Alberta Politics
The Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary (Photo: Twitter/Alberta University of the Arts).

Arbitration panel rejects rollback demand, awards 1% raise to non-academic staff at eight small Alberta public colleges

Posted on November 11, 2020, 2:10 am
7 mins

It’s unlikely the United Conservative Party Government of Premier Jason Kenney was pleased when it got word Monday an arbitration panel had rejected an employer demand for a pay rollback and awarded support staff at eight smaller Alberta post-secondary institutions a 1-per-cent raise for the final year of their contract.

Unfortunately for the government, this is what happens when fact-based analysis and the public interest is relied on instead of ideology and malice as a yardstick to determine what working people in the public sector ought to be paid.

AUPE Vice-President Bobby-Joe Borodey (Photo: Alberta Union of Provincial Employees).

Monday’s awards certainly run counter to the Kenney Government’s claim public employees like the 1,700 Alberta Union of Provincial Employees members impacted must take significant pay cuts because times are hard due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the decline in oil prices, which have had a recessionary effect on the provincial economy.

There are those who would argue this drive against predominantly unionized public-sector employees is also motivated by the UCP leadership’s right-wing ideology, its strong anti-union animus, and a desire for revenge for the election of the NDP Government in 2015, which was always viewed as somehow illegitimate and the fault of unions by the ideological right in this province. The latter assertion, though, would be hard to prove without the ability to subpoena witnesses.

Regardless, the panel rejected the employers’ calls for 2-per-cent pay rollbacks for the non-academic staff members at the eight institutions — the Alberta University for the Arts, Bow Valley College and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, plus Grande Prairie College, Lethbridge College, Medicine Hat College, Olds College and Lac La Biche’s Portage College.

The three-member interest arbitration panel considered factors that included the economic state of the province in the final year of the three-year contracts, which all included an agreement to re-negotiate wages alone in the last year. The panel also considered typical wages in the sector, the arguments put forward by the Alberta government and its various panels, and internal factors such as the wages of faculty and management staff and the institutions’ ability to pay.

Wages had been frozen in the first two years of the agreements, which all followed a similar pattern and were negotiated by AUPE in the same time frame. Contract language allowing wages alone to be renegotiated in the final year of a collective agreement, common in Alberta labour relations, is known as a “wage re-opener.”

Based on the panel’s considerations, Chair David G. Tettensor wrote in the similarly worded awards, “I conclude that it is fair and reasonable and in the best interest of the public to award a 1-per-cent increase for the third year term of the Collective Agreement, being July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020.”

As is the way of such things, the decision of the panel was split, with the neutral chair chosen by both parties and the union nominee agreeing, and the employer nominee dissenting.

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

AUPE, naturally, celebrated the award. “These rulings back our argument that enough is enough, that public-service institutions should stop placing the burden of Jason Kenney’s budget cuts on the backs of hard-working Albertans,” said AUPE Vice-President Bobby-Joe Borodey.

Pointing out that the institutions had cash surpluses and can afford to pay high salaries to managers, she observed that “when independent, unbiased experts looked at the UCP austerity approach, they rejected it. The board saw through the government rhetoric and ruled on facts. It considered the economic conditions and government funding for colleges.”

The Kenney Government is likely to react much as it did when an arbitrator rejected government calls for rollbacks and instead awarded a 1-per-cent pay increase to civil servants represented by AUPE in January.

As soon as the next round of negotiations began with AUPE, the government upped the ante. Last week, Finance Minister Travis Toews demanded their next contract include a 1-per-cent rollback to take away what the government employees won in January, plus another 3-per-cent cut to reflect what the minister called “current economic and fiscal reality,” all followed by three years of frozen wages.

Notwithstanding his title, Labour Minister Jason Copping seems to be an insignificant player in this situation.

One imagines the government will try harder this time in both sets of negotiations with AUPE to derail the collective bargaining and arbitration processes to get the pay cuts on which it has staked its reputation for fiscal prudence — although that description is hard to square with the its multi-billion-dollar tax giveaways and oil industry subsidies, which don’t seem to have created very many jobs, and its recently discovered $1.7 billion in accounting errors and faulty projections.

Whether using legislation to impose its way or suffering the effects of a legal strike in the period before an election would hurt or help the government’s chances of re-election is a political calculation that the premier would probably prefer not to have to make.

13 Comments to: Arbitration panel rejects rollback demand, awards 1% raise to non-academic staff at eight small Alberta public colleges

  1. Anonymous

    November 11th, 2020

    It is perfectly clear. The UCP has run out of other people’s money, because of the very pricey misdeeds they are doing. Combine this with low oil prices, which aren’t going to go back up, and the foolish corporate tax cuts, and there is the UCP’s means to an end, which is cuts, (in the similar style of Ralph Klein), and expectations of wage rollbacks. This all has to backfire on the UCP. It just has to at some point.

    Reply
  2. tom

    November 11th, 2020

    The obvious answer to Alberta’s woes is to designate everyone as issues managers–automatic six figure salary and you can shitpost to your heart’s content on social media.

    Reply
    • Jimmy

      November 11th, 2020

      Re: Tom

      Does your surname have five letters beginning with an O?

      Reply
  3. Hammer

    November 11th, 2020

    As a college faculty member with over 20yrs at a Alberta Post Secondary Institute, I have seen the steady erosion of jobs held by AUPE members. The government has steadily outsourced various positions once held by members. These include janitorial, food services, maintenance and groundskeeping. When I began my post secondary career the campus was pristine and the AUPE members who kept the place clean took pride in their work. Once janitorial was outsourced the place was never as clean, various contracted companies came and went and the bottom line dictated how clean the place was going to get. I regularly teach in classes that are dirty, garbage cans overflowing and lets not even talk about the washrooms! If this is the new normal, then Lord help us. As for the 1% increase, rest assured they will figure out how to get it back by outsourcing something else.

    Reply
  4. Bret Larson

    November 11th, 2020

    I guess congratulations are in order. Well done keeping to the contract negotiated with the previous NDP government for one more year.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      November 14th, 2020

      None of these contracts were, or are, negotiated with the Government of Alberta. The employer in each case is the Board of Governors of each educational institution. They are arms’-length public bodies, who are given a funding envelope by Government to supplement the revenue they get from tuition and any other revenue sources they may have, but while they are part of the broader “public sector”, they are not Government.

      Reply
  5. John T

    November 11th, 2020

    I ask myself why the UCP would not look at cuts to the energy sector as well to shore up their revenue streams. I obviously realize this is a really stupid question where it concerns Kenney and Co but it serves to expose their motivation and goals.

    A large increase in subsidies along with removing tax breaks would also bring in millions. Imagine taking that money to invest in greener energy sources and public works etc.

    The fact that this idea would be anathema to the UCP just explains the obvious and why he needs to resign.

    Reply
    • Bret Larson

      November 13th, 2020

      Just like every government in the world they try to keep the money makers shaking.

      Except for socialist dystopia, where they prefer poverty and starvation.

      Reply
      • Kang

        November 13th, 2020

        Yah Brett: know what you mean about starving in socialists countries. Those poor Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians: having to buy electric cars made by Koreans and Germans. Cradle to grave welfare and free university tuition, why its enough to make them want to decamp to Finland which is even better off.

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        November 14th, 2020

        Brett Larson: Those poor socialist countries, like Norway, Denmark and Sweden. They are actually doing quite well. On the happiness scale, they also lead the way.

        Reply
  6. Just Me

    November 11th, 2020

    Meanwhile, the US, there is a defeated president who is doing everything in his power to not only further disrespect his office, but he’s doing everything he can to smash the apparatus of the state. Denying resources for a peaceful transition, Trump is determined to break all the china, until they drag him kicking and screaming from the White House. Short of that, he doing everything he can to subvert the election, alter the vote count, gerrymander the system, politicize the officials, and overthrow the incoming president. And while all these machinations are going on, the Covid pandemic rages across the US with renewed vigour.

    This is clearly the mind of a broken narcissist. Meanwhile, in Alberta, there’s another narcissist, confident in his own piety and zealotry, he is determined to remake the world into his own twisted image of self and reality. If the laws and courts tell him something that doesn’t fit into his reality, he will rewrite laws (or break them) and stack the courts with compliant judges to suit his whim. And while all these machinations are going on, the Covid pandemic rages across Alberta with renewed vigour.

    Reply
  7. Mike in Edmonton

    November 12th, 2020

    Aww, it’s all right. It’s only for the single year, 2019-20, and that means new contracts have to be negotiated, anyhow. If Jason can keep his hair on just a few more months, he can hammer us AUPE lowlifes with great, big, nasty cuts like he did in 2019–only this time cutting wages too, not just staff.

    Gonna be interesting if his timing is bad enough to try slashing hospital staffing and wages just as hospitals are filling up with Covid patients….

    Reply
  8. Comment

    November 14th, 2020

    Who needs to listen to arbitrators when you can pass a bill in the blink of an eye…

    Reply

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