Alberta’s largest union set for arbitration next week after successful court bid

EDMONTON — The head of Alberta’s largest union says arbitration wage talks are to resume next Wednesday for 60,000 workers following a successful court challenge, but a final decision is up in the air.

Guy Smith, head of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, says the decision timeline is up to the arbitrator and the entire process could be delayed again, given that Premier Jason Kenney’s government is launching an appeal.

“There’s lots of moving parts. But as far as we’re concerned, we will be having our arbitration heard next week,” Smith said.

His comments came a day after a judge granted a temporary injunction allowing AUPE workers to resume binding arbitration wage talks with the province.

Those talks are set for Aug. 7 to 9.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews has said the province is seeking a quick appeal hearing. He declined further comment Wednesday.

The injunction allows the AUPE to move forward as it continues its court challenge of the province’s Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act. The legislation delays binding arbitration until at least November for a number of unions, affecting 180,000 public sector workers.

The AUPE and other unions, including nurses and teachers and other health professionals, are challenging the act in court, arguing it violates Charter-protected collective bargaining rights.

The unions represent workers who signed on to collective bargaining agreements that promised wage freezes in the first years but with a clause opening up the wage talks in the final year, 2019, with the right to go to binding arbitration if talks fail.

The United Nurses of Alberta and the AUPE workers were to have had arbitration underway by now, with the others to follow later this year.

David Harrigan, the director of labour relations for the UNA, said it will see what happens with the government’s appeal before deciding whether to seek its own interim injunction.

But Harrigan said the union already has new arbitration hearing dates set for November and that even if they get an injunction, it would be very difficult to get all parties together before then for a hearing.

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