The Supreme Court won’t hear a case involving the rights of public-sector workers in Alberta in a labour dispute with the province’s government.
The high court was deciding whether to hear an appeal of a decision made six months ago by the Alberta Court of Appeal on legal action taken by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the province’s largest public-sector union.
The union was challenging legislation passed last summer by Premier Jason Kenney’s government to delay binding arbitration in collective bargaining agreements affecting thousands of workers.
Affected workers include nurses, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.
The province passed the law in June, saying it needed the delay to gain a better understanding of the province’s finances.
In July, the union succeeded in getting an injunction that suspended the new law on the grounds it could cause irreparable harm to future collective bargaining.
The government almost immediately appealed and on Sept. 6 the Alberta Court of Appeal, in a split decision, overturned the injunction. The Appeal Court noted the government had not removed the right to arbitration but had simply delayed it.
As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reason for its decision.
Also last fall, a report from a government-commissioned panel urged wage and spending restraints in the public sector.
Based on that report, the province changed its original negotiating position with the union. The government urged arbitrators to roll back wages — in some cases by as much as five per cent — instead of freezing them.
An arbitrator eventually awarded most members of the AUPE a one per cent increase.
Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews said at the time that the increase would cost $35 million and the savings would have to be found elsewhere to make up the difference.
In February, the province asked about 24,000 staff, including sheriffs and social workers, to take a pay cut in their next contract. The union has said that was done out of spite for the arbitration award.
The union has said the province’s opening proposal is for a one per cent wage cut in the first year followed by a three-year wage freeze.