Alberta’s public sector unions risk alienating the public with hyperbolic rhetoric

Written By Wyatt Claypool, Posted on January 17, 2020

Back on January 10th, the Alberta government, the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA), and the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) had an arbitration on changes to wages end in stalemate. Neither the United Conservative Party (UCP) controlled government nor the two unions got what they wanted.

The Alberta government was pursuing a one time rollback of teacher salaries by 2% and nurse salaries by 3% for four years, to combat the growing debt and the budget deficits having been run for decades. The ATA and UNA were demanding that their members receive an increase in their wages by 2% for the next two years. 

The ATA represents 46,000 members, and the UNA represents 30,000 members making cuts and increases even of 2-3% have a heavy impact on the overall government expenditures

Both the ATA and UNA will go back into collective bargaining with the government at two later dates this year when their provincial collective bargaining agreements are set to expire.

Looking back at how things ended, at the very least all parties should be at least partially satisfied, the Alberta government may not have reduced the budget in this area, but they stopped the growth, and the ATA and UNA saved their members from a wage cut.

The imbalance coming out of this arbitration is the UCP government has come out relatively unscathed as nothing happened other than cuts having to be diverted elsewhere.

On the other hand, the ATA and UNA have potentially wounded their public reputations. In battling the government to stand still, they indulged in hyperbolic rhetoric, got in people’s faces and threw around a lot of personal and defamatory accusations.

Public sector unions, along with the New Democratic Party (NDP), have partnered on a lot of labour issues by travelling in the same car. They end up all getting in the same metaphorical crashes. The problem here is their collective action facilitates radical rhetoric becoming the norm for the union membership and advocates.

Back on November 30th at the UCP annual general meeting (AGM), the unions came out in a collective protest made up of various members of associations including the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), ATA, UNA, Calgary Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and even the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to protest cuts made by the UCP government, in particular, the plan to eliminate 500 nursing jobs in three years.

Protests like what occurred at the UCP AGM and many other events do not ingratiate the public to the union’s plight. 

Yelling and slandering those who are just perceived to be against you, at a time when most Albertans working in the private sector are facing wage cuts or job losses, will only make the public see you as ungrateful for what you already have.

On top of the bad behaviour and over the top rhetoric, having the NDP tag along with union activities only adds extra barriers to the unions gaining real public support. The NDP, to a certain extent, don’t want the unions to get what they want as the anger of the unions is more politically useful to the NDP.

It makes one wonder whether union leaders like AUPE’s Guy Smith are more beholden to NDP politicians or their membership. Union leaders would instead ask for more than they can get to build anger for elections rather than gain responsible victories and make necessary concessions. 

The New Telegraph contacted the ATA for comment on the wage freeze arbitration and their perception of their behaviour and NDP involvement in protests, but they did not respond at the time of publication.

It is fine for the union leadership to advocate for the best outcomes for their members, but in the case of the ATA and UNA, it would also be smart to put forward a friendly face to the organization. 

When collective bargaining starts back up in the summer, the unions may find themselves without much sympathy if they once again gain no extra benefits or an increase in wages. If they moderate their demands and the radical rhetoric of members, they may find it easier to negotiate with the government and the arbitration boards.

Wyatt Claypool

Wyatt is a student at Mount Royal University, where he is the president of its Campus Conservative club. In his writing, he focuses on covering provincial and federal politics, firearms regulation, and the energy sector. Wyatt has also previously written for The Post Millennial.

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