Government employees in Red Deer were among those across Alberta who regularly saw pay increases during the economic downturn, says a report released by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The report showed 295 provincial and municipal wage settlements across the province resulted in pay increases, including 12 settlements for Red Deer workers, between the end of 2014 and October 2020.
“We couldn’t find a single example of a government union that was willing to take a pay cut during Alberta’s downturn,” said Franco Terrazzano, Alberta federation director.
“Many workers outside of government lost their job or took a cut to keep their job, but not a single government labour agreement reflected this tough reality facing the province and taxpayers.”
Of the 12 settlements in Red Deer, seven were with the City of Red Deer, and five were with Red Deer College. Settlements are dated as far back as 2016, and as recently as August. Yearly wage increases ranged from zero to three per cent.
City manager Allan Seabrooke said the attention to public wages is ongoing.
“I don’t think it’s a conversation that will ever end. I think it’s going to continue,” Seabrooke said.
“But at the end of the day, you have services to provide. You need to be competitive in the market place. In Alberta, wages were very high in the oil and gas sector and I think that is what has probably driven up some of the wages when you look at comparators, not only in government, but the private sector across the country.”
Seabrook said as the province moves into economic recovery from COVID-19, and grapples with the need to diversify and recover from the decline of the oil and gas sector, there will be movement into other types of jobs.
The federation said collective bargaining agreements published by the Alberta government showed no settlements that resulted in pay cuts and thousands of government employees under so-called wage freeze agreements actually received pay increases.
The last broad Alberta government pay cut occurred in 1994, according to documents obtained by Secondstreet.org through freedom of information requests.
The federation said while no government settlements resulted in pay reductions, 107 non-government union wage settlements resulted in pay reductions.
“Many Albertans have taken pay cuts to avoid as many layoffs as possible while keeping businesses afloat, but we couldn’t find a single government union that made that kind of sacrifice. We can’t keep asking struggling families to pay more tax because government union bosses aren’t willing to share in the burden,” Terrazzano said.
Seabrook said to prepare for the future, the City of Red Deer reduced its workforce by about 75 full-time positions in 2020 to lower expenses to reflect the times, address diminishing revenue, and provide zero per cent tax increases in 2021 and 2022.