Outreach organization facing accusations of union-busting

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — A charity organization that helps vulnerable people in Calgary and Lethbridge is being accused of trying to stifle attempts from employees to join a union.

Alpha House Society operates shelters geared toward people experiencing substance abuse issues and operates the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) team to provide services on the streets in the core.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says Alpha House is using “dirty” tactics amid a push to unionize, and an organizer has also allegedly been fired despite holding positive performance reviews. If the unionization attempt is successful — which only involves the Calgary location so far — they said about 300 employees would benefit.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill said he is surprised and disappointed to see an organization like this act in such a way.

“What Alpha House needs to do is back off, let their employees work through this process and decide if they want to be unionized, and stop trying to intimidate their employees,” Gill said.

After hearing initially about some unfair practices, CUPE filed a complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board. After this, the organizer was reportedly fired, and further threats were directed towards staff.

Gill said they had heard of people being told their wages and work conditions could suffer if they joined a union, and they also handed out large bonuses to employees.

“This is union-busting, and Alpha House should be ashamed of itself,” Gill added. “Management, right now, is operating in a very punitive, a very negative way.”

The Labour Board vote to determine the status of this union drive should be released this week, and Gill is hopeful it will be a positive result as he said all employees deserve a right to fair representation, and this is especially true for those working in such a challenging field.

“The folks working at Alpha House have dedicated their lives to making the lives of others better, and it would be great if their management could just trust them to make this decision on their own without trying to intimidate them,” Gill said.

Alpha House denied the allegations in a statement sent to 660 NEWS on Thursday evening.

“Alpha House respects the rights of our valued employees to participate in the recent union certification vote. It is our hope that our employees feel equipped to make a fair and informed choice when it comes to this important decision,” read the statement. “We would like to make it clear that Alpha House has not engaged in any unfair practices to prevent our employees from considering their options and exercising their right to vote.”

It added that the pandemic has shone a light on the importance of the work they do, and the organization is committed to supporting the employees.

On the question of the employee who was allegedly fired for organizing the union drive, Alpha House also denied that was the case.

“The decision to end our working relationship with that employee was made well ahead of the certification and was unrelated to the potential unionization of our employees,” read a statement sent on Friday morning. “Alpha House prides itself on being a respectful and inclusive work environment and we would not engage in any practices to prevent our employees from considering their options and exercising their right to vote in the union certification.”

Due to human resources considerations, Alpha House would not disclose the reasons behind the employee’s termination.

Gill said this situation could also provide more fuel to union drives in the non-profit sector if it is ultimately successful and help secure better conditions for workers.

“The management at Alpha House has nothing to fear from their workers becoming members of CUPE, and the broader non-profit has nothing to fear either,” he said. “The non-profit needs to take a look, and if they’re afraid of unions, they need to ask themselves why?”

Other supporters of the movement have said on social media that frontline workers, such as the employees at Alpha House, deserve support and a safe work environment.

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