Thesis: The Lakeside Packers case demonstrates that the province of Alberta requires the Labour Code to be amended to allow for First Contract Arbitration in the Collective Bargaining Process.
After watching the video entitled “24 days in Brooks”, it is apparent that if a First Contract Arbitration had been in place; this emotionally charged situation may have been avoided. This paper is to examine the merits of having a First Contract Arbitration to be put in place within the Alberta Labour Code. Also, I will discuss the background of the Lakeside Packers dispute, my perspective on what employee, employer and state believe are their stances on First Contract Arbitration and how they would be affected. Also, some questions to consider are: •What was the balance of bargaining power between the parties, and how did it shift as the story unfolded? •How did the racial and cultural divisions in the workforce complicate the case? •What role did the state play? What was the effect of the third party intervention? Background on Lakeside Packers Dispute
Initially, Lakeside Packers was unionized during the years of 1976 to 1984; however, the union was broken by management during a strike by hiring non-union, lower paid replacements. Arrogantly, this company was proud of this accomplishment as to go so far as to have a sign at the entrance to the plant, announcing they were “Proudly Union Free”. With wages spiralling downward, and the disassembly line of workers, they were able to keep the wages down which made fewer Albertans who wanted this type of job. So to resolve this problem, the company decided to outsource labour from other countries which led to an influx of immigrant workers being hired at Lakeside Packers. This endeavour was changing the demographics of the workforce at both the plant and the town. Employees began to protest about bad working conditions such as not being allowed to have bathroom breaks, being fired when they got injured or not being paid for work they did.
These accusations led to a group of mostly Sudanese and Somali workers holding a wildcat strike in April 2004. They were all eventually fired and there was no recourse to have them rehired; not through the Human Rights Commission or the Labour Board. This then led to the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 in organizing and becoming successful on August 27, 2004 in winning a certification vote of 51.4 percent. However, dialogue for an agreement was unsuccessful as the company had no intention of communicating, negotiating, or compromising towards this arrangement. Instead, they used tactics that were underhanded by intimidating union supporters and ignoring the union representatives.
There was no support from the government to help the employees with this precarious situation and time was ticking by. Lakeside Packers was waiting for time to run out so that ultimately, this would lead to a decertification vote. The union decided to strike in July 2005; however, the government now decided to make their presence known and appointed a disputes inquiry board. Now, due to this board becoming involved, the union is unable to strike for 60 days as it would be illegal. The recommendations made by the board were accepted by the employees with an overwhelming 90% majority but the company outright rejected the recommendations. The employees start their strike on October 12, 2005. This strike became an all out war with verbal abuse between employees on both sides.
Management limited picketing due to court injunctions, added other entrances to the plant to cause confusion for the picketers, and lastly, they ran the union representation off the road which ended in a car accident where he sustained injuries. This latter incident swayed public opinion for the strikers and also the picketers met this adversity with determination and solidarity. On November 4, 2005, a contract was decided upon and a ratification vote passed with 56% of members agreeing to it. New employees would be required to join the union; however, those that crossed the picket line would not be required to join but would have to pay union dues under the Rand formula. In the aftermath of this incident, these employees who had been on either side of the picket line, now had to change their attitudes and learn to work shoulder to shoulder on the assembly line in unity. First Contract Arbitration
“First Contract Arbitration (FCA) is a statutory mechanism that allows either party in unsuccessful negotiations to apply to the Labour Board to direct the settlement of a first collective agreement by arbitration.” This mechanism is in place so that for those few instances when it is difficult for an employer and employees to hammer out a first agreement, they can have an arbitrator listen to both sides and then come up with a resolution. Employer
Within Canada, only two provinces do not have a First Contract Arbitration within their provincial labour code; they are New Brunswick and Alberta. The province of Nova Scotia held out until it joined the majority of other jurisdictions in Canada. The province amended its Trade Union Act to introduce First Contract Arbitration on December 15, 2011. Employers within the private sector organizations in these provinces do not want First Contract Arbitration imposed on them, as this takes away their management rights and power. They have capitalistic mentalities and employees are a cog in the wheel of monetary gain. () Historically, Alberta’s economic growth has been greater than other provinces and people from many other provinces have moved here because of that. Numerous businesses have established a presence in Alberta due to the government programs, legislations and policies that are in place. Employers of the private sector believe that if First Contract Arbitration is in place that it will erode their ability to be competitive to achieve their goals.
They reason that if a third party imposes employment terms, that this could make their business uncompetitive, and that these arbitrators could inflict costs that the business cannot afford. If a union is in place and First Contract Arbitration is in effect; then the mentality is an “us against them” which then hampers the bargaining relationship. They believe that they and the employees have the opportunity and responsibility to work together to find solutions to problems without involving a third party who may put together a contract that is not agreeable to either party. Employers say to “leave it as is”. If employers and employees are unable to work out an agreement, employers say that either party has other routes available to them such as a strikes or lockouts. State
The State is supposed to be a neutral party between employer and employee; however, in Alberta, the Labour Code is written in such as way that it leans heavily in support of the employer. Employees have no recourse as in the case of the Lakeside Packers when they had formed a union and submitted an agreement and then to have it ignored by the employer. The employer can continue to bargain in bad faith with no consequences levied at them. They have the ability to intimidate their workers without repercussions. The rules and regulations around certification and decertification are in favour of the employer. One reason is that certification of a union is not automatic; there is weeks between filing and voting. Another point is that employers can begin the waiting game; if no agreement is in place within a prescribed time, then the union will become decertified.
If this happens, the employees need to begin the process all over again or in many cases, they just give up. Also; in Alberta, employers have the right to hire scab labour to fill their employment needs if the union decides to go on strike. Rules around picketing are also in favour of the employer and can cause frustration for the union as they are not as effective when striking and trying to make a point. There is no recourse to have employers held accountable for their actions or penalized in some way, whether it is a fine or charges laid with regards to their bargaining in bad faith. The State needs to change these unbalanced certification rules so that it is more fair to both parties. Employee
Why are first contract negotiations more difficult than subsequent negotiations? Possibly because the employees have had to go through a lot to become a union in the first place such as was the case with the Lakeside Packers. With the attitudes of the Lakeside Packers owners, management and other co-workers, it was an uphill battle which can cause all of those involved to be angry, embittered and less than helpful or wanting to negotiate in good faith. Sometimes members of a new union will have unrealistic expectations or have a militant attitude which can lead to difficulty to get everyone out of that attitude and into an attitude of listening and compromising.
First Contract Arbitration is helpful in that an experienced labour arbitrator will listen and make every effort to understand both the union and management representatives. These representatives of each party will prepare extensive reports and provide evidence to the arbitrator who then will create a collective agreement for these two parties. Usually, this collective agreement is good for only 1 or 2 years; at which time, the parties should be able to now negotiate new terms on their own.
When researching this topic; I found that First Contract Arbitration is hardly ever used; only for cases where there is bad faith bargaining, picket line violence or unfair labour practices. Usually, it is enough to know that there is the threat of a third party, who could decide their futures, which then leads both parties to resolve their outstanding issues and reach an agreement on their own. •What was the balance of bargaining power between the parties, and how did it shift as the story unfolded? I believe that the balance of bargaining power was with the employer initially as they had been able to keep the union out of the plant for 20 years. Also, with the employees then forming their union, they then could not get the company to agree to a collective agreement. Their tactics were unethical before and during the strike; however, after causing the accident involving the union representative, this led to public support. Also, there were rumblings of a beef boycott which would have caused financial issues for this company and this swung the balance of power to the employees.
•How did the racial and cultural divisions in the workforce complicate the case? Brooks is a small town in Alberta with a strong conservative political attitude. Many of the white Albertan employees, “the good old boys” do not have the most liberal, accepting attitudes towards people of color. This is evident in the racial slurs that were uttered at each other during the strike. Those that crossed the picket line were long term employees and the majority of them were white. Maybe the Albertan employees were happy with the work environment, especially if they were treated better than the immigrants. •What role did the state play? What was the effect of the third party intervention? The State’s role in the Lakeside Packers case was very little to nil.
They only became involved when the union was to go on strike in July and at that time appointed a Disputes Inquiry Board, which is very rare in Alberta. Once the board made their decision and the company ignored it completely, the government still did nothing. So, in my opinion, this third party intervention was a waste of time and effort if there is no labour code to follow it up.
Why is Alberta one of two provinces to hold out on this labour code practice, which could potentially add stability to labour relations, for disputes that could become volatile or dangerous to members of both parties? It seems to me that it all comes back to politics. Those in government do not want to dissuade businesses from starting up their businesses in Alberta and if there are too many rules in place against businesses, this would lead to employers losing some of their management rights and power and they would go elsewhere.
First Contract Arbitration should be added to the Alberta Labour Code. This would increase the successfulness of collective bargaining, especially for newly formed unions. Communication and understanding of the terms between parties would be initiated and this could bring about a possible contract that would be agreeable by all.
1.24 Days in Brooks. Dir. Dana Inkster. National Film Board of Canada, 2007. Documentary Film.
2.Broadway, Michael; Cut to the Bone; How changes in meatpacking have created the most vulnerable worker in Alberta; Published in Vol 15, No 4, May 2012, pgs 36-41. Retrieved from www.albertaviews.ab.ca/2012/04/26/cut-to-the-bone/
3.Conflict and Solidarity: How the Lakeside Workers Won Their Union Foster, J. 2005, Conflict and solidarity: How the Lakeside workers won their union. Our Times, 24, 28-35. Retrieved from http://0-search.proquet.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/docview/213124125?accountid=8408