AUPE President Guy Smith (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

An independent labour arbitrator yesterday awarded unionized Alberta government employees and health care support workers a modest 1-per-cent pay increase for 2019.

Having gone into wage-reopener negotiations in the final year of their current collective agreements seeking much higher pay increases ranging from 6.5 to 7.85 per cent, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees expressed disappointment at the decisions by arbitrator Phyllis Smith, which also left wages frozen for Licensed Practical Nurses and rejected a market adjustment for Correctional Peace Officers represented by AUPE.

Arbitrator Phyllis Smith (Photo: Emery Jamieson LLP).

We are convinced these hard-working members in government services deserve more than 1 per cent, but we recognize that the decision made by the independent arbitrator is binding,” AUPE President Guy Smith said in a statement to his members. About 65,000 of AUPE’s approximately 95,000 members are impacted by the three arbitration board rulings published yesterday. 

“This modest wage increase is small consolation for AUPE members who have spent many long years being kicked around by politicians of all stripes,” Mr. Smith continued. “While this increase is welcomed, it does not keep up with the rising costs of living, which we will be fighting for in the next round of negotiations that are already about to start.”

Blustering “we remain steadfast,” Finance Minister Travis Toews responded to the ruling with a statement blaming the arbitration process on the previous NDP government, asserting “there is no new money for public sector raises over the course of our fiscal plan,” and vowing to get more from union members in upcoming negotiations for new public sector collective agreements.

Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“As a result of these decisions government will need to consider additional steps to balance our budget and get our fiscal house in order,” Mr. Toews said, dropping hints of layoffs and “finding efficiencies in program service delivery,” which sounds like it could mean more privatization of public services.

“As the MacKinnon panel identified,” he added, not mentioning it’s just been revealed his government essentially wrote the script for former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon’s so-called Blue Ribbon Panel last year, “public sector compensation makes up more than half of government expenses. … Wage restraint will be of paramount importance as we enter into new collective bargaining negotiations in 2020.”

On balance, the decision looks worse for the United Conservative Party Government, which has been screaming poverty in the face of its $4.7-billion tax giveaway to major corporations. Arbitrator Smith’s decision dismissed the government’s demands for pay rollbacks and undermined its claims Alberta’s economic condition and the losses experienced by other workers justify public-sector pay reductions.

Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar (Photo: AMA).

“Province-wide data consistently shows a trend of increases in nominal wages for both 2019 and 2020,” her decision regarding public service employees noted. “Even the Crown’s data using its price of labour calculations confirms that trend.”

The increase is “reasonably consistent with what others in the province are being paid,” is fair and reasonable, and is in the public interest, she concluded — no doubt the great displeasure of the UCP.

In the case of the LPNs, the arbitrator described her zero-per-cent solution as “reasonably consistent with what others in the province are being paid.”

Ms. Smith seemed to argue it’s OK for governments not to tax at appropriate levels to run a modern Canadian province because bargaining unit members have to pay taxes too. “Given that many bargaining unit members in fact have lower than average wages, a sales tax would place a disproportionate burden on members who must devote a greater share of their income to the purchase of goods and services.”

With most Alberta provincial public health care and government employees in bargaining for new collective agreements this year, some union members may conclude this means they’re being told that if they can’t afford supper, they should have dessert!

Given the likelihood of such feelings and the government’s probable belligerent response, arbitrator Smith’s decisions yesterday and arbitrator David Jones’ decision last month that there would be no wage re-opener salary increase in 2019 for Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses represented by United Nurses of Alberta, may have set the stage for a highly disputatious period of labour relations in Alberta for the foreseeable future.

Government seeks expressions of interest in private surgical clinics

In other health care news yesterday, the government began a search for expressions of interest from private surgical clinics to contract such procedures as hernia repairs, joint operations, and gynecological surgeries. A document published on the government’s procurement website also listed such possibilities for privatization as circumcisions and “hardware removal.”

The government claims such privatization will reduce surgical wait times. Health care experts mostly say the opposite, but in Premier Jason Kenney’s Alberta, market fundamentalist ideology can be depended upon to trump observable reality.

Docs, province seek mediator’s help to bridge negotiating gap

Meanwhile, with negotiations for a new collective deal between the province’s physicians and the government at an impasse, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar published a joint statement yesterday saying the parties have agreed to the services of a mediator to help bridge the rift between their positions.

While most physicians are essentially independent business people, they bargain collectively for their fee deal with the government through the AMA.

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  1. Adhering precisely to their dogmatic conservative playbook, the UCP’s response to the salary award for AUPE by arbitrator Phyllis Smith would be farcical if it weren’t so maniacally dystopian.

    Minister Toews, clinging to his right-wing talking points, tries to stick-handle a $35 million revenue shortfall onto the backs on public sector workers — conveniently forgetting the $4.7 billion dollar tax giveaway his obtuse government ponied up to UCP shareholders — AKA, the corporate sector. Offering corporate billion dollar tax cuts, while shortchanging public services and the folks that provide them is no longer viewed as a shrewd politically voter-savvy move in Alberta (see article below). Even conservative obtuseness should have its limits, right?

    “Public approval of UCP government slides 12 points, poll suggests”

  2. And as with all things he touches, Kenney will just get another arbiter who will follow his worldview of all things.

    Or, better yet, just to prove that he truly is the master & commander of everyone’s destinies, Kenney will just have his toady Atty-Gen introduce some bizarre piece of legislation (Let’s call it the Alberta Labour Reform Initiative) who will effectively allow all employers in the province to break their contractual obligations and create new conditions of employment at will. The result will mean the end of collective-bargaining and a host of new standards that will effectively eliminate what little protections workers receive in Alberta. Remake the world and it will be so.

    Alberta becomes a right-to-work jurisdiction and Kenney’s already wide girth puffs up even more, turning him into a self-satisfied Webble.

  3. Again, the 3 biggest expenses for health care in Alberta are: Physician’s fees, rural health care and, pharmaceuticals.
    Now, the physician’s fees issues are in the hands of a mediator. This brings to mind expressed regrets over the years that when universal health care was implemented, that the doctors were not salaried.
    With regard to rural health care, (the UCP got most of their votes from rural voters) is expensive because of the distances, which really cannot be avoided unless, rural health services are cut even more yet. Rural folks are already dealing with the prospect of dealing with the municipality $173 million oil and gas sector unpaid taxes shortfall, and increased policing costs, in higher property taxes. Needed infrastructure in the rural areas will also not be happening. Examples include: the upgrading of the Highway 3 bridge over the Oldman River into and out of, Lethbridge and the twinning of Highway 3 from Fort Macleod to the B.C. border and from Taber to Medicine Hat.
    And pharmaceuticals? Will the Big Pharma friends be taken to task?
    And yes, there is all the while the $4.7 billion dollar corporate tax cut, the $30 million/year ‘War Room,’ the Premier and MLAs being the highest paid in the country, those close to the Premier’s office garnering wages in the $190,000-$200,000 and some range/year, cushy trips for the friends and to Europe…..
    So it becomes clear, that when wages for Health Care Aids, Licenced Practical Nurses, Registered Nurses, and other frontline health care professions, are being targeted by the Kenney UCP, they are barking up the wrong tree… but ‘gotta ding the thousands of union members eh?’
    And increasing revenue options now that there will be no more oil and gas booms? It seems increasingly, the time is now for a PST, and, to diversify Alberta’s economy. At least the AB NDP had a carbon tax (which we as gas consumers hardly noticed) and the money was being invested back into Alberta to assist in diversification and to bring in more revenue. Other provinces have done the revenue work. Now it’s time for Alberta to do it.
    Will the Kenney UCP austerity program (because we probably have seen nothing yet) push Alberta into recession? If so, we will probably see and hear again, the default blame game to the AB NDP and Justin Trudeau. It remains as to when Alberta folks will, finally, see the Kenney UCP for what they are.

    1. Albertan, I certainly agree with the need for a PST but I am not sure revenue shortfalls are the only problem. I recently read an article posted by the CBC: “Health professionals calling for long term solutions with ERs running at double capacity across Quebec”. Quebec has a PST of 9.975% and some of the highest levels of personal income tax in Canada and yet they are experiencing the same problems with health care access that we have in Alberta. Maybe it is the system’s design not the money allocated that is the problem!

  4. Let’s not forget that most of the current health proposals will affect women and men of a certain age. Ideology first, and who cares what happens to women/older folks? It remains to be seen if these offloaded surgeries will lose funding in the next Friday afternoon s#!$-show.

    Does anyone think it is a good idea to perform a major surgery like mastectomy in an outpatient clinic rather than a fully equipped hospital with overnight care? Of course Tyler Shandro dropped this load, then took off for the weekend, so as not to be around to answer questions. By the time 2023 rolls around, health care should be in total nuclear-level meltdown. Middle-aged UCP punks who would throw their own mothers to the wolves for the right price. I hope their mothers respond in kind.

    What next, UCP? Farming out treatment of coronavirus epidemic patients to the cheapest bidder at some slapped-up clinic at the local strip mall?

    1. ABS, don’t say it! David, delete this post immediately! Where do you think the UCP gets their ideas? There will probably be a coronavirus clinic next to my local 7-11 by the end of the week, then when things don’t work out they will blame the NDP.

  5. “As a result of these decisions government will need to consider additional steps to balance our budget and get our fiscal house in order,” Mr. Toews said, dropping hints of layoffs.

    So being in power hasn’t increased Toews brainpower or empathy. Probably scared at the thought of losing his own job if he isn’t at as brain-dead unempathetically ideologically-challenged nasty as kenney. The UCP has $4.7 billion free at a momemts notice to get their fiscal house in order. Does the petro-sector need yet another handout? You know, when regular Albertans are losing their jobs? That is a rhetorical question.

    Has there been any sign that the moo-cow Albertan who voted UCP is noticing kenney’s rather totalitarian ways? Or are they happy to watch their own gradual demise rather like wasting disease but unable to add two and two together?

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