01/24/2014 04:31 EST | Updated 03/26/2014 05:59 EDT

AUPE President Says Concessions Made, But Union Won't Sign A 'Bad Deal'


EDMONTON - The head of Alberta's largest public-sector union says workers have made significant concessions in contract talks, but the government has not reciprocated.

Guy Smith of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says the AUPE has reduced its demands for wage increases and has agreed to other changes in contract language to get a new collective agreement.

"We've made it very clear to them that we cannot go down any further," Smith said Friday. "We made significant movement. In fact the government negotiator actually acknowledged that.

"But at the same time, the government side is making incremental moves and it's not even close to what it needs to be."

Premier Alison Redford's government passed a law last month forcing a four-year deal if an agreement isn't reached by Jan. 31. The legislated deal would see a wage freeze in the first two years and one per cent hikes in each of the last two.

The government revoked the union's right to go to binding arbitration in this round of bargaining. It also passed a law imposing six and seven-figure fines if the union goes on strike illegally or even talks about illegal strike action.

The union is taking the province to court, arguing the laws violate charter freedoms, but the two sides have continued to talk.

The union originally asked for a six per cent wage hike over two years.

Smith said while workers want a deal, they won't sign one just because it is marginally better than the one set to be imposed on Jan. 31.

"I'm not going to sign a bad deal for our members," said Smith.

"These are hard-working, front-line workers. They're Albertans. They're taxpayers. They keep this province running every single day, and the way the government is treating its own employees is just shameful."

The AUPE represents 22,000 government workers in a variety of fields, from corrections officers to social workers.

The workers have been without a deal since March 31, 2013.

Deputy premier Dave Hancock declined to discuss the specifics of bargaining, but said the province would prefer a negotiated settlement rather than imposing one.

"I think there's been some hopeful signs in terms of the discussions. There's obviously been some offers put on the table," Hancock said.

"We're flexible at the table. We're prepared to be flexible within the fiscal parameters that we've got."

Hancock said they need to have a deal similar to the wage freezes and small salary hikes negotiated with teachers and doctors.

Redford has said salary restraint is crucial as Alberta deals with budget deficits brought on by thousands of newcomers flocking to the province.

The government has the option under the new law to extend the bargaining deadline to March 31.

Hancock said a decision on that would likely come when cabinet meets Wednesday.

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