When Jason Kenney walks back into the Alberta Legislature, he’ll be carrying with him plans to reverse decades of progress for working people.
Kenney has already proven he’s no friend of working people. He’s slashed minimum wage, a direct attack on Alberta’s most vulnerable workers. He’s cut health and safety standards and even attacked farm workers.
As bad as all that is, it’s just setting the stage for the next step - a step Kenney has long supported, despite the disastrous results when similar measures were implemented in the United States. Kenney’s United Conservative Party has its sights on workers, and our very right to fight for a better world.
The UCP Platform from the last election gives us a roadmap for chipping away at union’s independent, democratic structure, saying they would “protect workers from being forced to fund political parties and causes without explicit opt-in approval.”
Workers don’t need protection from ourselves. Everything that unions do, from budgets to bargaining proposals to campaigns and collective agreements, are set out and voted on by members.
Canada’s workers have the right to freely associate as a member of a union, and those rights extend to the union’s freedom of expression. Whether a politician agrees with what we say, frankly, does not matter.
A union is a self-governing body, independent from any outside influence - whether that outsider is a government or a corporation.
Kenney knows that. He also knows that the courts have upheld that a worker’s freedom of expression is not infringed when a portion of their union dues goes to activities that they disagree with.
Ignoring that fact, he’s planning an attack on our right to unite as working people, to campaign for our interests.
Sometimes those campaigns save lives. Unions like Unifor bargained paid leave for survivors of domestic violence in our contracts. Then we set our sights on legislative change and won that same protection for workers in jurisdictions right across the country, so no one has to choose between their safety and their job.
The belief in a better world is why workers fight for legislative and social change. It’s why we have the 40-hour work week, vacation and health and safety protections.
Those aren’t old union stories from long ago. Unions won a Canada-wide asbestos ban just last year.
In Alberta, workers, through their unions, pushed for the sweeping health and safety reforms of 2017. These reforms finally enshrined health and safety programs, and put the onus on employers for maintaining workplace safety, including in preventing harassment.
Working people have power when we stick together. On our own, no single worker has the money, or the power, to make their bosses listen.
Most workers in Alberta workers have never signed a union card, and yet I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think their job could be better.
Maybe you’ve earned less pay than the person next to you doing exactly the same work. Maybe you saw your hours cut, or your job suddenly outsourced.
Those deficiencies in your workplace are probably the direct result of corporate lobbying, supported by governments like Jason Kenney’s and Doug Ford’s.
A quick glance at the Alberta Lobbyist Registry reveals hundreds of registrations since the April election, mostly working for powerful corporations.
Employers meet with decision-makers, present demands, and then government intervenes on their behalf through laws like Bill 2.
Working people must not be denied the same power to influence the laws that govern us.
Kenney has said he would come after the rights of working people. His past statements have tried to drive a wedge between collective bargaining and the other important work done by the labour movement, but that division simply does not exist.
In anticipation of Kenney’s conservative agenda, let’s not lose sight of the long-standing institutions that give working people a voice.
Strong, independent labour unions lift all people up. The best performing economies in the world have the highest levels of unionization.
Unions turn bad jobs into good jobs, and are critical to the advancement of women and equality. We do this through collective bargaining, but also through loud, determined demands for laws that advance equality and protect all workers.
We only have to look to the US, where the lowest unionization rate in the industrialized world moves hand in hand with highest inequality and poverty rates. That stark alternative puts too much at risk for working people here in Alberta.