HSAA president Mike Parker and the leaders of Alberta’s largest public sector unions were at the legislature June 13 for the introduction of Bill 9
THE FIX IS IN AND THEY KNOW IT. Alberta public service workers know conservative premier Jason Kenney is out to get them and shred their contracts. Even if he has to break the law to do it.
In the short term, he plans to delay any possibility of improvements to public service contracts; in the long term, he plans to actually dismantle those contracts. Both actions will violate the terms of negotiated collective agreements. Something the Supreme Court of Canada has time and again ruled to be illegal. Kenney doesn’t really care.
The political cred he gains in the process will more than make up for what the supreme court may eventually rule to be a Charter violation.
Step one: delay
Two years ago thousands of Alberta teachers, nurses and government workers accepted a two year wage freeze in return for the possibility of wage arbitration talks to begin in 2019—the last year of the contract. Most observers believe such talks will favour the workers.
Kenney has already moved to short-circuit that possibility. In January, the government asked for a delay in the process leading up to reopening wage talks for 13 Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE) union locals, including sheriffs, correctional officers, conservation officers, food inspectors, trades workers and Alberta Health Services general support workers. The independent arbitrator refused.
However, in May the government asked for, and got, a delay in the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) wage arbitration talks.
The bill introduced June 13 is the ultimate door closer. It will postpone the start of any arbitration hearings until after Halloween, and suspend hearings that are already underway—a scary thought for all unionized workers in Alberta.
The legislation will impact 24 collective agreements covering roughly 180,000 public sector employees, some of them directly employed by the government but most by public agencies like Alberta Health Services.
The government claims the delay is necessary to allow the so-called “blue-ribbon” panel into Alberta’s finances to do its work in assessing the best way to fix Alberta’s economy. The panel is headed by Janice MacKinnon, who is the former Saskatchewan NDP finance minister who closed 52 rural Saskatchewan hospitals and went on a privatization spree. MacKinnon has also publicly proclaimed herself a big fan of wage rollbacks followed by wage freezes. More evidence that the fix is in.
Bill 9 freezes negotiations so no arbitrator can properly do his or her job and allow collective bargaining to function as the Charter and the Supreme Court say it should.
This is why public sector union presidents like Heather Smith of UNA, Mike Parker of HSAA (Health Sciences Association of Alberta), Guy Smith of AUPE and Greg Jeffrey of the ATA (Alberta Teachers Association) were lined up in the legislature June 13 to condemn the bill.
Only making things worse
“This is a bully bill,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “They are using the power of their majority in government to break legally-binding contracts.”
McGowan pointed out suppressing the wages of public service workers doesn’t translate into higher private sector wages. The truth is actions in one sector reverberate across the whole economy. The result is that lowering wages in the public sector will inevitably lower wages in the private sector.
“The big question is: why are they doing this?” asks McGowan. “They say it’s about balancing the budget, but they’re doing it at the same time they’re giving billions in tax breaks to profitable corporations, which will have the effect of making the government’s fiscal situation worse, not better.
“So, it’s clear that what’s really happening here is that these conservatives want to cut the wages of tens of thousands of working Albertans to pay for handouts to their wealthy friends.”
Waiting for the federal election
But, if that’s what the Kenney conservatives want, why fiddle around with a delay? Why not just bull ahead and attack the public sector unions head on, right now?
Because they don’t want to do anything that might damage the federal Conservative chances in the coming federal election. So Kenney and the United Conservative Party of Alberta will buy itself some time and wait out the election.
After that, it’ll be open season on all public service workers in Alberta.
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