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Q & A: Religious opt-out a rarely exercised option

March 22, 2016 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: The Public Education Collective Bargaining Act includes provisions that allow a teacher who objects to membership in a trade union because of a religious conviction or religious belief to apply to the Labour Relations Board, which may order that the teacher’s membership in the Association not include union membership and that the teacher not be required to pay the Association the portion of membership fees related to union representation. What are the implications of this provision for the Association?

Answer: For many years, the Labour Relations Code has included provisions that allow a union member to ask the Alberta Labour Relations Board to exclude the individual from membership in a trade union on the basis of religious conviction or religious belief. In such an instance, the individual’s union fees are forwarded to a charitable organization mutually agreed upon or, where there is no agreement, to a charity determined by the Labour Relations Board.

There have been virtually no applications under this provision. While this has existed for trade union members, there was no parallel provision in the Teaching Profession Act. In fact, exclusion from membership in the Association would compromise the Association’s professional regulatory functions under the Teaching Profession Act. While the Association does have union responsibilities, it also has extensive regulatory functions, including establishing and policing conduct standards and undertaking a review of the professional practice of teachers referred to the Association by the superintendent of schools.

The Public Education Collective Bargaining Act provides for members or prospective members who hold a religious conviction or belief not to be union members to apply to the Labour Relations Board to be excluded from this portion of Association membership. A teacher who succeeds with such an application would not be a member of the bargaining unit, would not go on strike or be subject to lockout, and would not participate in any meeting of the bargaining unit. The teacher would still be required to remit membership fees, but the portion of the total fee relating to union representation would be paid by the Association to a mutually agreed upon charity. The teacher would not receive union representation but would pay the same fee as teachers who are active members and eligible for all services.

This provision will appeal to a very small number of individuals who, for religious reasons, do not wish to be members of a union. However, there is no financial incentive to do so (you pay the same fee as individuals whose membership includes union representation), and the individual does not receive union services. A bona fide application must be approved by the Labour Relations Board, which also sets the portion of the fee directed to the charity. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (

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