Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The end of public-sector collective bargaining in Alberta?

The blog Alberta Diaries has an interesting piece today about the end of public-sector collective bargaining in Alberta. Unlike other jurisdictions, where this entails legislation and protests, Alberta has quietly made the process of bargaining meaningless by issuing edicts to public-sector bodies. 

For example, Advanced Education Minister Thomas “cornflakes” Lukaszuk has written to each college, university and technical institute Board and told them to negotiate “annual percentage general wage changes over four years of not more than 0/0/0/2” and also to further cut salary costs by remedying “inefficiencies” incurrent agreements.

While Lukaszuk denies existing contracts must be opened, he does not deny that he expects Boards to comply with his edict. And, lo, the government-appointed Boards filled with Tory hacks are doing that exact thing. In bargaining with its faculty, Athabasca University has held firm to an opening position of 0/0/re-opener (which will likely be a zero) as well as cuts to merit increments and furlough days. These changes will transfer $3m from workers to the administration over two years and $23m over ten years. 

What this means is that, while post-secondary employees notionally are negotiating with their individual Boards of Governors (appointed by the government), these negotiations are meaningless because the government has predetermined the Boards' bargaining positions, both by constraining funding and by issuing a bargaining directive. This is akin to how teacher collective bargaining has been operating for a number of years.

The result of this interference in negotiations is that they are failing. Athabasca University and its faculty association are headed to arbitration because the Board is holding fast to an offer it admits that it can’t win at arbitration! In effect, the Minister has hollowed out the process of negotiation to the point where it is meaningless. This is impressive work for only being on the job for three months.

-- Bob Barnetson


  1. AUPE is apparently preparing a legal challenge around this sham bargaining:

  2. What is the basis that an arbitrator uses for determining whose last offer to accept?

  3. Typically arbitrators try to replicate settlements at comparable organizations. They also tend to want to avoid giving either side a "big win", both because a big change often entails implications the arbitrator (and indeed the parties) may not fully grasp and because a big win reduces the chance both parties will select the arbitrator again. Is that helpful? Or was the something more specific you were looking for?