Alberta nurses launching legal challenge of province’s wage arbitration bill

Alberta unions take government to court over Bill 9
June 24: The United Conservative government is being sued by its employees. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees filed a statement of claim against Bill 9. Tom Vernon reports.

*UPDATE: On June 24, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees filed a statement of claim against the provincial government, claiming Bill 9 breaches its members charter rights. AUPE also plans to seek an injunction against the legislation in an effort to get arbitration hearings underway again. 

The union representing Alberta’s nurses has instructed its legal team to launch a legal challenge of the United Conservative government’s Bill 9, arguing it’s a breach of contract and in violation of nurses’ Charter rights.

Bill 9 imposes a delay on wage talks for unionized workers who took pay freezes in the first years of their contracts, but had the right to reopen pay negotiations this year — with arbitration if needed.

The government says the delay is only until November, but unions and the NDP predict arbitration will never take place and the government will begin imposing wage cuts as early as this fall.

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READ MORE: Alberta finance minister won’t guarantee delayed union arbitration will occur

The Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act passed third reading on June 19, despite heated debate through the night and the NDP doing “all it could” to fight the bill.

Nurses joined other public sector workers in the gallery at the legislature during Question Period on June 20 to “demonstrate their displeasure with the violation of their rights,” the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) said in a news release Friday.

“UNA and other unions will be meeting in the days ahead to chart their response to Bill 9,” the release said.

“UNA has instructed its legal counsel to launch a legal challenge of this breach of the contract and violation of its members’ Charter rights through the courts.”

The union said that while the finance minister portrayed the bill as a “mere procedural delay” while a panel takes a closer look at Alberta’s finances, it “clearly breaches both UNA’s current collective agreement and the Charter rights of UNA members.”

“Further analysis of the bill suggests the government could roll back wages without going to the legislature, simply by amending regulations in a closed-door cabinet meeting,” the UNA continued.

Watch below (May 14): Tensions are rising between organized labour and the new government, and nurses’ wage negotiations are at the heart of the dispute. Tom Vernon explains.

Alberta nurses accuse province of breach of contract in wage talks
Alberta nurses accuse province of breach of contract in wage talks

The workers affected by Bill 9 include nurses, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.

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READ MORE: Alberta premier under fire for handing out earplugs during legislative debate

Other unions had promised to challenge the legislation in court and haven’t ruled out job action.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) said Thursday that unions are considering their next step.

“If the premier thinks he can tear up contracts and trample on workers’ rights without a fight, he has another thing coming,” AFL president Gil McGowan said.

— With files from Caley Ramsay