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CLAC to continue to represent Saskatchewan workers

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A group of unions trying to stop the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) from representing construction workers in Saskatchewan had their legal challenge dismissed by a provincial court.

A group of unions trying to stop the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) from representing construction workers in Saskatchewan had their legal challenge dismissed by a provincial court.

“The court’s decision reaffirms that we have proved beyond any doubt that we have the right to represent workers, bargain collectively and advocate for our members,” said Brad Bent, CLAC’s Saskatchewan director.

“This is a victory not just for CLAC, but for all Saskatchewan construction workers who have been denied their charter right to freely choose union representation for almost 20 years.”

The Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench recently rejected an application by unions representing carpenter, millwrights, electricians, bricklayers and the Saskatchewan Building Trades Council, for a judicial review of two decisions rendered by the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB).

As a result, the ruling upheld the two previous SLRB decisions.

In February 2011, the board summarily dismissed the unions’ application to have CLAC declared a company dominated organization (CDO).

The basis of this decision was that the content of those applications did not disclose an arguable case.

If this application had succeeded, CLAC would have been ineligible to be certified on the basis that it did not fit the definition of a trade union under The Trade Union Act.

In another decision made in September 2010, the SLRB ordered the unions to provide more evidence to support their claim about CLAC being a CDO.

“Currently, we are reviewing whether or not we are going to appeal the decision by the court,” said Saskatchewan Provincial Building Trades Council business manager Terry Parker.

“Obviously, we don’t agree with the judge’s decision and we still think CLAC is a company dominated union.”

Bill 80 was passed through the provincial legislature by the Saskatchewan Party on May 19, 2010.

These amendments to the Saskatchewan Construction Industry Labour Relations Act took effect in July.

CLAC argues that Bill 80 has expanded freedom of choice for workers because the controversial legislation eliminates the government mandated monopoly that required unionized construction workers to belong to a government-designated union for their trade or craft.

The amendments allow a trade union to organize a company on a multi-trade, or “all employee” basis, as well as on a craft, or single trade basis. It also enables trade unions to certify an employer.

“It’s going very well and we have a continual list of workers calling us,” said Bent.

“We have hired another staff member and expect to continue on this trajectory as more workers find out there is an alternative.”

Construction unions believe the new legislation is an attack on the basic rights of workers.

“We feel we can out work and outperform CLAC in the construction industry,” said Parker.

“If we were all playing by the same set of rules, we would have no problem competing with CLAC. We want a level playing field.”

Parker claims that CLAC contractors are telling unions to either take contract concessions or they will give the contract to CLAC.

The employers are offering unions work on specific projects, in exchange for concessions being made to the collective agreement.

“The reality is contractors can’t bring CLAC in,” said Bent.

“The only way we can represent any company is to have 45 per cent of the workers sign a card to put an application in. Then, the labour board come out to conduct an election.”

Bent said CLAC collective agreements are competitive with going rates in a unionized environment, which provides workers with a choice.

“If we weren’t competitive, we wouldn’t get these workers,” he said.

by Richard Gilbert

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