Editorial – Bad Deals

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employes (AUPE) are the support staff at Athabasca University. They’re the people who process your applications, your loan papers, your library requests, who answer the phones at the information desk and try to get your question to the right person?who is usually another member of the AUPE. They’re also the people who man the call-centres, the model of education that is used in the school of business, and is probably going to be rolled out to the rest of the faculties.

In Alberta, these employees are prevented by law from striking. In return for that, the government granted a means whereby they could take any disputed negotiations to an independent arbiter who would decide the matter, and that decision would be binding on both the union and on the government.

However, the Alberta government has decided that it doesn’t like the idea of an independent arbiter settling a dispute, because there’s simply too much chance that it might not go the way they want. So they have two Bills, Bill 45, and Bill 46. Bill 45 establishes new fines for the union if they go on a “wildcat” (or illegal) strike. These fines would include a penalty of million dollars per day of the strike, and an inability to collect dues from members for three months, plus an additional month for every day of such a strike. Most damaging, however, is that simply making the threat of a wildcat strike carries the same penalties. So not only is it now illegal for AUPE to strike, it is illegal for them to even talk about it.

Worse, however, is Bill 46. This bill removes the union’s right to any sort of arbitrated settlement, and instead imposes the government offer on the union if the union can’t successfully negotiate anything else within a certain timeframe. Of course, with the government knowing that their offer will be enforced by law if they simply wait long enough, it is somewhere between naive and farcical to suggest that the government will honestly consider any sort of counter-offer.

Whether you agree with unions or not, this step by the government to remove the abilities to protest working conditions or wages by striking, or negotiate for better conditions otherwise, and to enforce that removal with the power of the law, is something that seems to be more in place with countries such as Uganda and Idi Amin back in the 70s. Of course, our premier is likely familiar with that history, considering that Uganda is one of the places that she worked before becoming premier, ironically, to help establish a functioning democracy. Who better to take a democracy down than someone who helped set them up elsewhere, I suppose.

What’s worse is that the government is fully aware that this is a bad law. We know this because the government itself has said that this law only applies to this next set of negotiations, not to any in the future, nor to any other union. It is specifically a way to legislate around having to deal fairly with the citizens of this province. And having done so once, all citizens of Alberta have now been put on notice that anything they feel they may have a right to is under threat, as this government has no shame or hesitation about eliminating rights, to free speech, to fair negotiation, or whatever else they feel stands in their way.

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