Alberta utility workers holding a strike vote

The workers have been without a contract for 3 years.

Earlier this week, the Alberta Labour Relations Board published their latest New Applications Report, and in it was an application for a strike vote.

The strike vote application was filed by Local 400 of the United Utility Workers’ Association, which has been in negotiations since November 2020 with the employer, Dataco Utility Services.

Based in Calgary, Dataco provides third-party services to utility companies, such as Enmax and various municipal governments. Workers employed by Dataco perform such services as installation, disconnection, exchange, reconnection, and reading of utility meters.

The most recent collective bargaining agreement UUWA had with Dataco technically expired in 2019, but according to Sheldon Kerr, business representative with UUWA, the employer negotiated with the union for a 1-year rollover of 1.75% wage increase, with negotiations to begin in 2020 instead of 2019.

Kerr said in a phone interview with me that one reason Dataco provided for this rollover was to help line up the CBA terms with their contract timelines for Enmax, one of their largest clients.

Until relatively recently, negotiations had been going quite well, with both parties agreeing on many items. According to Kerr, bargaining hit a wall a few months ago, primarily driven by vehicle compensation.

Dataco doesn’t provide company vehicles for their employees to use for services calls, which leaves workers needing to use their own vehicles.

But with how spread out Calgary is and with gas prices being significantly higher than they were in 2017, when their most recent CBA began, vehicle costs have increased significantly for these workers.

The current fuel surcharges are as follows:

$1.35 and above$16.26

Dataco’s most recent surcharge proposal complicates things, adding two more levels:


And here’s UUWA’s most recent surcharge proposal:

$2.00 and above$28.80

As well, the two parties were unable to agree on wage increases. Last month, Dataco was proposing wage freezes for the first two years of the contract (2021 and 2022), 7% in 2023, and 3% in both 2024 and 2025. UUWA, however, had proposed 2% in 2021, 3.25% in 2022, 3.5% next year, and 3.25% in each of the final two year of the contract.

Dataco’s final offer, which they presented last week, was 1.5% in 2021, 3.25% this year, 2.25% next year, and 2.5% in both 2024 and 2025. That’s more than their previous offers, but still short of what UUWA was requesting.

Dataco wasn’t willing to make the concessions that the UUWA bargaining team was asking for, so negotiations went to mediation. However, Kerr claimed that mediation actually ended up driving the parties further apart on this issue.

Not only that, but Kerr claimed that Dataco was starting to change their minds on items the two parties had already agreed to. Some of this included language regarding severance pay, which is interesting, given that Kerr said that the company laid off 11 workers during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and refused to honour the previous agreement regarding severance pay.

The UUWA bargaining team brought all this forward to their membership at a meeting in Calgary on 30 October and one in Red Deer on 4 November. According to an email Kerr sent to the membership yesterday, the union “heard loud and clear that what the company has put on the table is not acceptable.”

With very few other options after two years of bargaining, UUWA felt they had no other choice but to file for a strike vote, which they submitted to the ALRB last week on the 8th.

They took the threat of a strike vote and the feedback from the two meetings with their members and met one more time with the employer 2 days ago.

Dataco was willing to put retroactive wage increases back on the table (1.5% for 2021 and 3.25% in 2023), but it had to come at the expense of the signing bonus, and all the other monetary items that the two parties had signed off would have to be effective 1 January 2023, rather than as of ratification.

The employer also insisted that there will be no deal at all unless the union’s bargaining team accepts concessions on layoff and recall language. The union’s team, however, believes that this “severely limits [worker] rights and entitlements” and that workers would be “negatively impacted if [they] are temporarily or permanently laid off”.

The ALRB approved the application for the strike vote, which UUWA will conduct in person this Friday in Calgary and Red Deer, as well as online.

Calgary’s vote will take place at the UUWA office between 08:00 and 17:00. The Red Deer vote will occur at the Holiday Inn and Suites on Gasoline Alley between 14:00 and 17:00. Online voting will run from 08:00 to 17:00.

In response to this potential strike vote, Dataco notified workers just this past Tuesday that they have also applied to the ALRB, but for a lockout. It looks like they may be planning to lockout workers before they have a chance to strike.

Keep in mind that if the workers vote in favour of a strike vote, it doesn’t mean they’ll immediately strike. The union intends to use the potential of a strike as bargaining leverage in further negotiations, before turning to striking.

Because the ALRB doesn’t archive their reports, I’ve included this week’s report below.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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