Saskatchewan Local Fights
for Mineworker Rights
August 13, 2014
|Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s efforts to restrict workers’ rights have made organizing and collective bargaining more difficult for working families.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Wikimedia userDanielPaquet.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Local 529 filed an unfair labour practice application against Alliance Energy Industrial Ltd. in June, accusing the company of intimidating pro-IBEW workers at its Agrium pot ash mine in northern Saskatchewan.
The local is attempting to organize the nearly 800 construction electricians employed at the mine.
“Guys are getting laid off for being caught with an IBEW card,” said Local 529 Membership Development Coordinator Paul Janetzki. “The employer has created an atmosphere of fear.”
Alliance Energy workers are currently represented by the Christian Labour Association of Canada, an organization that critics say is a trade union in name only. The organization has been accused of failing to represent members, and negotiating weak contracts with minimal pay and benefit packages.
“It’s an employer-dominated union,” Janetzki said. “There is a complete lack of representation in the workplace.”
Workers first approached the IBEW earlier this year for a number of reasons. The company is reportedly paying the salaries for CLAC-appointed shop stewards, but employees didn’t know who any of them were. Workers also complained about numerous safety problems.
“Guys who raised safety issues were the first to get laid off,” Janetzki said. “Alliance and CLAC didn’t want to hear about it.”
Labour activists say one of the biggest obstacles to organizing is anti-worker legislation passed under the ruling Saskatchewan Party government that has raised barriers for workers looking to join, or switch, a union.
The Saskatchewan Employment Act, a broad omnibus bill affecting provincial labour law, passed in April. One of its most onerous provisions raises the number of cards organizers need signed to trigger a union election from 25 percent of the workplace to 45 percent.
“What we see today is tangible evidence of how working people’s organizations are struggling to operate under the SEA, meaning that more people are being denied participation in economic democracy,” said Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Larry Hubich in statement of support for the IBEW.
The SEA continues numerous other anti-labour changes made to the province’s Trade Union Act by Premier Brad Wall since coming to power in 2007, including one that gives employers the authority to prevent their employees from going on strike by declaring them providers of an essential service.
It also continues legislation that allows for “wall-to-wall” organizing in the construction industry, which allows employers to group skilled tradesmen into a single bargaining unit. Critics say this favors CLAC – which organizes on a general basis – at the expense of the building trades.
CLAC is a strong supporter of the Saskatchewan Party.
The Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation has even singled out Saskatchewan in its annual global survey of violation of trade-union rights.
“Evidence is mounting that one of the primary effects of the new act is to interfere with people’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of association,” Hubich said.
If Alliance is found guilty of violating its employees’ rights, the provincial labour board could extend the open period for organizers to collect signed cards or even call an automatic election.
Check www.ibew.org for further updates.
Homepage photo credit: Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Sudhamshu Hebbar.