Government interferes in UNA-AHS arbitration

Members of UNA's bargaining committee were prepared to meet with the employer negotiating committee for a Wage Re-Opener Arbitration on May 13, 2019.

Before its MLAs have even been sworn into office, Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government is interfering in the collective bargaining process and trying to change the terms of Alberta Health Services’ legal contract with close to 30,000 Alberta nurses, United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Director David Harrigan says.

As a result, Harrigan stated, the union has filed an application with the Alberta Labour Relations Board for review of the arbitrator’s preliminary decision in response to a demand by Alberta Health Services that the arbitration of the wage reopener for close to 30,000 UNA members be delayed.

Employer bargaining representatives informed UNA and arbitrator David Jones Friday afternoon that they had been instructed by the provincial government to put the arbitration on hold. They did not provide an explanation for the government’s position beyond suggesting the government wishes to “engage in consultation” with public sector unions.

Arbitrator Jones thereupon granted the employer’s request for a delay beyond the date specified in UNA’s Provincial Collective Agreement.

UNA has also filed grievances against Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health and other employers involved in the negotiations.

“This clearly meets the legal definition of bargaining in bad faith,” Harrigan said. “The bargaining representatives of our members’ employers are obviously not making the decisions in bargaining as required by law, the Government of Alberta is.”

“They are sending people to the bargaining table who have indicated to us they have no idea what is happening and have in reality been given no power to negotiate,” he explained.

Moreover, Harrigan stated, the arbitrator’s decision clearly went beyond the powers granted to arbitrators in Alberta law.

The UCP Government’s strategy and the reason for the delay are clear, Harrigan noted. Janice MacKinnon, chair of the “Blue Ribbon Panel” announced by the government last week, has already in effect made her recommendations in an article co-authored with conservative University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz in the fall of 2017.

In that publication, MacKinnon and Mintz called for “consultations” followed by a wage reduction of 2 per cent for all provincial public employees in the first year of an imposed collective agreement followed by two years of no wage increases.

“We will be asking the Labour Relations Board to order that the collective bargaining process and arbitration resume forthwith as required by law and the collective agreement with these employers,” Harrigan said this morning.

“We are seeking an immediate emergency hearing to deal with this violation of our members’ constitutionally protected collective bargaining rights,” Harrigan said, noting that UNA members are extremely concerned by this effort to rewrite their collective agreement without consultation and strip them of their collective bargaining rights.

A wage reopener allows only the wage portion of the agreement to be reopened for negotiation while all other parts of the contract remain in place. UNA’s current agreement, which expires on March 31, 2020, is with Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health, Lamont Heath Care Centre and the Bethany Group (Camrose). 

NOTE: The wage reduction recommendation is on page 7 of MacKinnon and Mintz’s paper, which can be accessed at:


For more information, contact:

David Harrigan, Director of Labour Relations, United Nurses of Alberta, 780-425-1025