Bus drivers claim Strathcona County is unionbusting

Workers claim they’re being forced to attend mandatory captive audience meetings, where they’re being intimidated from unionizing.

Earlier this week, the Alberta Labour Relations Board issued their final new applications report for October 2023.

In it was an application from Local 569 of the Amalgamated Transit Union regarding their recent efforts to unionize bus drivers in the Strathcona County.

The report claimed that Local 569 was accusing the County of interfering with their efforts to unionize these workers.

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There wasn’t much detail other than that, so I reached out to Steve Bradshaw, the local president and business agent, and he sent me a copy of the original application that they sent to the ALRB though their law firm, Nuget Law Office.

According to the application, bus drivers covering routes for Strathcona County residents used to be unionized when the County contracted transit out to Diversified Transportation.

However, that contract was terminated, and the County began covering transit service themselves. Local 569 began their organizing effort “in or about the fall of 2023”.

Sometime last month, however, the County discovered that the transit drivers were trying to organize with Local 569 and “sent several messages to employees indicating its knowledge of the organizing drive”.

Local 569 reported that last Thursday (26 October), they learned that the County had been holding one-on-one captive audience meetings with some of the workers who’d be affected by representation under Local 569.

Captive audience meetings are common unionbusting tactics used by employers to discourage workers from unionizing. They are typically mandatory meeting during working hours, often on-site, during which the employer delivers anti-union messages to the workers.

The application claims that workers who attended these meetings reported to Local 569 that meeting organizers were telling them such things as “unions just want your money” and “you could lose your benefits”.

Local 569 went on to say in their application that the County was using these meetings “to extract information from employees, to pressure employees into not supporting the union, to intimidate employees into not supporting the union, [and] to demonstrate or imply to employees that the County was aware of the organizing efforts of ATU 569”.

In their application to the ALRB, Local 569 argued that these actions violate two sections of the Labour Relations Code.

First, they propose that it violates section 148(1)(a)(ii)

No employer or employers’ organization and no person acting on behalf of an employer or employers’ organization shall participate in or interfere with the representation of employees by a trade union,

They also put forward that it violates 149(1)(c):

No employer or employers’ organization and no person acting on behalf of an employer or employers’ organization shall seek by intimidation, dismissal, threat of dismissal or any other kind of threat, by the imposition of a pecuniary or other penalty or by any other means, to compel an employee to refrain from becoming or to cease to be a member, officer or representative of a trade union.

Local 569 has asked the ALRB to declare that these actions for indeed violate these sections of the Labour Relations Code and that they must immediately stop actions if they do indeed violate the Code.

They’ve also requested that the ALRB tell Strathcona County to allow union organizers access to the workplace during work hours to talk to workers “about supporting the union”.

Finally, they’re seeking damages “for the deliberate subversion of its rights under the Code”, as well as the costs they had to incur to file their application to the ALRB.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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