Unions feeling the chill of government delays and layoffs

October 27, 2020 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Delay tactics on the part of government agencies are frustrating several of Alberta’s public sector unions that are attempting to negotiate new collective agreements with the province.

The Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) have all been asked to delay their negotiations with government departments until March 31, 2021, when it’s hoped that the long-term implications of the coronavirus pandemic will be more clear.

While the HSAA has agreed to delay its negotiations, the AUPE and UNA have not. In fact, the UNA is considering whether or not to file a complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board over a lack of available negotiation dates offered by Alberta Health Services (AHS). Both the UNA and AUPE have been grappling with government moves to reduce staffing levels and push for more privatization.

News surfaced on Oct. 13 that AHS will be outsourcing to private companies more than 9,000 general service jobs, such as linen, cleaning, laboratory and in-patient food services. On Oct. 21, the AUPE also learned of an additional 930 job cuts that were largely concentrated in rural areas and affected various areas in the agriculture and forestry departments.

“Jason Kenney promised us jobs, but all he’s brought is pain, with layoffs, abolishments, cutbacks, cuts to public services, and tax holidays for billionaires that hurt everyone,” said AUPE president Guy Smith. “He’s not the premier of Albertans, but the premier of betrayals.”

UNA president Heather Smith said the Kenney government’s approach to lay off workers and outsource to private companies is a “venomous attack on workers.”


Heather Smith, president, United Nurses of Alberta

“This is an unprecedented attack on public services that are provided by public servants that I’ve never seen before, with no rationale other than ideology, because it’s not going to save money,” she said.

“This is just such a nightmare in terms of where this government wants to take health care, against all evidence that suggests it is bad for our province.”

Smith is concerned that AHS will push for legislation to achieve some of its bargaining goals. By the UNA’s count, AHS’s proposed package includes 250 proposals that constitute a rollback (a desire to take away a benefit that exists in a collective agreement).

“When we went into bargaining this time we were faced with the most massive rollbacks that have ever been proposed in the history of our bargaining,” she said. “This is unique in terms of the ideology and approach to the public sector.”

The public sector needs to mobilize the public to push back against government, she said, suggesting that teachers and nurses could be natural allies in this effort.

“I do believe that teachers and nurses share a common vision for a better Alberta, not a worse Alberta.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association is set to commence the first phase of negotiations, list bargaining, with the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association in early November.

“While we fully expect to be at the bargaining table throughout the coming months, as there are important issues that need addressing, once list bargaining completes we will re-evaluate the political climate before making a final decision on matters to do with bargaining,” said Peter MacKay, chair of the ATA’s Central Table Bargaining Committee. ❚

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