Aaron Doncaster lead union drive at Calgary Hilton hotel
FIRING AARON DONCASTER WAS A BIG MISTAKE. The managers of the Hilton Garden Inn in Calgary thought it would bust a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) organizing drive. It lead to instant certification of the union instead.
Hilton management fired Aaron last September. They claimed his work schedule showed signs of tardiness. The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) wasn’t buying it.
“The employer terminated Mr. Doncaster’s employment because of his activity in support of the union,” wrote ALRB vice chair Gwen Gray. The board ruled it was reason enough to use their powers to grant “remedial certification” and immediately certify the union to represent 70 workers at the hotel.
The ruling is a breakthrough in Alberta. Normally, 65 per cent of employees must sign union cards or vote in a membership drive before a union can be certified.
“It feels like a new day for working Albertans,”said Aaron Doncaster. “This is the happiest day of my life!” The UFCW is in the process of negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement for the workers at the hotel, including Aaron, who was given his job back in the ALRB ruling.
Thirty years of anti-union mayhem
A Progressive Conservative government in 1988 cancelled the ALRB power to grant remedial certification. For the next thirty years employers were free to do whatever they liked to bust union organizing drives.
“They actually fired people, they made all sorts of threats,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “Employers were found guilty multiple times for these kinds of practices but they never faced any consequences.”
Last year, the NDP government ended the era of open season on union organizing in Alberta. They restored the ALRB power to grant union certification in cases where union organizers are fired or intimidated by an employer—a move that brought Alberta in line with most Canadian provinces.
Beating back union busting in Ontario
Remedial certification has long been an important protection for the labour movement. For that reason, right-wing politicians have regularly targeted the measure.
In the 1990s, a remedial certification ruling helped Walmart employees at an Ontario location become the first unionized store across the company’s global operations. Ontario’s labour board issued the ruling after Walmart management warned workers that their jobs would not be safe if they backed the union.
However, when Tory Premier Mike Harris came to power in 1995, he repealed the legislation. This meant that all the Ontario Labour Relations Board could do was to call for a vote on unionization if it received a complaint about an employer, giving bosses a free hand to intimidate their workforce.
Remedial certification was reintroduced after the Tories left office in Ontario and has resulted in several successful unionizing drives over the past decade. The reinstated power was first used in 2007 to certify a union at Swing Stage, where the boss had fired a member of staff immediately after finding out they were organizing for the union.
In 2012, UNITE HERE won a remedial certification case against Novotel hotels after the company intimidated workers over several years during unionization efforts. In one instance, a union activist who spoke at a rally in favour of UNITe HERE at the hotel was told there were no more shifts for her to work and that two other workers with less experience than her had been promoted.
The beat goes on
Requests for remedial certification are reported to be on the rise in Alberta. According to CBC, the ALRB is currently considering four cases involving alleged illegal actions by companies to block union drives. These include Cropac Equipment in Nisku, Alpha Steel Builders in Calgary, Concord Baggage Services in Calgary, and Best Western Rocky Mountain House in Suites.
Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff is already prepared for an employer backlash, stressing that workers have a basic right to unionize. He added that the unions would oppose any challenge by an employer to a remedial certification decision, stating, “We will be there all the way to the Supreme Court, because I think this is a fundamental question.”
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