Edmonton

AUPE tentative deal would reopen wage talks in January, guard against job cuts

A tentative three-year agreement reached between the government and Alberta’s biggest union contains no wage increases for the first two years and includes a provision to reopen salary talks in January, and protect against cuts of permanent full-time positions.

Deal reached last month must be ratified by 23,000 government workers

AUPE president Guy Smith confirms the tentative deal with the Alberta government includes a provision to reopen wage talks in January 2019. (CBC)

A tentative three-year agreement reached between the government and Alberta's biggest union contains no wage increases for the first two years and includes provisions to reopen salary talks in January, and to protect against cuts of permanent full-time positions. 

"We would obviously be negotiating full wage increases," said Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. "If we're unable to get to a settlement at the table, it will be referred to an arbitrator … and then the arbitrator will make a decision that is final and binding on both parties."

Smith said the provision to reopen wage talks in January was proposed by government negotiators. 

He also confirmed the agreement, which must be ratified by 23,000 government workers, has a letter that prohibits any full-time permanent employees from losing their jobs until March 2020, the date the agreement expires.

"There may be redeployment or reshuffling of positions if there is some kind of reorganization going on, but no permanent employee would lose employment during that period," Smith said. 

The agreement also has language that would protect against contracting-out public services, he said. 

The wage renegotiation clause in the AUPE agreement is similar to one contained in the contract ratified by the United Nurses of Alberta earlier this year. The nurses' deal covers the same time period. It has wage freezes in the first two years and a provision for salary renegotiation in year three. 

The Alberta Teachers' Association has a so-called "me too" clause, where the government has to provide teachers with the same wage increase it gives any other public sector workers.  

Joe Ceci, the minister responsible for the public service, will not comment or take questions on the agreement until it has been ratified by members. 

The reopening of wage talks would come a few months before the next provincial election. United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney has expressed a desire to get government finances in order. He has not said whether any measures his party might take, were the UCP to win the 2019 election, would include job cuts.

Alberta is on track to be $96 billion in debt by 2023-2024. 

The government applied for mediation in late May after a year of bargaining with AUPE failed to come up with a deal. The process started in June with the help of mediator Andy Sims.

The union announced on Aug. 16 that a tentative deal had been reached, but said no details would be released until members had a chance to review them.

Ratification packages and mail-in ballots are being sent to members this week.

The ballots have to be received by Oct. 19 and will be counted on Oct. 23.

AUPE members last received a wage increase of 2.5 per cent in 2016.

If ratified, the agreement would cover the period from Apr. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2020.