April 30, 2013 1:25 am
Updated: April 30, 2013 12:29 pm

Court rules Alberta union in contempt of court

Sheriffs join the striking remand workers. Group outside the Law Courts in Edmonton, April 29, 2013

Fletcher Kent, Global News

EDMONTON – At 10:30 p.m. Monday, Court of Queen’s Bench Associate Chief Justice JD Rooke ruled the union representing striking remand workers are in contempt of court. Meantime, Labour Relations Board (LRB) orders all public service employees back to work.

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The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) was fined $100,000 for contempt. That fine will increase to $250,000 if the strike is not over by noon Tuesday. It will rise to $500,000 if the labour disruption doesn’t end by Wednesday.

Earlier Monday, the government filed a contempt of court application against strikers who ignored the Labour Relations Board’s back-to-work order issued Saturday.

In response to the court ruling, the AUPE said its officials will carefully review the decision.

“We need to evaluate it very carefully and consider our legal options,” said AUPE President Guy Smith.

In addition, Monday night’s Alberta Labour Relations Board hearing directed all public service employees back to work.

The LRB’s directive reads:

“Employees in the PSERA unit are to cease their illegal strike and desist from engaging any further strike activity.”

“All employees engaged in illegal strike activity are directed to return to work immediately.” (Read the full directive below)

The directive comes after the provincial government filed a cease-and-desist order with the LRB for all striking union members.

“There’s a new cease-and-desist application that was filed at noon today,” said Aaron Padnivelan, labour relations officer with the LRB Monday afternoon. “This is specifically in response to the walkout of those employees at the courthouses across the province.”

Padnivelan said the new order was expanded to include all employees of the government who are members of or represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), potentially affecting nearly 80,000 workers across the province.

A spokesperson for the government says it will review both decisions made Monday night and provide an update to the public Tuesday morning.

The wildcat strike – which began Friday afternoon at the new Edmonton Remand Centre – has grown to include labour action at Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre, and other correctional facilities across the province in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Calgary, Red Deer and Peace River.

The strike is also affecting Alberta courts.

Provincial social workers and some court clerks joined Alberta sheriffs and parole officers Monday in support of striking correctional workers, leaving the courts largely in the hands of managers and police.

“It’s absolutely not business as usual,” defence lawyer Deborah Hatch said. “There are jury trials that are supposed to start this morning, there are other types of trials in provincial court, in Court of Queen’s Bench, and we don’t have the people that we need to function. It won’t be business as usual, it can’t be.”

Earlier in the day, Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk reiterated that the province will not negotiate until AUPE members end the illegal action and return to work. His remarks came in response to the ever-widening walkout that saw Alberta sheriffs, court clerks and social workers join correctional guards on the picket line across the province.

“Let me be perfectly clear to you. We insist that workers return back to work,” Lukaszuk said. “We have made a commitment to ensure that workplaces are as safe as they can be for Alberta employees. If there are indeed any actual concerns relative to the safety of the workplace, we will have this workplace inspected as we would inspect any other workplace once actual formal complaints are brought forward.”

AUPE president Guy Smith says there are safety concerns at the new Edmonton remand.

“Inmates are beginning to realize and find out where the weaknesses are in that facility and there’s certain things like there’s been a lot of breakage of glass,” said Smith Monday morning.

“There are certain procedures and operations that need to be looked at.”

According to the communications director for the deputy premier, Lukaszuk and AUPE president Guy Smith met Monday night.

“@LukaszukMLA had drink w/ Guy Smith tonight,” wrote Stefan Beranski on Twitter. “Gov’t: illegal strike must end. By all accounts no blood was shed. Update tomorrow a.m.”

President of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) Gil McGowan spoke at a news conference with NDP MP Linda Duncan Monday morning.

“Workers in this country, whether they’re in Alberta or any other province, have a legally recognized right to refuse unsafe work.”

“Unfortunately we’ve got a provincial government that – instead of sitting down at the table and negotiating with this group of workers about their very legitimate concerns about workplace health and safety… they are playing bully tactics instead,” said McGowan.

“Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk… is making the situation worse. The guy is a bully. He’s an ego with hair.”

“The group of workers involved in this particular dispute are correction officers, sheriffs, and other officers of the law,” added McGowan. “This is not a group of workers that takes job action lightly. This is not a group of workers that would do something that’s against the law lightly, and they only do it because they feel they’ve been left with no other alternative.”

With files from the Edmonton Journal, and Jenna Bridges, Global News

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