Alberta Labour Relations Board declines Pembina’s request to dismiss flex benefits complaint from Unifor in wake of acquisition

Parliament Hill with Unifor flags flying in front (CNW Group/Unifor)

The Alberta Labour Relations Board has decided not to dismiss an unfair labour practice complaint brought by Unifor against Pembina Gas Infrastructure (PGI). This preliminary ruling emerged from a contentious situation involving changes to employee benefits after a corporate acquisition.

In September 2022, Unifor was certified as the bargaining agent for employees at Energy Transfer Canada’s (ETC) Kabob South Amalgamated Plant, excluding office and clerical staff.

Around the same time, ETC was in the process of being sold to Pembina Pipeline Corporation and a third party, leading to PGI taking over the plant’s operations.

Following these corporate changes, around Oct. 12, 2022, Unifor initiated collective bargaining for the unit. However, by May 30, 2023, a dispute had arisen, leading Unifor to file an unfair labour practice complaint.

The union accused Pembina or PGI of breaching the Labour Relations Code by failing to honor accrued health benefits, known as flex credits, during the 120-day statutory freeze period following union certification.

Pembina responded on June 15, 2023, denying any obligation to pay the flex credits and claiming the complaint was untimely under section 16(2) of the Code. They argued that any changes to health benefits were consistent with established practices.

Subsequently, in October 2023, Pembina formally requested the Board to dismiss the complaint before the scheduled December hearing, arguing that the union was aware of the potential changes to benefits well in advance.

In reviewing the submissions, vice-chair Ian Smith found that the factual basis of the timeliness concerns was disputed and insufficiently clear to warrant dismissal at this stage. The Board highlighted the need for evidence to establish when Unifor became aware of the actions giving rise to the complaint.

“The Board adds that Pembina is not foreclosed from making its untimeliness argument once the Board has heard that evidence,” it said.

For more information, see Unifor, Local Union No. 855 v Pembina Gas Infrastructure Inc. (formerly known as Energy Transfer Canada ULC), 2023 CanLII 112681 (AB LRB)