Furious Alberta civil service “oranges” protest high-handed Tory “apples” during their illegal st**ke of 1980. Below: Provincial Treasurer Lou Hyndman in 1976; Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, no longer missing in action.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!

After a spell during which he appeared to be missing in action, Alberta Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk resurfaced in the news columns Thursday to offer the opinion humongous salaries paid to well-connected Tory retainers in the nosebleed seats of the civil service are a meaningless distraction from the serious business of ensuring we all live within our means.

Given what he had to say, the mystery is not why Mr. Lukaszuk was replaced by Deputy Premier Dave Hancock as the government’s spokesperson on the outrageous-labour-practices file, but why he’s been allowed to start commenting on it again!

Yes, Mr. Lukaszuk observed, the fact that the Progressive Conservative government’s own “Sunshine List,” first published a week ago, reveals the top echelons of the civil service are stuffed with people paid multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars – Janet Davidson, c’mon down! – can be a little “awkward” when you’re trying to hammer the lowliest civil servants’ union into the dirt, “there’s no doubt about it.”

This is especially true when it turns out that only 88 of the 22,000 or so unionized and supposedly overpaid rank-and-file civil servants you intend to force by legislative diktat to take a two-year wage freeze made it onto the list of government employees with base pay over $100,000.

But really, Mr. Lukaszuk explained, “we’re dealing with different job descriptions with different roles.” Like apples and oranges, you might say.

And, actually, somebody did say that – back in inflationary 1979, when the sainted Peter Lougheed was still premier of Alberta, MLAs voted themselves a 47 per cent pay increase just before the government decreed two-year salary guidelines of 7 and 9 per cent for the front-line sluggos of the civil service.

When someone pointed out the obvious, the provincial treasurer, who was then Lou Hyndman, is said to have responded: “You’re talking about apples and oranges!”

In the predictable brouhaha that followed the result was an illegal st**ke by more than 4,000 civil servants!

But that was then and this is now when, under the government of Premier Alison “Scott Walker” Redford, it’s illegal even to say the word st**ke out loud or mumble it in your sleep. It may even be illegal to think it and keep your thoughts to yourself – the lawyers are still arguing about that one.

Back in 1980, AUPE’s mildly hyperbolic assessment when the  dust settled was that they’d “effectively challenged rigged arbitration rules and the ban on st**kes.”

Now, of course, thanks to the Redford Government, there’s no arbitration, rigged or otherwise, and there will be no st**kes either – at least until the Supreme Court of Canada has an opportunity to consider the matter.

Today, though, at least some of the top levels of the civil service and the premier’s political aides are still receiving pay increases not unadjacent to 50 per cent, while the front-line’s salary guidelines have been reduced to zero.

The premier, meanwhile, recently jetted briefly off to South Africa at the mildly controversial cost of $45,000 for herself and a single aide, a trip that cost the premier of Nova Scotia the much less impressive sum of slightly less than $950. But then, he didn’t have as far to go, did he?

All of which led Mr. Lukaszuk to observe: “These situations, the premier has already spoken to it, they are not reflective of what the cabinet’s position is on moving forward with finances. We know we have to live within our means.” (Emphasis irresistibly added.)

It’s just that, apparently, some of the means we are going to have to live within are bound to be somewhat smaller than others, just as some of our belts are going to have to be a few notches tighter than the ones in the premier’s party.

Indeed, Ms. Redford responded to the outrage over her travel bill by blaming her staff and claiming that, had she known it was going to cost so much, she wouldn’t have gone. Not, readers will note, that she would have had someone look for a cheaper ticket, or, quelle horreur, ridden in the back of the plane with the lumpenproletariat.

Yes, there is a powerful whiff around this Redford Government of “Let them eat cake!” 

And when it comes to what Mr. Lukaszuk has to say about it, well, you just can’t make this stuff up!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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  1. Redford and gang can’t even do underhanded politics right. The Sunshine list has exposed how grossly overpaid her inner circle is and how many managers the front line staff are carrying on their backs. AUPE has a mere 88 people on this list, and those 88 are people like scientists who can actually do something useful for Albertans. Redford’s arrogance and hypocrisy are beyond words.

    1. APS Employee makes an extremely important point, which deserves to be repeated. The 88 AUPE members identified by the Sunshine List as having base salaries over $100,000 will in every case be highly trained specialists for whom the almighty market demands relatively high salaries – research scientists, medical professionals in direct government service (as opposed to working for AHS) and technical specialists of other kinds. In other words, if they’re not paid that much, they will go elsewhere. Moreover, it is a certainty that almost all of them will be at the very bottom of the range – no $400,000-plus earners in that group. The more typical AUPE member is the clerk in Local 001 who earns $30,000 a year with a university education and after seven years of sterling service has the opportunity to raise that to $33,000. It’s astonishing that those people don’t … I’ll leave it to your imagination.

      1. I enjoy your blog, David… but sometimes you take the rhetoric a bit too far. I’ve never come across this university educated clerk making $30,000 a year you mention. Internships even start over $40k (Policy interns can start as high as $50K) – anyone still working a clerk position for seven years with a degree has only themselves to blame as there are myriad opportunities for degree holders in government to advance.

        1. Not rhetoric, AUPE Employee 0025363, research: Go to AUPE.org and click on “Member Resources,” then click on “Government Services” under “Your Collective Agreement,” then click on Local 001 and look for the pay rates for what are colloquially known as clerks. Please don’t tell me that there aren’t lots of university graduates in the Admin Support classification. That said, of course there are some university grads fortunate enough to start in categories with higher pay rates. But “policy interns,” many of whom I’ll bet are men, and clerks, most of whom are women, are not the same thing. That there’s also a gender aspect to this matter, I am required to say so I won’t be accused of more rhetoric, is just a feeling, not based on research. I’ll bet you I’m right about this too, though. So I stand by my research, rhetoric or whatever it is.

  2. As the saying goes….we are all equal but some are more equal than others!! – oh Lukaszuk have you not learned anything while attempting to play a leadership role – (emphasis on play).

  3. It simply has to be said, that while AUPE members are not the real wage hogs in the GOA, neither are they competent, hard-working or responsible. Admittedly, much of the blame for allowing such group of feckless, incompetent dawdlers to exist in the public service has to fall onto management. Still, as a group of workers the AUPE membership is simple breath-taking in their lackadaisical and irresponsible approach to both their duties on the job and their position in the body politic.

    1. ? The “ranger’s”This diatribe is based upon what evidence? How is AUPE members different in their overall competence than, oh say, Encana employees?

      Oh and by the way, even the private sector recognizes there are clear problems with performance assessments in the form of formal reviews, in case that was what rangers was referring to. Check out (http://albertaventure.com/2010/12/why-the-traditional-performance-review-is-getting-a-failing-grade-from-some-alberta-companies/ where business types say
      “many managers and employees see the review as an irrelevant inconvenience, a stubborn hold-over from an era when organizations were run like machines and employees were cogs that omniscient operators needed to constantly control, monitor and evaluate to maximize efficiency. We might admire the style of the Mad Men era, but when it comes to workplace culture, the philosophy of the 1960s and that of 2010 don’t mix.”

      And, surprise surprise,

    2. @politicalranger
      Our host is kind enough and engaged enough to allow commentary from even the most fringe voices (aka you and me). However when one of those voices chooses to malign a group I have to take exception. To put what I’m about to say to you in context I can confidently state that you and every Albertan, has been served in a positive way by a dues paying union member. You and I have may have common issues with AUPE, UNA, UNIFOR, UFCW. etc. but I and you should never assume that the members are any different than you and I. The only organizations (I mean ONLY) that stand between a complete overrun by the power of money and the right to fairness are these flawed but precious unions. So unfortunately Mr. Ranger you have struck out with that comment. Next time maybe suggest how workers can use their power to organize more effectively and I’ll listen but if you want to call me and incompetent dawdler… well… see you outside boss.

    3. Pat ‘n’ Pogo need to consider the possibility that the P-ranger is an embittered former AUPE member of even activist who didn’t get whatever it was he or she hoped to get from the union. Every organization, and every level of every organization, contains enough “feckless, incompetent dawdlers” to inspire a whole genre of literature. The Alberta government is no different. To tar all Alberta employees, all AUPE members, all members of a given branch of military service or whatever group you wish to point to is without merit.

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