Canadian Union of Public Employees

Edmonton Public Schools Support Staff

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UCP pushing through Bill 9 that will hurt workers

Arbitration deadline prompting Alberta to ‘ram’ labour bill: union

Edmonton Journal June 20, 2019

The Alberta government is taking “undemocratic” steps to race a labour bill through the legislature to beat an arbitrator’s potential ruling on government workers’ wages, the province’s largest union says.

As the Opposition NDP accused the government Wednesday of taking unprecedented steps to “ram” Bill 9 through the legislature by the end of the week, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said it will meet with an arbitrator Friday and Saturday. That’s where the union will argue 23,000 front-line government employees deserve raises, AUPE president Guy Smith said Wednesday.

The arbitrator could make a ruling as soon as Friday.

“That’s why they’re ramming it through,” Smith said. “They don’t want an independent third party, based on facts, to make a decision (about) front-line workers. I find that really quite disgraceful.”

The finance minister’s press secretary, Jerrica Goodwin, said Wednesday the government is “trying to maintain a reasonable and effective pace within the legislature.”

Introduced June 13, the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act would allow the government to break negotiated agreements with unions by delaying any arbitration on wages until after Oct. 31.

The government said the bill is to defer wage decisions until after a blue-ribbon panel of experts, led by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, reports back on the province’s spending.

Union leaders have called the bill an “egregious attack” on the collective bargaining rights of 180,000 Alberta workers.

ALREADY IN ARBITRATION

Smith said AUPE workers in eight locals, including social workers, correctional officers, court clerks and the sheriffs who protect MLAs, began wage arbitration on June 11. Last month, arbitrator Phyllis Smith turned down a government request to delay the process, according to the union.

The workers’ three-year contract, which was ratified last year, stipulates an arbitrator must make a decision about their 2019 wages by June 30, Smith said. They received no wage increases in 2017 or 2018, he said.

Smith doesn’t know what will happen to arbitration if Bill 9 becomes law before Friday.

The union is ready to launch a legal challenge of the bill as soon as it is proclaimed, he said.

The government has also introduced time limits on the bill’s debate, which has infuriated the NDP. Opposition MLAs argued against it until 3 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said Wednesday a clause in Bill 9 could give the government the power to cut public workers’ wages without requiring legislation or negotiation.

“I’m very concerned about the powers this gives the government,” NDP labour critic Christina Gray said. “I see huge risks with this section.”