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Police keep watch over a body on the front steps of the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, on Dec. 2, 2019.

AMBER BRACKEN/The Canadian Press

The Alberta government is proposing major changes to rules governing unions, including limits on where and how workers can picket during strikes or lockouts.

Under a bill introduced Tuesday, pickets would not be allowed to interfere with anyone coming or going across a picket line, and secondary pickets at locations other than at the direct employer involved would need approval from Alberta’s Labour Relations Board.

Labour Minister Jason Copping said his bill is necessary to level out a playing field tilted too far in favour of unions under the former NDP government.

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“Our government supports workers’ right to strike and picket, but we must balance the rights with the rights of job creators while remaining focused on economic recovery,” Mr. Copping said.

“Significant changes were made under the previous government that pushed the balance towards the union side. We needed to make some changes to restore that balance. This legislation does a lot of that.”

The legislation calls for a raft of changes to workplace rules and union activities, including allowing union members to opt out of having their union dues go to political parties or causes.

“We will not stand for unions such as Unifor campaigning against the interests of Albertans and our core sectors using money of hard-working people who they represent in those very sectors without their explicit approval,” Mr. Copping said.

“We are treating employees like adults and giving them the power to decide.”

Unions would also be directed to provide financial statements to members as soon as possible after the fiscal year-end to ensure transparency on where the money is going.

The legislation says unions could be refused certification if they engage in prohibited practices during a certification campaign. If found to have violated the rules, they wouldn’t be allowed to reapply for six months.

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When bargaining for a first contract arbitration could only be used as a last resort.

Employers would have more latitude to hire 13- and 14-year-olds to do certain jobs in the food service industry or in light janitorial work. Employers would also be allowed to alter work averaging agreements on two weeks’ notice without the consent of an employee.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said that under Bill 32, Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has brought in “American-style union-busting strategies to shut down the free speech of working people.

“The one job he is creating here is the job for the lawyers because, without question, this whole bill is going to find its way to the courts because he’s breaching Charter right after Charter right of working people.”

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, said the bill, along with already passed legislation that clamps down on demonstrations interfering with critical infrastructure, is an attempt to silence legitimate dissent.

“When unions use free speech rights to speak out against injustice, we’re standing up for all workers,” said Unifor national president Jerry Dias.

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“Combined with criminalizing protest under the new Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, Jason Kenney is using the power of big government to silence the voices of working people.”

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