New union dues opt-in provisions enacted as part of Bill 32 – the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act – took effect last month. On the surface, the law is about unions and the workers they represent. But its consequences are far-reaching, and threaten to cost millions in lost donations to charities and community organizations in the province, according to a study released today by the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute.
This comes at a time when the surging cost of living makes the work of charities all the more important and charities themselves struggle with increased demand and rising costs. “The UCP’s goal with Bill 32 might have been to make unions’ life more difficult,” says Jason Foster, study author and Parkland Institute director. “But they have also made it harder for community organizations to deliver important services to Albertans across the province.”
The opt-in provisions in Bill 32 split union dues into two parts. One is comprised of the amounts used for core representational activities, such as collective bargaining and grievance settlement. This portion of the dues isn’t affected by the Bill. But the other part – which refers to amounts spent with so-called “non-core activities” – will no longer be automatically deducted from union members’ paycheques. Instead, workers are now required to individually opt in if they want to pay more. Crucially, charitable donations made by unions are considered non-core and thus subject to the opt-in provisions.
Based on an extensive survey of Alberta unions, Parkland’s new study shows the current impact of union donations on the non-profit sector: “The average union responding to the survey spent 2.9% of its total expenditures on donations to community-based organizations in 2021,” says Foster. That corresponds to annual donations of well over $6 million by the labour movement in Alberta.
The survey also asked whether those numbers would be affected by the new opt-in provisions — and found out that many unions are reconsidering their charitable donations. “One-third of unions indicated they will be reducing their financial support to community organizations,” says Foster, “but the impact of their decision is sizeable.” The amount these unions plan to cut totals 38% of their reported donations. “We can estimate that in total, the lost donations to community organizations will amount to over $2.5 million,” says Foster. The total reduction is likely to be even greater, as one-third of unions in the survey indicated that they had not yet decided how to proceed.
Since its introduction, Bill 32 has been framed by the government as an effort to increase unions’ accountability to their members and by critics as an attack on union rights. Lost in this debate are the Bill’s broader effects on Albertans. This study reveals one of the groups negatively impacted by Bill 32: community organizations that will lose millions of dollars in revenue due to unions being forced to address Bill 32’s opt-in provisions.
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The study “Alberta Charities to Lose Millions Under Bill 32” is authored by Jason Foster and co-authored by David Simpson. For the full study, visit https://www.parklandinstitute.ca/charities
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