St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said she’s not surprised at the overwhelming response from members of the United Nurses of Alberta regarding wage freezes and job security.
The United Nurses of Alberta ratified a new agreement with the province on Feb. 15, agreeing to a wage freeze in exchange for job security. Ninety-eight per cent of those who voted opted in favour of the agreement. The union represents 28,000 registered nurses and psychiatric nurses across the province.
The three-year contract includes wage freezes for the first two years and job security for three years. It will run retroactively from April 2017 to March 2020.
Heather Smith, union president, said she’s pleased that the union was able to ratify the agreement.
“We negotiated an agreement with the mediator's recommendations that is reflective of the priorities of our membership,” she said. “It was overwhelmingly ratified on Feb. 15 by our membership.”
The ratified document comes in response to Finance Minister Joe Ceci's request for public-sector unions to consider a wage increase. The minister said he wants to protect front-line jobs as the province tackles a $10.3-billion deficit.
Smith said union members were more concerned about job security than wage freezes.
“We recognize the financial position of the government, and not just the government but we as Albertans are in, with respect to revenue streams here in the province,” Smith said.
According to a news release from the union, the contract calls for wage increases for the first two years of the agreement, but includes a provision to renegotiate wages in the third year.
Smith said she’s unsure whether the union will push for wage increases in 2019.
“That’s to be determined by our memberships,” she said.
Renaud said the wage freezes will help the province tackle the debt by not putting an extra burden on the health system.
“When you’re not cutting essential services like health care and education, you’re not going to add further stress on the system. When you add further stress on the system, there is an increase in cost.”
The agreement also extends parental leave from 12 months to 18 months, which includes maternal, paternal and adoption leave.
Additional leaves for critical illness of a child or adult, death or disappearance of a child, domestic violence, or for a citizenship ceremony is also included in the agreement.
A full list of the changes can be viewed on the United Nurses of Alberta website.