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Union employees worry about delayed wage talks

Negotiations put off until Oct. 31

St. Albert union workers say they are frustrated with the provincial government's move to delay wage negotiation talks and want to see the province honour its contracts with public sector workers.

On Thursday, the provincial government introduced Bill 9, which would delay wage negotiations with Alberta unions until Oct. 31. Under the bill, provincial employees, including nurses, paramedics, teachers, social workers, sheriffs, medical support workers and other public sector workers would see their wage negotiation talks frozen while the new government assesses the province's finances.

The provincial nurses union signed a contract with the government two years ago that agreed to a salary freeze until this summer. The wage negotiation had already been started and will now halt until the fall.

After MLAs gave first reading to the bill, the United Nurses of Alberta released a statement that the bill "clearly breaches both UNA's current collective agreement and the Charter rights of UNA members."

Finance Minister Travis Toews said Thursday the bill doesn’t break contracts and is only delaying the process until the government has a better look at the provincial finances after they receive a report in August.

One St. Albert nurse, who asked not to be named, said she is really disappointed the government is not continuing with negotiations.

“The cost of living keeps going up while we wait for the government to come back to negotiations,” the registered nurse said.

“We keep getting more work piled on us and we work so hard to help people, and for them to not even negotiate with us is just feels like slap in the face,” she said.

A second nurse, who also asked not to be named, said the least the government can do is negotiation with them.

“It’s pretty defeating to have them not even want to negotiate. I’m not optimistic there will be any wage increases with this government anytime soon and now I'm worried there will be cuts.”

According to the recent census, up to 32 per cent of St. Albertans work in the public sector. Some 2,430 (8.9 per cent) work in educational services, 3,000 (11 per cent) work in health care and social assistance, 2,650 (9.7 per cent) work in public administration and 915 people (3.3 per cent) work in administrative and support, waste management and remediation services.

St. Albert NDP MLA Marie Renaud said the bill could have a big impact on St. Albert workers with so many public sector employees residing in the city. Renaud said the UCP government plans to break the law by not honouring collective agreements.

Opposition NDP MLAs voted against first reading of the bill, an uncommon practice given that first readings allow the details of a bill to be read.

“When you enter into an agreement or a contract like that, you must honour that contract. And this is not how you establish a trusting working relationship with public sector employees,” Renaud said.

The MLA said the province has no problems pushing through tax cuts but cannot honour their contract with the workers that Albertans rely so heavily on.

One St. Albert man who works in the medical field told the Gazette it’s frustrating that the government is putting off negotiations but noted it is important for Alberta to manage the growing debt

“If they delay it for a few months but it means they have a better look at the province's finances, then I am OK with it. But if they come back with a blanket wage freeze or cuts for the entire public service, I won’t be very happy,” the man said.

Bill 9 was introduced with many public sector workers and union leaders in attendance who shouted “Shame!” at the government. The union workers promised to fight back against the legislation.

Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally was not avalibale for an interview before press time.

Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.
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