Rachel Notley’s NDP warned not to go to war with Alberta Union of Provincial Employees
By Rick BellGuy Smith is the president of the Canada Union of Provincial Employees. He has a warning for this NDP provincial government.
Don’t go to war with the union. In contract talks, don’t try to whip up the public against the workers.
“I think that would be a fatal error. It’s a dangerous game. We’ve been to war with governments in the past. We’re not beholden to anybody. If it’s necessary we’ll do the same again,” says Smith.
“It’s not just a matter of pissing off the front-line workers. It’s about pissing off AUPE which I don’t think is very wise for any government to do.
“The government has got to be very careful in the role it plays in public debate. As we’ve seen going all the way back to Ralph Klein, every single premier has tried to vilify the public service.
“We’ve been through an awful lot. We’ve got the scars to show for it but we’ve also got the experience.”
The AUPE is a big union. They are the province’s biggest.
Many among the members do the heavy lifting in the public sector.
These are not the well-heeled paper shufflers who’ve grabbed headlines with phony-baloney bonuses and fat cat severance packages.
Almost none of their names show up in any lists of six-figure earners.
And yes, they fought the provincial Toryland dynasty and won.
Smith makes very clear the union is not in the pocket of any political party and that includes the NDP.
Smith says he respects members of the Notley NDP government but that does not mean his union will roll over in the contract talks coming up next year and beyond.
The union prez says there is “lot of frustration and anger” among the membership.
“They haven’t seen the world change like they thought they would.”
AUPE members put a lot of faith in the Notley NDP. They wanted to see change. The problem is not a lot has changed on the front lines.
“They still see the same kind of management culture that’s always existed. There’s still a lot of concern about harassment and bullying.
“The bargaining we’ve just seen is as acrimonious as it was with the Tory government.”
Smith has told union members a government can’t change things overnight but …
“Over time, I think we expected to see change that would impact on the shop floor. And really it hasn’t.”
He says the most stalwart backers of this government very much include people in his union rank-and-file.
“It’s very clear their solid core of support comes from front-line workers, the lunch bucket crowd. If they start losing that connection or they start losing the ability to inspire them or encourage them, that’s going to be real problem for them.”
Recently, an independent arbitrator gave 23,000-plus general support services workers who are AUPE members 5% over three years. That deal goes back to 2014 and expires next year.
Auxiliary nurses still don’t have a deal.
Smith says he doesn’t know the level of public sentiment for the workers.
He knows people are hurting in this province. He knows it’s a challenge to hammer out a contract in these times.
He claims in those years when AUPE members have gotten no pay hike the province’s bottom line changed little.
For the union leader, it’s not the focus.
“I’ve got to protect the interests of our front-line workers,” says Smith.
“It’s nice to have public support, and we have had it for the most part in pretty much everything we’ve engaged in as a union.
“But, at the end of the day, it’s about doing what I can for the membership who elected me.”
Over to you, Premier Notley.
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