A contractor called Bee Clean engaged by the University of Alberta to clean their buildings has been accused of firing and threatening employees engaged in a union organizing campaign and of not paying required overtime pay. It is illegal to fire an employee for supporting a union and to threaten employees that bad things will happen if employees unionize. That is dealt with in the Alberta Labour Relations Code. The union organizing the workers has filed a complaint under the Code, alleging among other things that Bee Clean dismissed some of the union supporters, told immigrant workers that there is no right to join a union in Canada, and told the employees that U of A would cancel their contract if the workers unionize.
Employers do this sort of crap all the time. The cleaning services industry is particularly notorious for breaking employment laws and interfering with their employee’s right to unionize. If we are to have freedom of association in this country, the government needs to come down hard on employers who attempt to interefere in their employees’ free choice whether to opt for collective bargaining. The Labour Board will likely reinstate the workers if it accepts the union’s allegations, and order other remedies to try and restore the ability of the workers to chose freely.
What I find most interesting in this story is the position of the University of Alberta. A spokesperson told the media that the U. of Alberta “does not get involved in the labour practices of its contractors.” Say what? What is that supposed to mean?
I’d have thought it was a no brainer that the response from the U of Alberta is that they will not condone any illegal conduct by their contractors, especially on university property! Would it be ok for a U of Alberta contractor to use child labour, slave labour, to pay black workers less than white workers, to pay less than minimum wage, etc.?
If the U. of Alberta maintains that it doesn’t give a crap how its contractors treat their employees, then it is likely to be subjected to a huge public relations nightmare of the sort that hit Nike when, in the 1980s, it told the media that it was not responsible for how its contractors treated their workers. That strategy only caused increased focus on labour conditions of its contractors, and Nike was later pressured to concede that it does have a responsibility to ensure its contractors comply with employment laws. Now U of Alberta will be watched very carefully by unions, labour activists, media, and, er, academics, to make sure that the Bee Clean contract is not cancelled as a result of the workers joining a union. The University has invited this scrutiny by taking the sleazy position that it could care less how workers are being treated while they clean up the University’s garbage.
Contrast Alberta’s position that it doesn’t care how its contractors’ employees are treated with the recent code of conduct adopted by York University for its liscensees. The York Code requires licencees and their subcontractors to pay a “living wage”, to respect employee freedom of association, and to comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code (!) anywhere in the world that the workplace is located.
What do you think about this issue? Do you agree with U. of Alberta’s position that it is none of its business if its contractors violate Alberta labour laws?