May 1, 2013 7:50 pm

UPDATE: Government pursuing union to cover costs of wildcat strike

EDMONTON – Premier Alison Redford says the government will file a claim to have the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) cover the costs associated with the strike, which the province estimates is $1.3 million per day.

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“We’ve been calculating costs based on having to contract police officers and RCMP and other service providers above and beyond our operating budget, and our expectation is that ‘s to the tune of about $1.3 million a day since this illegal strike started, and very clearly that’s the reason that we believe that we can pursue costs,” said Redford Wednesday morning.

She added the province won’t file the full application until it’s calculated the cost of the five day strike.

“It is the government’s view that the taxpayer should not be on the hook for the illegal actions of the union,” stressed Justice Minister Jonathan Denis. “We fully intend to pursue a grievance through an arbitrative process that is handled through the contract that we have with the union.”

He explained the government will immediately begin the process set out by the collective bargaining agreement with the union.

“We not only hope that the union will pay, we insist that the union will pay for the cost that they’ve put onto taxpayers.”

In addition, the Public Service Commissioner has filed a notice of intention to suspend the collection of union dues and fees by the AUPE executive.

“That was filed during the actual strike,” said Denis. “We fully intend to pursue that action as well.”

“It’s a separate remedy that we’re entitled to claim during a labour action,” explained Redford.

The notice, sent by Public Service Commissioner Dwight Dibben, states that because the Alberta Labour Relations Board found that AUPE members were involved in an illegal strike, the province intends to “suspend the deduction and remittance of union dues, assessments  or other fees owing to the Union by the employees of the Crown in right of the Province of Alberta for a period of six months commencing April 28, 2013.”

(The full notice is posted below)

Wednesday afternoon, the AUPE issued a statement addressing the notice of intent.

“Today, my number one priority is ensuring that our members and management employees alike understand the commitment made to the union, then confirmed in public comments made by Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, Solicitor General and Justice Minister Jonathon Denis, and Deputy Solicitor General Tim Grant that there would be no retribution against individual union members for the recent strike related activities,” said AUPE president Guy Smith.

Late Wednesday evening, the AUPE released another statement, in which Smith said he’s “furious” because Grant is telling the public one thing, and his members another.

“The promise of no retribution for strike activity was repeated by Deputy Solicitor General Tim Grant in a news conference yesterday,” Smith said. “This morning in muster Correctional Peace Officers at the Edmonton Remand Centre were told by Deputy Solicitor General Tim Grant that they weren’t protected under the amnesty deal he promised yesterday, and there was no new process to deal with their safety concerns.”

“Behind closed doors, the government is making reckless statements and inciting our members. Now is the time for them to clearly and unambiguously tell our members that they are going to honour their agreement. If they fail to do so, we will make them answer for their behaviour,” said Smith.

He says if the employer seeks any disciplinary retribution against AUPE members for the strike, the union will take whatever action is necessary to protect its members.

Tannis Brown, executive director of the Alberta Labour Relations Board, said it is “very rare” for an employer to move to suspend union dues. The government’s application appears to apply broadly to all AUPE employees, she said, which is one issue the union is disputing.

The union’s application raises a range of concerns, she said, including an allegation that the notice of dues suspension did not give proper notice.

NDP MLA Rachel Notley says the way the government is handling the labour dispute is telling.

“These guys have a very ideological, political view of the world. What we’re seeing is the clear demonstration that when it comes to working people and their rights to go to work safely and to come home in good health, those are simply not a priority for the Redford conservatives.”

“The government has not done a good job of creating a respectful, functional, relationship with their employees in that particular workplace. So, if I were them, I would go back to the table to try to fix what appears to be a pretty toxic work environment,” she adds.

The wildcat strike, which began when correctional officers at the Edmonton Remand Centre walked off the job Friday, ended late Tuesday night, when the province and the AUPE reached an agreement.

“We’re fully committed to engaging in everything that’s been bargained for with respect to health and safety issues that were raised,” said Redford Wednesday.

“But, very clearly… it would be a mistake to presume that we in any way agreed to anything, first of all, different than what was available before this illegal action started, and we certainly made it very clear over days to union leadership that we would not negotiate until workers were back to work.”

“Now that workers are back to work, we have the opportunity to sit down and deal with those issues through the structures that are in place now and were in place before this action started and we’re completely committed to doing that,” she added.

“We have no issues with the workers themselves,” said Denis. “We thank them for their service that they do to the province every day. Our action is against the union, for the illegal actions that the union has taken.”

To replace the striking workers at jails, courts, and other facilities across the province, the government had to contract police officers, RCMP members and other managers over the five day period.

At an estimated cost of $1.3 million per day, the province spent about $6.5 million on the wildcat strike.

“This is over and above our budget,” stressed Denis. “We fully intend to pursue the union for full indemnity.”

Public Service Commission- Notice of Intent: Suspension of Union Dues

© Global News, 2013

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