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Alberta arbitration outcomes result in no wage increases in cases involving ATA and UNA

Alberta flag.
The provincial flag atop the Alberta legislature on Friday, February 26, 2016. Dave Carels, Global News

Finance Minister Travis Toews says rulings made in a pair of arbitration cases involving the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the United Nurses of Alberta “reflect the current economic realities in the province.”

Toews issued a news release late Friday afternoon after the arbitration rulings determined there would be no wage increases for affected union members.

In the case of the UNA, the union said the decision applies to registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses employed by Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health, Lamont Health Centre, and The Bethany Group.

The nurses’ union said the decision means there will be no salary increase in the third-year of the provincial collective agreement set to expire on March 31, 2020.

“UNA had asked for a three per cent increase and the employer was directed by the provincial government to ask for a three per cent wage rollback,” the union said in a news release. “UNA members received no salary increases in the first or second years of the contract.”

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READ MORE: Alberta nurses file bargaining complaint over proposed 3% wage cut

The UNA said that in his judgment, arbitrator David Jones noted that “no change to wage rates is justified in the third year of the current collective agreement, particularly given the prevailing general economic conditions in the province, as well as the current comparative continuity and stability of nurses’ employment and the absence of any relevant other public sector settlements that would indicate either an increase or a decrease to salaries.”

However, the union said his judgment also noted that he wished to “emphasize again that I have rejected any suggestion that the employers do not have the ability to increase wages. The issue is not whether the provincial government could (or should) increase taxes in order to increase salaries in the public sector. I also recognize the public interest in maintaining quality public institutions. However, the decision about how to balance these two objectives is political, the responsibility of the government, and not the function of an interest arbitration.”

The UNA is scheduled to begin negotiations with its members’ employer for the next provincial collective agreement next week in Edmonton.

In a letter to his union’s membership, ATA president Jason Schilling wrote that “it is difficult for me to describe how absolutely frustrated and deeply disappointed I am in this decision.”

The ATA had been seeking three per cent wage increases for teachers in both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

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“The association advanced a very strong argument in arbitration, and I was confident that a modest and reasonable salary increase was possible,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, the arbitrator largely ignored the recent history of salary restraint in teacher collective agreements and chose to focus on the state of the Alberta economy.”

For ATA members, the decision means there will be no salary increases for teachers through the term of the central agreement (Sept. 1, 2018 to Aug. 31, 2020).

“Combined with other settlements, this arbitration means general salary increases since 2012 have been 0, 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0 and 0,” Schilling wrote. “That is seven zeroes in the last eight years.

“The arbitrator has effectively kicked the can down the road.”

Schilling added that the arbitration decision “will place even greater pressure on the next round of collective bargaining” and that the ATA “will be seeking a long-overdue correction.”

READ MORE: Alberta UCP asking arbitrators to cut public service pay by 2%

Toews said he believes “the decisions align with the crucial need to fix Alberta’s spending problem and ensure the long-term sustainability of high-quality services for Albertans.”

“As the MacKinnon panel identified, public sector compensation accounts for more than half of government expenses and wages are, on average, substantially higher than other large provinces,” he said.

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“Correcting wages over time is a critical part of our government’s commitment to get our fiscal house in order. Even with these decisions, fiscal restraint and discipline must continue as we enter into new collective bargaining negotiations in 2020.”

Toews added that “there is no new money for public sector raises in the fiscal plan.”

“We have a great deal of respect and admiration for Alberta’s public sector workers,” he said. “The need for wage restraint does not diminish our recognition for the hard work they do for Albertans.”

Watch below: Some Global News videos about public sector wages in Alberta.