No wage increases for Alberta nurses and teachers, arbitrators rule

Alberta's teachers and nurses will not receive a wage increase in their current contracts, after two arbitration decisions were handed down Friday. 

The arbitration board decisions affect members of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA)  and Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA). Both unions were in the final year of their contracts and were seeking wage increases, while the provincial government was seeking wage rollbacks.  

The UNA represents more than 30,000 members and the ATA has about 46,000 members.

"We're obviously disappointed. We've already taken two years of zero and so we're not keeping up with inflation," said David Harrigan, director of labour relations with the UNA. 

Teachers have received zero wage increases in seven of the last eight years, said ATA president Jason Schilling. 

"Members are angry and frustrated," Schilling said. "They were hoping for better and received this.

"They are being asked to do more and more within their classrooms with less, and then to turn around and see that their salaries are frozen yet again is extremely disappointing."

The UNA's provincial collective agreement is set to expire on March 31, 2020. The ATA's agreement expires Aug. 31, 2020.

The provincial government had entered arbitration asking the UNA to take a three per cent wage rollback. The ATA was asked to accept a two per cent salary reduction. 

The arbitration board opted to freeze wages. 

"These independent public sector wage arbitration outcomes reflect the current economic realities in the province," said Finance Minister Travis Toews, in a news release Friday.

"Even with these decisions, fiscal restraint and discipline must continue as we enter into new collective bargaining negotiations in 2020."

The ATA will begin negotiations in March.

"The stakes are going to be higher than ever," Schilling said. "Frankly, Alberta teachers are tired of having to pay for the continuing failure of successive governments to adequately fund public education."

Negotiations between the UNA and the province will begin next week in Edmonton, said Harrigan.

Harrigan said the comments from Toews give him hope that the province will not be seeking to cut salaries this time around, he said. 

"If the Minister of Finance is stating today that zero is appropriate and meets the economic reality, then obviously we're not expecting him to be proposing rollbacks," said Harrigan.