EDMONTON – The head of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is calling Premier Alison Redford a bully after “the Alberta Conservatives used their majority to ram through Bills 45 and 46.”
Gil McGowan made the comments Thursday morning. He says he encouraged his members to support the PCs in the last election, but wants them to remember this legislation when the next election rolls around.
“Alison Redford is not a progressive, she’s a fraud. Despite her history as a human rights lawyer, she is also no defender of rights in a democracy,” McGowan said. “Real democratic leaders understand that they have to respect others and work with others. Bullies use their power to impose their will. Alison Redford is a bully.”
Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, will significantly increase fines for unions engaged in an illegal strike. Unions will be fined $250,000 a day during an illegal strike and forced to pay an additional $1 million daily into a liability fund.
The government said this is in response to a wildcat walkout of prison guards and other security staff in April, which forced the province to scramble to keep prisons safe and courthouses operating.
Bill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, will eliminate a binding arbitration process and impose a wage deal if the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) does not negotiate a contract by Jan. 31.
Redford has urged AUPE president Guy Smith to come back to the bargaining table. She said the process went off the rails after the union filed for arbitration and Smith walked away from negotiations.
Smith had warned the union would not negotiate if the bill passed.
On Tuesday, Premier Redford said she was getting a sense from public servants that they understood why she was imposing a wage restraint deal on the union. She said they understood her government needs a contract in line with the pay freezes taken by doctors and teachers.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said he hoped the legislation would spur negotiations with the union.
“It basically says, ‘we’re not going to go to arbitration, there’s a timeframe to come to the table and negotiate an agreement by the end of January.’ If progress is being made it can be extended to the end of March, but if no agreement has come, then the agreement would be what’s in legislation.”
Despite much outcry by several unions — including the AFL, AUPE and Alberta Teachers’ Association — both bills passed in the Alberta Legislature overnight.
Smith says the legislation is an attack on workers’ rights.
“We’re hearing from Albertans across the province that, even if they don’t believe in unions, even if they don’t like unions, they don’t like the way this government is acting,” Guy Smith said. “And they recognize that if the government can, with a stroke of a pen, erase rights that have been in place for almost 40 years, what does that say about this government? And what other rights can they take away with a stroke of a pen?”
After filing an initial complaint earlier this week, the AUPE says it is filing another complaint against the government at the Alberta Labour Relations Board, to be followed by a legal challenge at the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and a complaint to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization.
“Are we going back to the bargaining table? Well, the first place we’re going is the Alberta Labour Relations Board, the second place we’re going is the Court of Queen’s bench, and the third place is the United Nations’ International Labour Organization,” said Smith.
“Our obligation to our members is to negotiate the best deal possible. I don’t know that can be done while there’s a gun on the table, and that’s what Bill 46 is. It is fundamentally an attempt to extort an unacceptable deal out of our membership.”
McGowan says both bills violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the union will also be taking legal action.
“It’s clear that we will be going to court and it’s clear that the Redford government will lose,” he said. “The Supreme Court of Canada has been very clear in its recent rulings in labour law: Workers have the right to associate in unions; That right is meaningless without the right to collective bargaining. And governments that use legislation to impose contracts make a mockery of collective bargaining.”
The AFL also unveiled a televised ad, accusing Redford of using her “legislative majority to ram through laws that will stifle free speech and trample workplace rights.”
The AFL is an umbrella organization that speaks for 145,000 unionized workers across Alberta.
With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News and The Canadian Press.