March 9, 2017 2:43 pm

Alberta union set for a year of ‘hard bargains’: AUPE president

WATCH ABOVE: The Alberta government is set to enter into cotract talks with thousands of public sector workers this year. As Tom Vernon explains, the talks come as the province is looking to reduce its deficit.

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The president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees is describing it as the biggest year of negotiations that they have ever been involved in.

Guy Smith said there are about 100 active collective bargaining agreements to be worked out, involving about 75,000 members.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Smith said. “But, like I said, we’ve been through so many challenges in the last few years, especially at negotiations tables that we’re prepared for it.


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“What we hope, at least, is that we’ll get a level of engagement to deal with many outstanding issues that have been unresolved for many, many years; and the level of engagement and understanding with this government and other employers that we haven’t had in the past.”

With the province facing a $10.8 billion deficit, Smith said they know the government is going to be “bargaining hard,” but he said they’re used to that.

READ MORE: Union members ratify deal with Alberta Health Services, get retroactive raise 

Finance Minister Joe Ceci said there’s no doubt they’ll be looking for savings when negotiations start with their “most valued public servants.”

“We’ve frozen political salaries for the whole length of the term,” Ceci explained. “So until 2019; we got on that in 2015. We’ve frozen management salaries since 2016, April, and that will be for two years. We’ve eliminated perks for agencies, boards and commissions – CEOs – there’s no more golf memberships… there’s no things like that anymore.”

READ MORE: Alberta government announces 2-year salary freeze at provincial agencies, boards and commissions

Smith said the essential services legislation, which allows strikes by public sector workers and lockouts, will add a different element to the bargaining.

“Our focus, as I said, is to get a deal at the table. But if we’re unable to and we reach impasse, we can no longer go to arbitration. The ways to resolve that are through a strike or a lockout.

“So, in order to do that, there are certain conditions that have to be met through an essential services agreement. This is brand new for us and we’re working on those with employers because it’s brand new for them as well.”

The legislation still requires “essential” public services to be available to the general public during any labour disruptions.

Smith said the level of morale is “very low right now,” and they’re seeing a lot of strain on the front lines that he hopes the negotiations can help ease as well.

With files from Global News

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