Redford Government shows bad faith by rushing labour law changes

Alberta Legislature Protest #BuildingAlberta
Hundreds of Albertans gathered outside of the Legislative Assembly today to protest new labour laws.

Providing a timely distraction for a government facing criticism over the sobering news stories of unreported deaths of children in the foster care system, Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservatives today suddenly introduced two pieces of legislation that could have a significant impact on labour relations in Alberta.

The first piece of legislation, Bill 46: Public Service Salary Restraint Act, introduced by Finance Minister Doug Horner, would impose a two-year wage-freeze on more than 22,000 government employees represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. AUPE is currently in negotiations with the government for a new collective agreement and this bill would allow the government to bypass a law requiring it to settle the negotiations with AUPE through arbitration, which had been scheduled for February 2014.  Bill 46 would take effect on January 31, 2014 if the two parties cannot reach a settlement before that date.

This bill is reminiscent of threats made by Education Minister Jeff Johnson to the Alberta Teachers’ Association earlier this year. During those negotiations, Mr. Johnson threatened to cut salaries and impose a new contract on Alberta’s teachers if an agreement was not reached by an arbitrary deadline. Once a deal was finally reached between the government and the teachers’ union, Mr. Johnson then legislated the agreement after a number of elected school boards voted to reject the deal on financial grounds.

The introduction of this legislation raises a real question about the state of collective bargaining in Alberta. Can this government, as an employer, be trusted to bargain in good faith with its employees? And what incentive is there for employers bargain fairly with their employees if the government will just impose an agreement?

The second piece of legislation, Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act, introduced by Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, significantly increases the penalties for illegal strikes by workers who are determined to provide essential services. Mr. Hancock introduced this bill as a response to the wildcat strike by corrections officers that began at the Edmonton Remand Centre earlier this year. The government proposes to introduce harsh fines of up to $1,000,000 per day on a union in the case of an illegal strike or even the threat of a illegal strike.

As David Climenhaga wrote on his blog, the real reason the government is rushing these changes through the legislature is not the possibility of illegal strikes, but the compromise currently enshrined in the current labour relations system:

“While former premier Peter Lougheed deprived public employees of the right to strike in the event of an impasse in bargaining, in return they got access to a compulsory arbitration process. In other words, an arbitrator who looks at the facts, the laws and private-sector comparisons, and who then has the right to impose a settlement on both parties.”

That these new laws threaten to damage the electoral coalition that helped elect Ms. Redford in the 2012 election doesn’t appear to have been considered by the long-governing PCs. Nor did the PC government blink when it proposed changes that will negatively impact public sector pensions or when it imposed deep budget cuts on Alberta’s post-secondary education system, attacking another key community that was part of Ms. Redford’s coalition.

With Ms. Redford turning on her supporters in the public service, Alberta’s public sector employees could find themselves with allies in untraditional places.

“A Wildrose government would never act in this way. Just because your negotiation isn’t going well, you don’t take away people’s arbitration rights that are in the contract that was signed. That’s not how you govern. That’s not good faith,” Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson told the Edmonton Sun.

For reasons that are unclear, Ms. Redford’s government is moving quickly to pass this legislation. At Mr. Hancock’s urging, MLAs have made an unordinary exception to meet for a special sitting on Friday, November 29 in order to ensure that Bill 45 passes through the Legislature in the next 48 hours and becomes law before the weekend.

14 thoughts on “Redford Government shows bad faith by rushing labour law changes”

  1. I was wondering where the Wildrose opposition were in all this and then there he is, adding a bit of humour to the conversation … “A Wildrose government would never act in this way.” Funny indeed! Just sayin’

  2. You wrote: “That these new laws threaten to damage the electoral coalition that helped elect Ms. Redford in the 2012 election doesn’t appear to have been considered by the long-governing PCs. Nor did the PC government blink when it imposed deep budget cuts on Alberta’s post-secondary education system, attacking another key community that was part of Ms. Redford’s coalition.” (I have taken the liberty of correcting a small typo in this passage.)

    I’ll bet you that they DID consider the threat to their winning coalition. But I truly believe the Redford Tories are so arrogant they actually think they can do anything they like to the people who saved them in 2012 and then turn around and get their support back by saying ooga-booga Wildrose. In other words, they think we’re stupid. It’s up to us to prove to them we’re not.

    As George W. Bush said: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” You-all know what he meant.

  3. Well! That is the last time I vote for the Conservative-Wildrose Party and it’s leader, Alison Smith! Talk about chewing off not just the hand but the arm that voted her in.

  4. The $1M per day is not a fine, its a prepayment of liability. The fine is $250,000 plus $50 per employee per day. Plus loss of dues for one month per day of the strike. Employees could also lose their pay for the duration, and Union execs could be fined $10,000 per day.

  5. The Tories have been concerned that their fundraising has been unsuccessful this year relative to Wildrose. Increasingly Big Oil and rich, undemocratic forces generally have been making it clear that they want Redford to follow and even go beyond Klein anti-worker policies. As in the U.S., having thinned the trade union movement in the private sector, big business is turning its attention to smashing it in the public sector. Obviously, Redford knows that she risks losing the very people who voted for her as leader (non-Tories with public sector jobs who became one-day Tories) and then held their noses to vote for her party in the provincial election. But it’s increasingly obvious that she’s just a puppet. The real issue is whether labour in this province has any fighting spirit left and any real strategy for ousting the Right. There’s lots of ritual opposition by labour to the policies of the Right. But unless our divided and weak labour movement can come up with a clear plan of action that unites labour’s cause with those of many other civil society groups, we may be going the way of Wisconsin, and maybe even Alabama.

  6. I think the only answer here is to not only defeat the Progressive Conservatives, but also only not allow any government to have a majority. From then, there will be a chance to get a government more responsive to the needs of the populace. When you look at when the most progressive legislation has happened on the federal scene it has happened with minority governments. People should freak out at the mention of minority or coalition governments because they exist in the countries of Europe and as far as I can tell Europe hasn’t fallen into the ocean(but with climate change a reality they might face a lot challenges similar to that one). I think my fellow AUPE members(and I am member of Local 52)should vote for those people with the best labour record, and not strategically like many did in 2012 when they held their nose for the Progressive Conservatives.

  7. The union leaders fail to recognize that they have lost all their credibility when it comes to their bargaining positions. Their wining and the levels of greed displayed over the years have left the tax payers of Alberta (the silent MAJORITY) steaming hopping mad. Their leaders talk about the private sector getting increases in pay above the union (are you kidding me???)…and then they completely neglect to comment on massive ridiculously silly benefit packages, vacations, sick days and the huge taxpayer funded pensions they will get. We would all like pensions like the union….but the rest of us poor working schmucks have to save for our retirement AND contribute to the union workers pensions who have their retirement largely covered by us. I doubt the unions will ever push the reality button…..I doubt they will ever change their spin…..and they certainly have no sympathy from me, my neighbors and my friends. NONE!

  8. public sector workers like city workers are not funded by taxpayers for pensions, yes taxes do help pay their wages while they work to keep the streets clear in the winter and maintain power and water in all conditions. they pay into the pension plan themselves, yes they have decent benefits and vacation but it is usually at a wage 2.8% below inflation since they are held at 3 year contracts. this barely MEETS cost of living let alone exceed it. the workers are very important and work all sorts of shift work which is hard on families but i love how no one ever mentions the guys at work on Christmas, instead of being home with family.. but they do this so their is coverage for emergencies. give your heads a shake

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