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Here’s the truth about Bill 32

Q & A

February 1, 2022 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary

Question: I hear that with Bill 32, I’ll get to choose whether to pay my Association dues? Is that right?

Answer: Like so much that emanates from the provincial government these days, the Bill 32 story begins and ends with a lie, with not a whole lot of truth in between.

The lie at the beginning is captured in the name of the legislation, “The Restoring Balance in Alberta Workplaces Act,” which suggests that the province’s workplaces are out of balance, mainly because union bosses were deciding unilaterally to use the fees paid by their poor unsuspecting members to fund the New Democratic Party and radical social causes much despised by the party in government.

In fact, unions are extraordinarily democratic in their structure and practices and, in any event, are already precluded by other provincial laws from contributing to political parties as well as being severely curtailed in their ability to undertake “political” advertising for causes that might be supported or opposed by any candidate or political party. Realistically, there is no imbalance to restore.

The lie at the end is that Bill 32 will enable union members to elect whether or not to pay some substantial portion of their fees that would otherwise be used for inappropriate purposes. While some ideologues were promised that the bill would be a significant step toward establishing Alberta as a “right-to-work” jurisdiction, the fact is that the protections for organized labour in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms severely curtail the province’s ability to pre-emptively constrain union activities.

And so, in an effort to pass something that might stand some dubious chance of surviving a court challenge, the government has enacted measures that will have little practical impact, but which would potentially create significant administrative burdens for unions and potentially employers as well.

In fact, if the bill were to be accurately renamed, it might be styled “The Imposing Useless, Annoying and Expensive Red Tape on People We Don’t Like Act.”

So what will this legislation, and its associated regulations, actually mean for teachers? Bill 32 amends the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) to create three categories of Association activity:

Category 1
This category includes so-called “non-core” activities such as advocacy on broad social issues and support for charities, non-governmental organizations and/or political parties.

Category 2
This covers professional development and governance.

Category 3
This encompasses all other union functions, including bargaining, member representation, lobbying and advocacy, and operations.

Activities deemed to fall into category one can only be paid from fees that members voluntarily elect to contribute. Although all of these derive from the legislated objects of the Association set out in section four of the Teaching Profession Act, were the Association to fund these category one activities from fees, provision would have to be made for every teacher to voluntarily elect to pay the portion of their fee designated for this purpose and for school boards to adjust fee deductions on an individual basis depending on each teacher’s choice.

Category two and three activities can be paid for by fees collected from members in the usual fashion.

While the Association budget for 2022/23 and the annual member fees will ultimately be determined by the Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) on the Victoria Day weekend, as things stand now, less than one per cent of the Association’s budget will be directed toward category one activities.

As the Association is by policy non-partisan, no funds are directed to political parties or candidates. What would be affected are contributions to and support of charities and broader social issues. For example, funds we donated to the Canadian Teachers’ Association Trust are currently being used to assist teachers in Haiti in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane and directed, through Education International, to help leaders of teachers’ unions and women who were teaching girls in Afghanistan to escape the Taliban regime.

The small amount we provide to the Alberta School Councils’ Association to assist with their continuing operating expenses after the minister of education cut funding to the organization for being uppity also would be subject to member election, as would funds provided by the Association to support groups that undertake research and advocacy to advance public education and other public services that benefit all Albertans.

After reviewing the situation and considering the small amount of money involved, Provincial Executive Council has decided, on a go-forward basis, to maintain support for these worthy causes and activities, but not to use member fees to do so. Instead, category one activities approved by ARA would be funded from non-fee revenue and legacy funds. As a result, opting into category one contributions will not be necessary in 2022/23.

For those who would want to defund category one activities and are disappointed that they do not have the option to exercise their personal prerogative, there is a democratic option open to them. Become involved in your Association, and run for office at the local or the provincial level. Either spend the May long weekend as an elected delegate to ARA or share your views with your ARA representative or district representative so that your perspective can be heard, debated and ultimately voted on. That is real democracy and it’s how your Association works.

More information about Bill 32 and how it applies to the Association is posted HERE.

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