UNA committed to consultation in good faith, troubled government does not seem to share this concern

Labour Relations

UNA hopes that by engaging with the government in good faith, the government will reciprocate and engage in good faith consultations.

United Nurses of Alberta will continue working to negotiate its members’ wage-reopener agreement in good faith despite the Government of Alberta’s apparent bad-faith tactics as it tries to interfere with the constitutionally protected collective bargaining process, Labour Relations Director David Harrigan said today.

Labour Minister Jason Copping is a former member of the Alberta Labor Relations Board who understands labour law, the constitutional issues, and the collective bargaining process, Harrigan said, “so I am hopeful he will be able to explain the situation to his cabinet colleagues so we can move forward with good-faith consultation.”

Yesterday, media reported that Finance Minister Travis Toews had repeated earlier statements the government is prepared to pass legislation to override legal contracts between unions and provincial agencies in order to delay contractually mandated bargaining such as UNA wage-reopener bargaining now under way.

Toews said he wants to delay arbitration with UNA and other public sector unions until after what the government calls an independent panel reports in August on ways to save money. The chair of the panel is already on record advocating “consultations” with government followed swiftly by legislated wage rollbacks for nurses and other public employees.

UNA’s three-year agreement with Alberta Health Services and other employers included two years with no wage increases followed by wage-reopener bargaining in the third year, 2019. If no agreement was reached by March 31, the collective agreement stipulated negotiations were to go to arbitration by June 30.

Those conditions had been met when the government stepped in with orders to Alberta Health Services not to comply with the terms of the contract.

UNA has made application to the courts to overturn decisions by the arbitrator and the Labour Relations Board that would allow the arbitration to be delayed beyond the date stipulated in the contract, but realistically it is unlikely that this will result in a timely resolution.

Harrigan said UNA has serious concerns about the apparent bad faith obvious in the government’s approach to derailing contractually mandated bargaining. UNA hopes that by engaging with the government in good faith, the government will reciprocate and engage in good faith consultations.

The government is currently acting as if no decision has been made, yet it had clearly already indicated it wanted UNA’s arbitration delayed, Harrigan said. “Good faith bargaining involves both parties meeting and engaging in meaningful dialogue, with both paying attention to the representations made by the other, not holding inflexible positions and honestly seeking middle ground.”

“In this case, the government contacted us about ‘consultations’ well after its statements made it apparent it had reached a firm conclusion to delay the scheduled wage-reopener arbitration,” he said.

Harrigan said it is also extremely troubling that based on her previous public statements Janice MacKinnon, the chair of the so-called “blue ribbon panel,” already appears to have reached her conclusions that the wages of nurses’ and other public employees should be rolled back without actually studying the situation.

“It is very hard in such circumstances for our members to believe the government is acting in good faith,” Harrigan said.

“UNA is committed to good-faith bargaining and has been throughout this process,” he stated. “We will continue to attempt to do so, but we are determined defend the Charter-protected rights of our members.”