Pressure on workers is increasing, and if what happened last week in Canada is a sign of what can come to America, it’s going to get a lot worse.
The AlumaSafway, a Canadian scaffolding company, sent their workers a memo last week that demanded they accept “voluntary” overtime shifts. If they did not, they would face termination, a hiring ban, legal action, and possible fines or jail time.
The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) indicated that an anonymous letter was shared among scaffolders at Suncor Inc. in Alberta, Canada that asked workers to “collectively refuse to work overtime shifts for the purpose of compelling incentives from the Employer, including improvements in compensation or working conditions.” Suncor is one of Canada’s largest fossil fuel companies.
According to the ALRB, this letter caused no workers to take on overtime shifts, and they decided that this action was illegal under the province’s labor laws. The laws maintain that strikes can not occur while a collective bargaining agreement is in force and before a vote has been taken.
“The Board finds the Employees’ concerted refusal to accept overtime shifts for the purpose of compelling the Employer to agree to terms and conditions of employment, which constitutes a refusal to work, to be an illegal strike,” it said in its decision.
The board also said that it would file the decision with the Alberta courts and that would make it enforceable as a court order. Therefore any violation would “result in civil or criminal penalties including contempt of court.”
The union’s collective bargaining agreement is clear that overtime is strictly voluntary, but this is not the case when there are not enough volunteers to complete a job.
When the letter encouraging workers to not take overtime shifts was circulated, AlumaSafway scaffold workers began refusing to work overtime shifts at the Suncor site. So the company filed a complaint with the labor board on August 24.
Someone posted a letter signed by two AlumaSafway managers, and they wanted that the company has been “patient and given your union an opportunity to convince you that this coordinated refusal constitutes an illegal strike, and that you may face consequences as a result. Obviously, this has not worked.”
The company went further to warn that any violation could include consequences such as “discipline or termination of employment” along with a hiring ban “for those who continue to engage in illegal activity.”
AlumaSafway also threatened legal action and that there would be personal liability for any added production costs, penalties owing to the Owner, or, even the loss of the contract with our client.
The last warning included the possibility of fines and even jail time for the workers.
The company made this plea at the end of the letter, “We do not want to impose any of the consequences set out above. This memo is intended to cause you to change your behavior by impressing upon you the seriousness of this matter, including the consequences that you may suffer if the strike continues.”
So in Canada, it does not look like there is any give for these scaffold workers. They can not continue to refuse to accept overtime shifts, even in the increasing heat wave that they’re experienced.
The collective bargaining agreement that is in place with AlumaSafway scaffolders was negotiated by the Labourers’ International Union of North America, Local 506. And it requires workers to give up the right to strike so long as the agreement is in effect in accordance with provincial law.
The ALRB, AlumaSafway, and Local 506 have not responded to a request for comment.
Pressure on the worker is increasing in Canada, and it looks like the same thing could happen in the United States.