AUPE president says Jason Kenney has 'momentum'

The President of Alberta’s largest union, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), is warning members to prepare for a change in government in the next provincial election.

Delegates to Alberta Union of Provincial Employees convention told to prepare for government change

More than a thousand delegates to the AUPE annual convention are told to be prepared for change if the UCP forms government in 2019. (CBC)

The president of Alberta's largest union, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), is warning members to prepare for a change in government in the next provincial election.

"I think we're seeing a very strong momentum for Jason Kenney and the UCP," Guy Smith told reporters after a speech to delegates at the AUPE annual convention in Edmonton.

Smith told more than 1000 delegates from across Alberta, to expect "massive" job cuts and an erosion of rights previously negotiated under collective agreements, should the UCP form the next government.

"We have not seen this level of threat since the very dark days of the [Ralph] Klein government when the AUPE membership was decimated and the union as a whole was on the brink of collapse and financial ruin," said Smith.

"This message is not being delivered to scare us, but rather to prepare us," he added.

While he's not predicting the NDP will lose the next election, Smith says as a union they have to be ready for any outcome at the polls.

"I also respect the fact that our members need to have some assurance that their union is going to be there to protect their interests if there is a change in government."

Padding the contract

Part of the union's preparation appears evident in recent tentative agreements reached with the Government of Alberta.

A  three-year agreement, which has yet to be ratified by members, was reached between the government and 23,000 government workers in early September.

While there's no wage increase for the first two years, Smith told delegates stronger contract language is "historical" and includes greater job security clauses and provisions against privatization.

Talks to address wages will reopen in January.

Pension plan administration

With the next provincial election expected in the spring of 2019, Smith expects the government of Alberta will also introduce legislation this fall extending joint governance of the provincial pension plans to union stakeholders.

Smith says giving union members joint control over the administration of their provincial pension plan will avoid future political interference.

No more political interference in retirement security for our members.- Guy Smith, AUPE president

After public backlash in 2014, controversial pension plan changes introduced by the former Alison Redford government were shelved by incoming Premier Jim Prentice later that year.

"We don't want to go through that again," said Smith. "No more political interference in retirement security for our members."

From the convention floor, there was also pointed criticism of the labour-friendly NDP government.

AUPE member blasts NDP

Longtime Edmonton AUPE member Lorraine Ellis blasted the government for not being more open about "the mess they had to take over," when the NDP took office in 2015.

Ellis also questioned why the NDP didn't do a wholesale housecleaning and kept on high ranking civil servants from the previous government.

"They've kept all these deputy ministers," said Ellis who wonders if the decision to keep on former PC hires, worked against the rookie government.

The NDP government was criticized for not getting rid of high ranking public servants left over from the PC administration. (CBC)

"Well a lot of these deputy ministers are sitting there waiting to watch the NDP go down," she added.

Ellis said she thinks the NDP needs to be more aggressive before the next election. 

"If they're looking for our support, they better start attacking," said Ellis.

"I have no doubt in my mind that we will be gutted through the UCP if they get in."

While AUPE has a political action fund, Smith says AUPE will remain completely nonpartisan during the election campaign, but will do an analysis for members to make them aware of where the parties are positioned, and how their policies may impact them.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has frequently indicated he wants to get government finances in order if he forms government.

UCP spokesperson Christine Myatt said in a statement that Jason Kenney has never suggested that a UCP government would make deep cuts to public services, including frontline jobs.

"In fact, Jason has specifically said that we need to avoid cuts to front-line services," said Myatt.