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Five urgent things you need to know about the Alberta government’s Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act (Bill 9)

Last week, the UCP government introduced Bill 9 to abolish the June 30 deadline for holding third-year wage arbitration for AUPE members working for Alberta Health Services (AHS), the Government of Alberta (GOA) and potentially eliminate the right to go to arbitration for many members working in post-secondary education and for boards and agencies.

Here’s what you need to know right now.

1. The UCP cut off debate to ram Bill 9 through the Legislature.

Not only is the government trying to take away your legally negotiated rights, they are also taking away the democratic rights of elected representatives to speak on your behalf. Opposition voices in the Legislature are being silenced, so workers’ voices need to be heard in other ways.

Bill 9 is likely to be pushed through this week but that doesn’t mean our fight is over. In fact, it’s only just begun.

2. This is the first step in a bid to freeze or cut your wages.

The UCP government wants to delay arbitration hearings on your wages until well after its hand-picked “Blue Ribbon” panel reports in August with recommendations on where to cut spending.

The government has stacked this panel with people who agree with that approach. Janice MacKinnon, the chair of the panel, has previously called for two-per-cent cuts to public-sector pay and claims that the government has a right to legislate wage rollbacks on union members.

Spoiler alert: The panel’s report will argue we can’t afford to invest in public services or even a modest wage increase, while conveniently ignoring both our revenue problem, and the government’s recent decision that it can afford a huge corporate tax giveaway. The government will use the report to justify an attack on our wages, our jobs or both.

3. If they break these contracts now, how far will they go?

We all know a contract is a contract, but apparently not when it comes to working people. About 60,000 AUPE members working for AHS and the GOA are affected by Bill 9. These members have accepted two years of wage freezes, with the legally binding agreement of wage arbitration in the third year. This arbitration hearing began on June 11, continued on June 17, and is currently scheduled for June 21 and 22.

The impact of the Bill isn’t just on the members in AHS and GOA, but all members who count on the stability of the terms outlined in their collective agreements. For example, more than 10,000 members working in some Post Secondary Education worksites and some Boards and Agencies, are scheduled to enter wage-reopener arbitration as well.

4. They’re trying to legislate, because they know that an independent arbitrator might make a decision they don’t like.

The arbitrator considers all economic conditions and evidence submitted by both parties, and makes an independent ruling based on the facts.

There is no economic or labour-relations justification for wage freezes or rollbacks. If the government can afford massive tax breaks for profitable corporations, it can afford modest increases for front-line workers.

But why would they let the facts get in the way of their political agenda?

5. AUPE members won’t accept being treated this way.

AUPE members know a deal is a deal. They expect the legally binding rules established in their collective agreements to be mandatory, not optional. That’s why all legal options will be pursued by AUPE, when Bill 9 passes.

In a show of defiance and solidarity, members gathered at the Legislature on June 13 to protest this unfair and illegal attack.

The AUPE Executive continues to reach out across the province, having ongoing conversations with elected leaders and activists to discuss plans on how we can fight back against the aggressive attacks on your negotiated rights. Similar discussions are happening with other unions affected by this legislation.

Members at worksites across the province are concerned and alarmed. Many have expressed a desire to hold legal information pickets at their sites on their own time.

Information pickets have already been held in some locations. To find out more about how to organize a safe and legal information picket, please contact us at 1-800-232-7284 or organizing@aupe.org. We can talk you through the process.

It’s crucial to remember that refusing to work as a form of formal protest can put you at risk. Please contact us if you have questions. We can help ensure you work within the legal framework and stay safe while still voicing your concern and solidarity with your fellow public-sector workers across the province.

Join these scheduled information pickets during your non-work time:

• Vegreville Care Centre: 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Thurs., June 27. For details, contact Local 043 Chair Judy Fader at local4308@gmail.com;
• Tofield Health Centre: 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Friday, June 28. For details, contact Local 043 Chair Judy Fader at local4308@gmail.com;
• Lamont Health Care Centre: 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Tues., July 2. For details, contact Local 043 Chair Judy Fader at local4308@gmail.com;
• Two Hills Health Centre: 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Wed. July 3. For details, contact Local 043 Chair Judy Fader at local4308@gmail.com;
• Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary: 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Wed. July 3. For details, contact Local 095 Chair David Choy at chairlocal095@aupe.ca; and
• Leduc Hospital: 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Tues., July 9. For details, contact Teresa Bergen, Local 054/010 Chair at teresa666@live.ca or Sharon Conium Local 046/003 Vice-Chair at 780-903-5133.

Other things you can do now

1. Talk to your coworkers: Ask them how they feel about this illegal attack on your rights, your wages and your jobs. Talk about what you’re prepared to do to take action. Show them how to join the fight.

2. Visit www.aupe.org/fightback on your non-work device or computer during your non-work time.

3. Tell the Labour Minister and Finance Minister how you feel about Bill 9.
By phone: Call Labour Minister Jason Copping at 780-638-9400 and call Finance Minister Travis Toews at 780-415-4855.
By email: Email Labour Minister Jason Copping at labour.minister@gov.ab.ca and Finance Minister Travis Toews tbf.minister@gov.ab.ca.

What’s next?

Stay tuned. More legal information pickets are being planned and will continue to be organized where our members are prepared to speak up and stand together.

We’ll be in touch as the situation develops with more news and more opportunities to have your voices heard. Make sure your email address and phone number is up to date at www.aupe.org/update-me so we can reach you.

Don’t forget, we’ve been here before and we’ve won.

In 2013, a previous Conservative government tried to use legislation to impose pay deals on workers. We stopped them. Now, we need to stop them again.