At the time of this writing, there are major Alberta contractors using their leverage and influence to erode protections, pay and ultimately opportunities for skilled tradespeople across the province.
By reclassifying and in fact misclassifying the job descriptions of these skilled workers, it inhibits their ability to organize and bargain for better pay and increased worker protections.
At the same time, these major contractors are hiring subcontractors who will intentionally misclassify workers as independent contractors or pay them in cash-only arrangements. While major contractors are often contractually bound to employ unionized labour, particularly on government-funded capital projects, the monitoring and enforcement of subcontractor or subtrade hiring practices are sometimes quite lax.
By circumventing official employer payroll records, these unscrupulous con-tractors significantly reduce their income tax and payroll responsibilities and avoid their obligation to cover benefits like unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. In the end, workers who run afoul of these kinds of contractors are often caught out and left owing money to the Canada Revenue Agency.
All of this is to say that the Labour Day holiday long weekend is a great time to kick back and enjoy some well-earned rest and relaxation. But Labour Day is also our annual reminder about the importance of staying vigilant. There is still much work to be done in fighting for fairness on behalf of our members and other skilled trades.
Last month, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America celebrated an important milestone as we reached our 140th year of service, representation and advocacy for our members throughout the U.S. and Canada. The 36 delegates who gathered in Chicago on Aug. 12, 1881, could not have known that their decision to form a union for carpenters would be remembered or celebrated well over a century later.
While past efforts at unionizing carpenters tried and failed in various cities and towns, the delegates to our union’s first convention knew they had to create one union across the U.S. and Canada, and hold it together, to last for the long term.
The resolutions from that first convention are still core to the work of the UBC today. We celebrate and honour this legacy by continuing to push for better pay, protections and opportunities for our members. In fact, founding General Secretary of the UBC, Peter J. McGuire, is widely recognized as the father of the Labour Day holiday.
Here in Alberta and nationwide, there is a critical need to regulate and crack down on construction industry tax fraud. Law enforcement must treat this crisis seriously and dedicate resources to investigating and prosecuting employers who are peddling this fraud, including the contractors who knowingly participate in these schemes or turn a blind eye toward them.
To our Brothers, Sisters and other skilled tradespeople working across the province, thank you for your dedication and commitment to unionization. On behalf of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers, we would also like to thank our industry partners as we continue to build Alberta together.
This op-ed also appeared in the Labour Day 2021 special sections of the Edmonton Sun and Calgary Sun