Alberta rail workers file for unionization

The employer isn’t too happy about it, however, and is trying to discourage the workers from unionizing.

Last week, the Alberta Labour Relations Board released the first new applications report of November 2023, and in it was a new application for unionization.

The application was filed on 3 November 2023 by Local 92 of the Construction and General Workers’ Union. Technically, it was 3 separate applications.

In the first application, this union is applying on behalf of workers (other than office, clerical, and those in employed in construction or in the signals and communications division) employed by PNR Railworks Inc.

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The second application was for “roadbuilding and heavy construction labourers”, and the third included “general construction labourers”.

However, each one is for the same workers, but it’s a practice some unions use to mitigate application rejection.

Based out of Abbotsford, PNR Railworks is a full-service railroad contractor providing construction, communications, rehabilitation, and maintenance services on rail lines. They operate several locations in Canada, including in Alberta.

Assuming the union certification is successful, it’ll apply to 32 workers, who work throughout Alberta.

The ALRB has scheduled a hearing for this application for 20 November 2023. The employer will have an opportunity then to present arguments for why certification shouldn’t occur at that location.

PNR Railworks isn’t waiting until then, however. Last Wednesday, they sent a letter to these workers outlining all the reasons they think they should remain non-unionized.

For example, in his letter, Larry McKay, PNR’s general manager in Nisku, said that the employer “strongly believe[s] that as a non-union employer, we have a more positive relationship with our employees. In particular, we believe that working together with our employees to ensure we provide the best service to our clients is what makes us successful.”

That’s a weird thing for McKay to say. After all, there would be no reason PNR couldn’t still work together with their workers once they’re unionized. Oh, maybe it’s related to this little gem found on page 2.

If the union becomes certified to represent you, the union obtains the exclusive right to bargain and negotiate a collective agreement setting out the terms and conditions of employment. You, as affected employees, would no longer be able to deal with us directly regarding your terms and conditions of employment; only the union would have that right.

This is a common argument I see from employers trying to discourage their workers from unionizing, so let’s address this myth.

A bargaining team typically includes workers that would be under the agreement being negotiated. The bargaining teams often conducts information gathering sessions to get input from the workers on what changes they want to see in their contract, prior to heading into negotiations. Finally, once a contract is tentatively reached, the bargaining team will present it to the workers, and each worker will get a chance to vote on whether to ratify it.

The workers, as a whole, would still be able to “deal” with the employer directly. Except now they get to do it together, in solidarity, instead of individually, in private.

The letter is full of all sorts of anti-union dogwhistling. Here’s a good one.

If the union were to be certified, all employees in the group of employees that fall in the particular bargaining unit would be represented by the union, whether such employees supported the union or not. Also, all employees in the group identified would have to pay union dues once a collective agreement is finalized, whether they supported the union or not. That means everyone should care about this issue because it will affect you.

Well, of course they would have to be a member of the union. Every worker will benefit from the concessions the union wins from the employer, so they should have to belong to that union. Same goes for the union dues. All the workers benefit from the labour of the union, so all should pay dues to that union. The more people who pay into a union, the less each person pays, and the stronger the union becomes.

The letter finishes with a link to Labour Watch, an independent website that undermines union representation by framing themselves as being focused on the “employee”. Their content advisors, employee advisors, and employer advisors are all representatives from law firms, some of which have represented employers in labour cases.

Take the Calgary-based McLennan Ross LLP, one of their content advisors, for example. They represented an employer in a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal case that Local 2038 of The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers brought forward regarding the bias of a member of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board, who had been a member of CLAC, a pro-employer union.

Here’s the letter that McKay sent out to PNR’s Alberta workers.

It’s curious that PNR Railworks is opposed to their workers unionizing, given that they’er workers in BC and Ontario have been unionized in the past, and with LiUNA no less.

If the certification does goes through, despite McKay’s efforts to thwart it, and the workers vote in favour of unionizing, the next step for the workers would be to negotiate a first contract.

Since the ALRB doesn’t archive their new application reports, here’s a copy of this report.

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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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