Alberta unions unite against UCP “bully bill” aimed at breaking legally-binding contracts

Labour leaders present united front against UCP’s latest attack on worker rights and collective bargaining

Edmonton – Alberta labour leaders presented a united front today as they gathered at the legislature to protest what they describe as the UCP’s latest attack on workers’ rights.

“Despite the innocuous sounding name, the government’s latest bill isn’t about ‘deferring arbitration’; it’s about breaking legally- binding contracts and imposing wage cuts on thousands and thousands of public-sector workers who have already willingly taken two years of wage freezes as part of a good faith effort to help the government deal with a bruising recession,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

“This is a bully bill,” continued McGowan. “They are using the power of their majority in government to break legally-binding contracts. If they did this to the contracts of businesses who supply goods and services to government, the business community would be up in arms. But this is exactly what they’re doing to hundreds of thousands of nurses, teachers and other public sector workers. It would be unfair, inappropriate and illegal if they were doing it to businesses and it’s unfair, inappropriate and illegal now that they’re doing to working people.”

McGowan says Premier Jason Kenney is trying to scapegoat hard-working public sector workers and blame them for the Alberta government’s fiscal woes, which are really the result of low oil prices and a broken system for collecting revenue to pay for public services.

The truth is that when public sector compensation is compared to private sector compensation in Alberta, using controls for similar occupations, there is little difference.

The following figure tracks the percentage change of real hourly wages of public and private sector workers for the past two decades. As evidenced by the figure, public sector wage changes closely follow private sector changes, with some variation and lags. In a number of instances, public sector increases have lagged considerably behind increases in the private sector. Public sector wage increases have also never hit the absolute peaks that private sector wage increases have attained.

Nurses, teachers, and healthcare professionals have all recently taken two years of zero salary increases. They’re sharing the pain, despite the fact that they didn’t always share in the gain of the good times.

Alberta Jobs

Fair compensation for the public sector doesn’t hurt the private sector. With consumer spending accounting for over 60% of the economy, it’s crucial to our ongoing recovery. Suppressing the wages of public sector employees doesn’t translate to higher private sector wages since actions in one sector reverberate across the whole economy. As such, wage suppression in the public sector will lead to greater wage suppression in the private sector.

“The big question is: why are they doing this?” asks McGowan. “They say it’s about balancing the budget, but they’re doing it at the same time they’re giving billions in tax breaks to profitable corporations, which will have the effect of making the government’s fiscal situation worse, not better. So, it’s clear that what’s really happening here is that they want to cut the wages of tens of thousands of working Albertans to pay for handouts to their wealthy friends.”

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