If not cordiale, at least entente. Alberta Premier Dave Hancock and AUPE President Guy Smith celebrate their tentative contract agreement yesterday. Actual Alberta public figures may not appear exactly as illustrated. (I freely admit stealing this idea from Daveberta.ca.) Below: Jim Prentice, Mr. Hancock and Mr. Smith.

The threat of open warfare between Alberta’s government and its largest union over the contract for unionized civil servants ended yesterday, after the ruling Progressive Conservative dynasty, nervously awaiting the coming of latest supposed saviour, appears to have sued for peace.

Pretty obviously, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees won, although, just as clearly, AUPE didn’t achieve this victory entirely on its own.

The tentative agreement – which is certain to be approved by the 22,000 civil servants represented by AUPE – paves the way for a relatively trouble-free coronation for banking executive and former federal Tory cabinet minister Jim Prentice, whom scores of anonymous sources and members of the Alberta Twitterati were busy insisting yesterday really is going to run for the PC leadership.

Thus, in the wee hours of yesterday morning, the AUPE and government bargaining teams agreed to a four-year deal that will see direct employees of the provincial government receive a lump-sum payment of $1,850 in the first year and pay increases of 2 per cent, 2.25 per cent and 2.5 per cent in each of the subsequent years.

There are many other improvements in the agreement, as well, which was reached through collective bargaining that only took place thanks to an injunction granted to AUPE by Mr. Justice Denny Thomas of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. In his Valentine’s Day ruling, Mr. Justice Thomas excoriated the government for bargaining in bad faith before ordering it not to use legislation passed in December to impose a contract on the union until AUPE had the opportunity to appeal the law.

Yesterday’s announcement was a far cry from the deal that would have been imposed by the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, still known as Bill 46, which was intended to force AUPE to accept a four-year contract with a wage freeze in the first two years and a 1-per-cent pay increase in each of the next two years. The act also stripped AUPE of the right to binding arbitration, granted to the union by Peter Lougheed’s government in 1977 in return for its loss of the right to strike.

Before Bill 46 was passed by the Legislature, Finance Minister Doug Horner defended the tough conditions as necessary for the province “to live within its means.” But compare the bill’s brutal terms to what AUPE will gracefully call 6.75 per cent in on-the-grid salary increases for its civil service members, but which are really more than that, because each year’s raise is added to a slightly higher amount.

In addition, the union’s civil service members will see swifter vacation accruals, improved shift differential pay, better special leave provisions, additional holiday days off and even an agreement by the employer to have a safe and respectful work environment.

So many AUPE members were reading the details of the deal last night that they crashed the union’s website!

The key compromise by AUPE was only hinted at in the last paragraph of the union’s press release: “We are prepared to rebuild the relationship with the government that’s needed to ensure Albertans get the quality services they deserve,” it quoted union President Guy Smith saying. “Our members will be judging the government on their actions, not their words.”

In other words, AUPE – which had been threatening to launch a major advocacy campaign against the government – won’t rain on Mr. Prentice’s victory parade if the government behaves itself.

The first hint a deal was afoot came yesterday morning, when government lawyers who had been scheduled to launch an appeal of Mr. Justice Thomas’s injunction cancelled the hearing at the last moment with the agreement of the union’s counsel.

In reality, the most important negotiations did not take place between the two bargaining committees, but between Mr. Smith and Premier Dave Hancock, who has promised to press his cabinet to ratify the agreement.

Indeed, at a news conference yesterday afternoon, Mr. Smith credited Mr. Hancock with facilitating the entente. “It’s a very encouraging sign when a sitting premier sits down, recognizes, listens, and respectfully tries to deal with the issues that we brought up,” he said, adding pointedly that he had tried for a year to get a similar meeting with former premier Alison Redford and was repeatedly rebuffed.

Significantly, two of the biggest advocates of the tough approach taken by the Redford government – Mr. Horner and Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, both also rumoured leadership candidates, at least up until Mr. Prentice’s apparent anointment – seem to have had very little to do with the union’s discussions with Mr. Hancock.

Mr. Lukaszuk has claimed yesterday’s deal was only reached because of Bill 46, but it seems more likely the legislation was a major stumbling block to an agreement that should have been much easier to reach.

Alberta’s labour relations climate remains chilly with two other poisonous legacies from the Redford Interregnum, Mr. Horner’s assault on public sector pensions and the unconstitutional Bill 45, souring relations between members of many public sector unions and the PCs.

But the threat of open hostilities between Alberta’s civil service union and the government that employs its members has eased significantly this morning. The political significance of this development remains to be seen.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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  1. Labour Relation Board last Friday, Injunction Appeal adjourned Monday morning, a tentative deal Monday afternoon. Could this all be part of the Prentice deal to run? I suspect so, even though Lukaszuk still doesn’t get it. We shall see if bill 45 and the pension are dropped next. Then pension reform affect far more people and Unions than just the AUPE and therefore far more damaging at election time.
    As for my MLA Mr. Lukaszuk, it will be anyone but Thomas in 2016.

  2. “In reality, the most important negotiations did not take place between the two bargaining committees, but between Mr. Smith and Premier Dave Hancock, who has promised to press his cabinet to ratify the agreement.”

    …t’was ever thus
    One of the most important reasons gov’t employees are so well paid. Not because of any negotiating skill on the union side but because of political expediency on the gov’t side, and GOA was usually awash in petro dollars.
    We have, for decades, thrown money at problems to push them back under the rug rather than actually address and resolve them. When the cash runs out, as it is beginning to, we’ll soon find out that being ruled by Jethro and Granny (from the Beverly Hillbillies) was none too smart.

    1. Nonsense, “Political Ranger.” Mr. Hancock would not have been willing to come to terms with AUPE if it had not demonstrated exemplary militancy over the last many months. The government got away with reducing the wages of teachers and university faculty last year because their unions are mousey. Our government is not “awash in petro dollars” though it could be if, like the government of Norway, it collected a fair return on a resource that WE ALL OWN. And like Norway it should be setting aside that money for the future rather than spending it and it should be taxing us at rates more like what other provinces tax their citizens–the average Albertan pays about 47 percent of what Canadians in other provinces pay in provincial taxes.

  3. I’m having a bit of trouble reading article 36A; “Christmas Closure”.

    Effectively it means that GOA employees will have all days between Christmas Day and New Years day off instead of just the standard holidays plus one.

    However, Clause 36A.02 states that these days “are not to be treated as vacation or paid holiday days. Employees are required to take the number of days allotted to them”

    So, are they unpaid days off? If so that effectively makes the 2% wage increase in “year 2” equivalent to a ~0.5%-1% wage increase in “year 2” when considered in annual terms. It claws it right back.

    1. The way I read it, Clause 36A.02 is to distinguish them from ‘Holidays’ as defined in Clause 36.01.

      This would prevent Clause 36.04 from applying to the Christmas Closure days. Also Clauses 36.03, 36.05, and 36.06 wouldn’t apply to C.C. days.

      36.04: “When a day designated as a holiday under Clause 36.01 falls on an employees regularly scheduled day of rest, and the employee is not required to work, the Employee shall be granted holiday leave on the day observed as the holiday and the day of rest will be rescheduled”

      i.e. Christmas Closure days can’t be ‘banked’.

  4. Well not only has Premier (he must like the ring of that) Hancock again seized the day and done something I always thought was consistent with his better nature, but lo and behold; the NDP has done leadership… sort of. With the crack of a snapped finger, Mason resigns and the race begins. What a spectacle! Who will be the saviour of the left (behind) in Alberta? No one knows and worse yet, no one cares. Why you ask? Well Pogo says it’s because they’re not ready to face reality. On the other hand the “Pogotron 2014 tm” has returned readings that outline a failure to groom dedicated aggressive and articulate voices. It also emits readings that indicate the NDP have leadership that sings hymns for the faithful rather than confronting the Pharisees. For shame!! I say collect thy pension and be gone!!

  5. I wonder if the odious Bill 45 be purged from the books or will I still verboten to counsel public sector unions and employees to strike. Given this government’s (and the one before that and before that) proclivity to lash out at dissenters I expect they will keep their “Thou Shalt Not Speak ill of PC Policy” statute on the books – for a rainy day ya know

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