Energy Group worker Samatar Sahal was killed on the job west of Edmonton in October and another worker was seriously injured on the job in B.C. in December work on the project was halted over Christmas and the federally owned pipeline project cancelled its contract with SA Energy Group

Construction giant PCL signed two separate agreements with CLAC Local 63 for bargaining units that included roadbuilding and heavy construction carpenters and boilermakers. 

These companies saw either pro-employer unions or employees’ associations get a certificate:

  • QUINN Construction Ltd.
  • First Choice Scaffolding Ltd.
  • Thomas Kanata Inc.
  • Whaler Industrial Contracting Inc.
  • Atco Gas & Pipelines Ltd.

QUINN Construction which does turnarounds on large industrial projects signed four separate agreements with the Quinn Construction Employees' Association for bargaining units that included maintenance insulators, maintenance labourers, maintenance carpenters and maintenance plumbers and pipefitters. 

Atco Gas and Pipelines signed a certificate with the Natural Gas Employees' Association. Atco Gas and Pipelines is part of the Atco Group, a publicly-traded Alberta based engineering, logistics and energy holding company. The CEO of the Atco Group is Nancy Southern of the billionaire Southern family

There are a handful of connections between the organizations that signed certificates with pro-employer unions in 2020 and Merit Contractors Association, a group that describes itself as being part of the “open shop movement.” While Merit does not publish a publicly available list of their members Alan Kuysters, a vice-president at PCL Construction sits on the board of directors of Merit and Jason Franchuk, an operations manager at Graham Construction, also sits on the board of Merit. QUINN Construction was acquired by Graham Construction in 2017