Gunter: Redford Tories embracing bully tactics

Columnist Lorne Gunter in today’s Edmonton Sun:

[ ]Gunter: Tories embracing bully tactics
At least it’s not jail, this time


The Redford Tories won the 2012 provincial election by abandoning a lot of their old friends — fiscal conservatives, coffee-shop libertarians and rural Albertans — and taking up with some new ones, such as public-sector workers, safety nannies and other friends of big government. (Remember, they were proud they were “Not your father’s PC party.”)

Now the Alberta Tories have just capped off the fall session of the Legislature by seriously riling one of their new chums — public-sector workers. And this was already a session the Tories had begun by outraging one of their few remaining support groups in rural Alberta — small-town politicians.

Alison Redford and her clan have upset public-sector unions with their hasty passage of Bills 45 and 46 near the end of the Assembly session. Not only does the pair of bills impose a four-year wage deal on front-line government workers such as prison guards and social workers (if their union and the government are unable to negotiate a deal by Jan. 31), it also imposes huge new fines on unions and union officials who lead workers out on illegal strikes.

This, in and of itself, is not entirely outrageous.

If the imposed deal goes through, government workers will receive no wage increase this year or next, and just 1% increases the following two years. This is roughly in line with what the Tories negotiated with doctors and teachers within the last year. And even with this moratorium, Alberta’s civil servants will still be among the highest paid in the country.

Through this bill, the Tories have effectively ended the collective bargaining process for provincial workers.

The Redford government has basically said to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) negotiate a contract that gives us exactly what we want or we will impose the deal we want on you. And, if you dare go out on an illegal strike, we’ll impose such prohibitive fines on your union (and on its leaders, personally) that you run the risk of going bankrupt as an organization and as individuals. Oh, yeah, and by the way, we’re taking away your ability to ask for binding arbitration.

Boiled down to the basics, these twin bills take away workers’ leverage to bargain for any deal other than the one the government wants them to take.

Now I don’t have much sympathy for the AUPE’s argument that their workers “deserve more.” Provincial civic servants make more than their private-sector counterparts, work fewer hours, have greater job security and receive much richer benefits and pensions. Still, it is wrong to deny workers the right to bargain for their services in good faith.

The government would not stand for such tactics from private-sector employers. So why do they give themselves such a big club?

But the worst aspect of the new labour bills is the way they attempt to stifle any dissent from workers and other Albertans. Bill 45 gives the minister the power to fine anyone – government worker or ordinary citizen – who suggests a strike would be a good idea in an email, in a tweet, on a blog or in a letter to the editor.

This is every bit as authoritarian as the Redford Tories first bill of the session, the Modernizing Regional Governance Act that threatened to jail any local councillor or mayor who refused to go along with the Tories’ plans for regionalization.

Will anyone be fined without trial for posting a pro-strike tweet? Unlikely. But it is revealing of the Tories’ mindset that they included such a threat in these bills.

All of this is particularly bad political strategy given that the Tories don’t have many friends left.

Bill 45


4 (1) No employee and no trade union or officer or representative of a trade union shall cause or consent to a strike.

(2) No employee and no officer or representative of a trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat or a strike.

(3) No trade union shall engage in or continue to engage in any conduct that constitutes a strike threat.

(4) No person shall counsel a person to contravene subsection (1) or (2) or impede or prevent a person from refusing to contravene subsection (1) or (2).

(5) No trade union or officer or representative of a trade union shall, in any manner, discipline a person because that person does not contravene subsection (1) or (2).

Dave Cournoyer
Communications Advisor
United Nurses of Alberta
Office: 780 425 1025
Mobile: 780 913 1563


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