UNA bargaining opens with AHS demand for four-year wage freeze, massive rollbacks

For immediate release: Wednesday, January 15, 2020

“The last time the employer proposed rollbacks of this magnitude was in 1988, and we all know what happened after that.” — UNA President Heather Smith

Formal bargaining for a new Provincial Collective Agreement between United Nurses of Alberta and Alberta Health Services commenced Tuesday and today with the employer proposing a four-year pay freeze and massive rollbacks throughout the current collective agreement.

UNA’s opening proposal called for 2-per-cent raises in each of two years and some additional improvements to contract language in the agreement, which in addition to AHS covers employees of Covenant Health, Lamont Health Centre, and The Bethany Group (Camrose), making up the bulk of UNA’s membership.

“The last time the employer proposed rollbacks of this magnitude was in 1988, and we all know what happened after that,” said UNA President Heather Smith, a reference to the last province-wide strike by Alberta nurses.

In the run-up to bargaining, the government repeatedly made the claim economic conditions in Alberta require what Finance Minister Travis Toews on January 10 termed “fiscal restraint and discipline” that he said “must continue as we enter into new collective bargaining negotiations in 2020.”

So members of the UNA bargaining team were astonished that the AHS bargaining committee said the long list of rollbacks they are seeking is not based on Alberta’s current economic climate but a desire to move to what it called “the Ontario-West Standard.”

Among the many changes, AHS is seeking elimination of pay premiums for employees with bachelor’s, masters or doctoral degrees, elimination of designated days of rest for part time employees, the ability to require part-time employees to work up to full-time hours, big cuts to overtime payments, elimination of monthly car allowances for employees who are required to use their own vehicle for their work, reductions in evening, night and weekend premiums, the ability to move employees to multiple worksites as the employer pleases, and slower advancement of employees up the salary grid.

In addition, UNA will be filing bargaining-in-bad-faith charges against the employer stemming from misleading social media statements by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, who appears to be trying to play a direct role in negotiations between the union representing more than 30,000 Alberta Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses and the supposedly arms-length public health care agency.

“We are extremely concerned with the conduct of this government in these negotiations,” said UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan.

The next bargaining dates have been set for Jan. 30 and 31.