United Nurses of Alberta files bad-faith bargaining complaint in negotiations with Alberta Health Services

For immediate release, Wednesday, March 18, 2020 

United Nurses of Alberta has filed a bargaining-in-bad-faith complaint stemming from actions by Alberta Health Services and the provincial government during negotiations for a new provincial collective agreement for the majority of Alberta’s Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses.

The complaint argues that good-faith bargaining as required by law is not possible when the employer is subject to directives from a cabinet minister and is also prohibited by law from informing its employees’ union of the existence or contents of those directives.

The complaint, which filed today with the Alberta Labour Relations Board on behalf of three members of UNA’s bargaining committee who are trying to negotiate a new Provincial Collective Agreement with AHS and other employers, alleges that sections 3 and 4 of the Public Sector Employers Act passed last year violate their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The complaint outlines in detail activities of the AHS bargaining team during negotiations this month that UNA believes clearly show how informed rational discussions required by law are impossible because of the minister’s undisclosed interference and how AHS is improperly bargaining through the media and not at the bargaining table.

The complaint alleges that by bargaining in bad faith the employer has breached provisions of the Alberta Labour Relations Code and also interfered with the operation of a trade union.

The complaint further argues these actions violate the freedom of association provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which include the right to be represented in collective bargaining by a trade union.

The complaint outlines how negotiators for AHS confirmed they have received directions from Finance Minister Travis Toews, but were not permitted to disclose those instructions to UNA in order to fulfill their obligation to bargain in good faith. The complaint shows that an employer bargaining representative said the AHS committee had received instructions from provincial Chief Advisor on Negotiations Kevin Davediuk, acting for the minister, not to share the bargaining committee’s mandate with UNA.

“It is not good faith bargaining for AHS to force UNA to guess which directives it can move on,” UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan said in the complaint.

Furthermore, after a request by UNA on Thursday, March 12, that negotiations be suspended with the current agreement including a letter of understanding saying there would be no layoffs of Direct Nursing employees be left in place while health care staff must deal with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis response, Harrigan was told on Friday, March 13, that they could not get an answer from the officials directing their negotiations.

An hour later, the complaint says, Toews, who is the minister responsible for the Public Sector Employers Act, and Health Minister Tyler Shandro, who appears at the top of the AHS organizational chart, held a news conference at which they announced there would be no nursing layoffs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Yet the following Monday, March 16, members of the AHS bargaining team told Harrigan they still had no instructions from the minister or his representative despite what Toews and Shandro had said three days earlier.

Finally, on Tuesday, March 17, the AHS bargaining committee received its instructions and UNA and AHS were able to conclude the agreement the union had proposed five days earlier.

UNA is seeking remedies that include:

  • A declaration the employer has breached provisions of the Labour Relations Code
  • An order that the employer cease and desist in its violations of the Code
  • An order directing the employer to disclose to UNA any and all current and future directions from the minister or his delegate with respect to bargaining
  • An order directing the employer to meet and make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement
  • A declaration that sections 3 and 4 of the Public Sector Employers Act violates the applicants’ freedom of association as protected by section 2(d) of the Charter and is not saved by section 1 and thus is of no force and effect with respect to the parties’ collective bargaining and protections under the Code
  • An order directing the employer to make the union whole for any losses suffered as a result of the employer’s breaches of the Code
  • An order directing the employer to pay general damages to the union and to affected employees