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Alberta Weighs Pro-Union Push

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Alberta labor officials are set to incorporate into law recommendations of a report commissioned from an Edmonton lawyer meant to improve craft workforce labor relations and "stability" in the province's growing construction workforce.

Changes are most acute at large power and industrial project jobsites. But nonunion sector officials say the changes fail to acknowledge contract negotiations that occur outside of unions.

Attorney Andrew Sims' report said collective bargaining between employers and unions should be strengthened and supported to provide market stability, especially with construction employment in Alberta set to grow 2.5% a year, on average, through 2017.

His suggestions include rewriting the labor code to incorporate broader labor negotiations in organized collective bargaining, or "registration," and using arbitration to settle disputes on major projects.

The provincial Building Trades Association and other union groups have said in local reports that they are pleased with Sims' changes.

"It is skewed toward benefiting the unions," says Peter Pilarski of Alberta's Merit Contractors Association. "Competitiveness has stabilized the Alberta construction market, not the registration process. Two players should be able to come to agreement and nobody who wants to be on that job should be able to sue if they don't like the terms."

As an example, Pilarski points to the $9.7-billion Horizon oil sands project in Fort McMurray, on which the owner negotiated a contract with the Christian Labor Association of Canada several years ago when it could not reach terms with the building trades.

Pilarski says unions sued because the pact "happened outside of registration." The case was settled out of court. But he says the Sims changes "did not address this issue."

Labor Minister Thomas Lukaszek has admitted changes may not pass the provincial legislature before its session ends in early June.


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