The UCP government has introduced legislation that, if passed, would require unions and associations like the Alberta Teachers’ Association to obtain opt-in approval before using member dues on political and advocacy functions.
Bill 32: Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act was introduced in the Alberta legislature on July 7, 2020. The Government of Alberta has stated that this bill provides “employees and employers with clearer and more transparent rules, promoting fairness and productivity.” The legislation would amend the Employment Standards Code, the Labour Relations Code and the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA), among other legislation that engages collective bargaining rights in Alberta.
ATA President Jason Schilling says the bill is an attempt to silence organized labour and, quite specifically, the Association as the union and professional organization representing Alberta’s teachers.
“The ATA has a long, successful history of advocacy in support of a strong and vibrant public education system. Alberta teachers are proud of that legacy and happily support it,” said Schilling. “This government wants to prevent teachers’ voices from being heard on issues such as classroom conditions in the face of COVID-19, class size, support for inclusion, and adequacy of funding for public education.”
He adds that the bill infringes on freedoms of association and expression and will likely be overturned by the courts.
Schilling said the bill would introduce a significant amount of red tape and bureaucracy for the Association—which he thinks is by design. Increased administrative costs would have to be borne by members, including those who choose not to support the advocacy efforts. Depending on how broadly the regulations are drafted, the savings for a full-time member who opts out would be minimal as by far the majority of Association expenses are directly related to its regulatory, representative, union and professional development activities.
“The ATA proudly advocates on behalf of students, teachers and the larger community for policies and funding that will ensure that Alberta’s public education schools can meet the learning needs of all children—frankly, it’s why I and many others got involved,” said Schilling. “We have done this while remaining non-partisan—we have neither supported nor opposed the election of any candidate for office or any political party at any time. In fact, our members are active in all political parties and display the same diversity of political orientation as does the citizenry of this province.”
Around and during the 2019 provincial election campaign, the Association ran a campaign focused on promoting public education and raising awareness of the issue of growing class sizes. Although the campaign was completely nonpartisan and was directed to all political parties and their potential supporters, the ATA registered it as third-party advertising at the suggestion of Elections Alberta. Government communications are now pointing to this campaign as one example of why this law is needed. Schilling points out that the Association has attempted to highlight class size and other issues relating to teaching and learning conditions while Progressive Conservative, New Democratic and, now, United Conservative Party governments have held office.
Schilling said the legislation is built on a faulty premise that members don’t have a voice in how their dues are spent. The Association’s governance processes, such as the Annual Representative Assembly, are democratic and transparent to members whose elected representatives vote to set the organization’s budget, including funds to support public advocacy.
“Five hundred teacher delegates vote every year on a line-by-line budget and on the annual fees,” said Schilling. “And if members don’t support the leadership Provincial Executive Council provides, they have an opportunity to vote us out every two years.”
The Association is working with legal counsel and in cooperation with other affected organizations to evaluate the implications of Bill 32 and identify potential responses, including legal avenues. Much of the practical effect of the legislation will be realized through regulation, and exact impacts, including effective dates, will not be known for some time.