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Sylvan Lake support workers want to switch union

Some of the workers at Sylvan Lake Lodge claim that their current union is dragging their feet on enforcing their collective agreement.

Earlier this week, the Alberta Labour Relations Board released their most recent New Applications Report. In the report is a new application for union certification.

The application was filed by Local 417 of Canadian Union of Public Employees on behalf of 33 general support workers at Sylvan Lake Lodge, a 59-room seniors lodge in Sylvan Lake, operated by the Sylvan Lake Foundation.

These 33 workers include kitchen staff, housekeeping staff, and maintenance staff.

According to the application, however, this unit is already unionized. These workers’ current union is Retail, Health Care and Service Employees Union, CLAC Local 301.

CLAC is short for Christian Labour Association of Canada.

In 2017, two York University researchers published a paper on CLAC, which was founded in 1952 by Dutch immigrants with strong links to European Christian labour. The article discusses how CLAC has been kicked out of central labour bodies, such as the International Trade Union Confederation, because of their use of “employer accommodationist strategies that undermine other unions”.

And this reputation CLAC has among conventional labour unions seems to have reared its head among the Sylvan Lake Lodge workers.

I recently spoke over the phone to Lou Arab, CUPE’s communications representative, who told me that an unspecified number of workers at the lodge reached out to CUPE after feeling underrepresented by CLAC.

According to Arab, the workers claimed that CLAC was reluctant to (if not refused to) enforce articles of their current collective agreement. So, they contacted CUPE about switching to having them as their representing union.

Oddly enough, the collective bargaining agreement these workers have with Sylvan Lake Foundation expires at the end of this month and was only good for two years. Their previous CBA was a 3-year contract.

Now that CUPE 417 has submitted the application to become the new representing union, and ALRB will investigate their case to ensure they meet all the necessary qualifications, such as the 40% requirement of membership.

If CLAC or Sylvan Lake Lodge submit any challenges to the application, the case will likely got to a hearing, which has been tentatively set to 16 December.

Assuming all goes well, ALRB wil hold a vote for the workers. If a majority vote in favour, CUPE 417 will inherit the current CBA. However, as I pointed out, that CBA expires in less than a month, which means CUPE 417 would have to start immediately on negotiating a new contract.

Since the ALRB doesn’t archive their new application reports, here’s a copy of the most recent one.

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By Kim Siever

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

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