Union Dues Are Getting (Less?) Political in Alberta

Unionized employees will soon be able to choose whether they pay the portion of their union dues spent on political activities.

Legislative amendments relating to union dues and political activities are coming into force in Alberta on February 1 and August 1, 2022. These amendments are found in the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act (“Bill 32”). Through Bill 32, the provincial government announced significant changes to Alberta’s labour and employment legislation. Most of those changes took effect in summer and fall 2020, and other changes relating to union dues are coming into effect in 2022.

Union Dues and Political Activities

Bill 32 amends the Labour Relations Code (the “Code”), requiring unions to disclose spending on political activities and other causes (“Political Activities”), and requiring employees who are union members to make an election (i.e., opt-in) if they want to pay the portion of union dues being spent on Political Activities (“Union Dues Election”).

As of February 1, 2022, unions must disclose the amount or percentage of union dues, assessments or initiation fees that relate to: (1) Political Activities, (2) activities under the Code, including collective bargaining and representation of members, and (3) other activities. Political Activities include general social causes or issues, charities or non-governmental organizations, organizations or groups affiliated with or supportive of a political party, and any other activities that are set out in regulations.

Between February 1, 2022 and July 31, 2022, unions must give their members an opportunity to make an initial Union Dues Election.

As of August 1, 2022, no person is required to pay the portion of union dues going to Political Activities unless they have elected to. The Union Dues Election is an opt-in process: employees will have to opt-in to pay for Political Activities before the dues collected from them can be spent on such activities. If an employee opts-in and then changes their mind, they may change their Union Dues Election.

What this Means for Employers

Beginning on August 1, 2022, employers in unionized workforces may need to deduct and remit different amounts of union dues for each employee, based on whether individual employees have elected to pay the portion of union dues allocated to Political Activities. Unions must inform employers of their members’ Union Dues Elections. Therefore, unions should be collecting this information from their members and communicating it to employers before August 1, 2022, so that the proper deductions can be made.

Both employers and unions are prohibited from penalizing an employee or taking disciplinary action against an employee because of their Union Dues Election.

Some Alberta unions have stated that they do not intend to comply with the legislative amendments relating to union dues for Political Activities, which could lead to litigation involving constitutional challenges to these amendments.

Employers in unionized workforces governed by Alberta workplace legislation should be mindful of the incoming changes. MLT Aikins is available to help employers better understand these changes and the particular impact they may have on your organization.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice.