Negotiations between the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and its employers may move into mediation.
The employers announced they would be applying for informal mediation on Aug. 13.
The employers include Alberta Health Services (AHS), Covenant Health, Lamont Health Care Centre and Bethany Group (Camrose), which are being backed by the province for a wage rollback on nurses.
“Informal mediation is a critical part of the negotiations process. Seven of the last eight collective agreements between AHS and UNA – including the agreement in 2017 – were reached in mediation,” said Travis Toews, Minister of Finance, in a press release.
In a release on the same day, UNA said that the informal mediation “does not advance the dispute resolution process under the Labour Relations Code.”
The union also said that the ministers’ comments are misleading as “AHS and UNA did not use Section 64 mediation in the 2017 round of bargaining, and the process has not been used for many years,” according to a UNA release Aug. 16.
“The nurses that I have spoken to are angry, they are insulted, and they are dejected at the way things are going,” said Jerry Macdonald, UNA Local 207 president in Grande Prairie.
“They have been working so hard so flat out for the last 18 months, and this is the thanks they get.”
Macdonald said it’s not just about money.
The employers are looking for about a five per cent wage rollback after years of no raises, “but they also want to roll back provisions in their contract that go back decades.
“In terms of working conditions, scheduling and work-life balance and the ability for people to actually have a life outside the workplace.
“A lot of those things are under attack by this government and this employer.
“The other thing to recognize is that we don’t know for sure how much of this is coming from AHS itself and how much from the Government of Alberta.”
“The Government of Alberta brought in legislation that allowed them to give direction to Alberta Health Services, secretly, and not have to disclose that they did it.”
Macdonald said that UNA was to have a provincial presidency meeting with all the local presidents around the province on Aug. 25 to “provide some direction on what strategies, and what actions we should take next.”
Mediation will allow both UNA and the employers to state their case to a third-party mediator who will look at each side and try to bring the two parties together.
Mediation is not arbitration, Macdonald explained, as it will only come back with suggestions and recommendations.
UNA is asking for more bargaining dates and for the minister to allow the bargaining process to continue without the province’s interference.
As of Aug. 17, AHS still hadn’t applied for the informal mediation.
Many Albertans are concerned about a strike from the nurses, but that is still a ways off as the union would need a vote from all of its members with a majority of the members and a majority of the locals to vote in favour, said Macdonald.
The UNA Local 37 represents RNs and RPNs working at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Grande Prairie Care Centre and Northern Addictions Centre in the Grande Prairie area.
On July 23, Local UNA leaders, along with the NDP, said that the area is already short of nurses, and cutting wages was not going to attract other nurses to the area.
In Ontario, some hospitals are offering up to $10,000 signing bonuses in hopes of attracting out of province nurses to come to their area.
“Morale is very poor,” said Macdonald.
“We have nurses who are working very, very hard and who are struggling to get by with limited resources because it’s difficult to recruit in the current environment.”
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News