Through Alberta’s darkest days, we must build a bright future: An urgent call for unity and solidarity

Greetings UFCW Local 401 members,

We are reaching out to you out of a feeling of concern and an urgent need for unity.

During the sleepy summer days, without consultation with you and taking full advantage of the anxiety we’ve all been feeling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) government has just enacted a series of laws that threaten everyday Albertans’ way of life.

In particular, the UCP recently passed Bill 32, a law that is both nasty and shocking. It is designed to destroy unions’ ability to be able to help you, takes away basic employment rules for working Albertans, and effectively stops protest as a means for pushing for social change. This law will lower standards of living for workers and will result in a loss of human and civil rights in our province.

Labour lawyers are reviewing the impact of Bill 32 and are developing a strategy to challenge it in the courts. It is likely unconstitutional. But the UCP government doesn’t seem to care. In the meantime, the impact of this law will be to crush freedom of expression and association. It feels like we are in Alabama, not Alberta. It feels like our Premier is Donald Trump.

This letter to you, in part, is a technical requirement of Bill 32; we must tell you about it. That said, we don’t believe it is a just or fair law – as such, we don’t believe it’s binding. We are regrouping, growing stronger, and preparing for a major battle for all working Albertans. But we must do some things differently (for now).

Bill 32 places broad restrictions on what our union can do with union dues. It says, in part, that “dues monies, assessments, initiation fees [cannot be spent] on social causes or issues, charities or non-governmental organizations, organizations or groups affiliated with or supportive of a political party.”

Bill 32 means we can only use your union dues for activities strictly defined in the Labour Relations Code: negotiations and representing union members. While these things are the basics of what we have done and will continue to do, we have always done much more to ensure workers feel pride and can celebrate being part of a strong union that pushes for social change. The law says we can’t freely do that now. And we aren’t (for now).

Our union has always been about much more than the basics. We need to be much more. Here are some recent things we have done that Bill 32 now stops us from doing (for now):

  • Standing in front of the Cargill plant in High River to demand better health and safety laws for all food processing workers
  • Lobbying the government for mandatory plexiglass at check stands in grocery stores
  • Pushing for employers to provide proper personal protective equipment for all workers during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Fighting to eliminate cancer-causing receipts and labels in grocery stores
  • Participating in pride parades to demand equality and justice for all
  • Supporting the Alberta Federation of Labour, the strongest voice for workers and their issues in our province (they’ve done this work for decades, and we’ve supported them for decades)
  • Lobbying for better laws to protect those affected by domestic violence
  • Pushing to end racism and discrimination in society
  • Rallying to empower women and vulnerable communities, such as temporary foreign workers and workers of colour.

Our union has proudly supported charitable causes like Angel Flight, a non-profit service that helps disadvantaged sick people gain access to free airfare to medical facilities. We have donated to Simon House Recovery Centre to help support services for people seeking to enter recovery from the scourge of addiction. We have worked to raise money for Leukemia research, helping to fight this terrible cancer that disproportionately affects children. We have a humanitarian fund for union members who have fallen on hard times.

The UCP government wants us to stop doing and supporting these things. They are telling you that you should reject your union and belief in social justice. They say that each union member must now individually “opt in” through more paperwork to enable us to spend union dues on these kinds of things.

Union dues build strong organizations run by and for workers. They are used to represent you and pursue social justice causes to make the world a better place for workers and for the most vulnerable. Union dues are used prudently, responsibly, and with accountability. Decisions on how to spend union dues are typically made by our union’s Executive Board, an elected group of UFCW Local 401 members just like you from around the province.

To be clear: this is the fiercest attack on unions in decades, and we need to unite and take action. Justice in society is also about justice at work, and the UCP government says social justice should no longer be freely pursued by unions.

But we are a new union with new voices, and your voices will matter and will be heard! We know that the best way for workers to counter injustice is to stand up, speak up, and fight back!

In our fights with employers, we stand with you. When you are in need of help, we are there. We need you to stand with your union and with each other now more than ever. We need your help to be able to continue the fights we need to fight. We ask you to stand with us as we face this attack. We need to hear your voices, and we need new voices.

In the weeks to come, we will be reaching out to you to ensure you have a personal opportunity to have your say on the future direction of your union and your right to direct UFCW Local 401 to fully pursue a more just society, no matter what a few politicians and bosses think.

Let’s stand up against the suppression of our rights by politicians who seek to silence us and elevate the voices of employers over those of working Albertans. Let us transform these dark days of the UCP and their Bill 32 into a brighter future for workers.

For more information, please call your union office at 1-800-252-7975, or email us at

In solidarity,

Thomas Hesse

Richelle Stewart