Last week, the government introduced the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act (Bill 9) in the legislature. If passed, Bill 9 will not directly affect AUFA or its members. Bill 9 will, however, affect the collective agreement presently in effect between AUPE Local 69 and Athabasca University as well as other faculty associations. Bill 9 will also indirectly affect AUFA members.
The crux of Bill 9 is this:
Many of Alberta’s public-sector unions negotiated multi-year collective agreements under the New Democrat government. These agreements typically saw two years of wage freezes.
Part of the quid pro quo for these wage freezes was language allowing for additional negotiations about wages (i.e., a wage-re-opener) in the final years(s) of these agreements.
If these negotiations did not result in agreements between the parties, the disputes could be referred to a neutral third party (an arbitrator) to determine what (if any) wage increase would take place. Most of these agreements have hard deadlines for the resolution any dispute.
Bill 9 postpones any hearings on wage re-openers until the end of October (or later, in some cases). Presently, Bill 9 affects 24 collective agreements covering 180,000 workers, including the AUPE members employed by Athabasca University.
Bill 9 does not directly affect AUFA members because (1) we have not concluded a collective agreement yet, (2) AU appears unwilling to conclude an agreement with a wage-re-opener in it, and (3) any wage-reopener we negotiate would fall outside of the timelines set out in Bill 9.
Bill 9 does indirectly affect AUFA members in three ways.
First, Bill 9 changes the terms of contracts after they have been negotiated by the government (either directly as the employer or indirectly through government-appointed agencies, boards, and commissions). Changing agreements after the fact is a significant act of bad faith, and suggests that unions cannot trust public-sector employers to do what they agree to do. While Bill 9 may be subject to a legal challenge, the speed of court proceedings will render any victory moot.
Second, the purpose of Bill 9 is to delay any wage increase until the government has had time to receive the advice of its panel on Alberta’s finances in August. This panel is widely expected to recommend that the government freeze or roll back public-sector wages. Preventing wage increases until after this point makes it somewhat easier for the government to force (perhaps through further legislation) such freezes or rollbacks on public-sector workers. Such legislation may affect AUFA members (it is not possible to know how at this point).
Third, the labour movement is outraged by this violation of collective agreements. While it isn’t clear if union leaders are prepared to stage illegal strikes (which would be the most effective response, but would entail significant financial penalties), many members and activists are openly discussing the possibility of doing so. This creates the possibility of significant social disruption.
Bob Barnetson, Chair
Work Stoppage Committee