Alberta Union of Provincial Employees recently published an update on their website regarding negotiations for care workers in Camrose.
The employer, Bethany Group, is a Christian organization based out of Camrose and provides health and housing services in 30 communities throughout Central Alberta.
These workers are employed with Bethany Nursing Home of Camrose and include licensed practical nurses, supportive living workers, cooks, housekeepers, maintenance workers, and administrative assistants.
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The most recent collective agreement for these workers expired at the end of March 2020, more than 3.5 years ago.
The negotiating teams for Bethany and AUPE met together on the 20th and 21st of April to bargain on the new contract. Here’s what the employer offered for wage increases over a 4-year contract.
That comes out to a total increase of just 2.5%, or an average of 0.625% per year.
The union, naturally, opposed such low wages, proposing instead a wage freeze in just the first year, followed by 4.25% over the next 3 years (1%, 1.25%, and 2%).
However, the two parties were unable to settle on wage increases that were acceptable to both parties, so bargaining ended up going to mediation.
And guess what the mediator came back with.
A 4-year contract, with wage freezes in the first two years and 1.25% in the last two years, just like the employer wanted.
Here’s the thing though.
In April 2017, the last time some of these workers got a raise, the consumer price index in Alberta was 137.4 and had risen to 157.0 by April 2022, which is when their first wage increase since 2017 was dated for. That’s an increase of 19.6, or 14.3%.
In other words, between April 2017 and April 2022, wages for the nursing workers (assuming they ratify this agreement) will have increased by just 1.25%. General services workers, however, received a 1% raise in 2019, bringing their total increase to 2.25%. Meanwhile, inflation during the same period increased by 14.3%.
This means these workers saw a reduction in real wages, which is when wages are measured against inflation. When wages increase by 1.25% for nursing workers but inflation is 14.3%, it means you get your real wages are cut by 13.1%. Or 12.1% for GSS workers.
To put it another way, if a nursing worker spent $100 on products and services in 2017, they’d only be able to afford to pay $86.90 today. Either that, or it would now cost them $113.10 to purchase the same products and services.
Even if you tack on the 1.25% increase that’s supposed to be retroactive to this past April, it still won’t be enough to make up for the cut to real wages. Especially if you consider that the consumer price index rose another 4.3 percentage points between April 2022 and April 2023.
And that’s not even counting inflation between April 2023 and the end of the contract in April 2024.
If workers approve this contract, they’ll be better off than they’d be without any wage increases (as they’ve been doing the last 6.5 years), but they’re still going to struggle trying to make ends meet.
Workers will also be eligible for a one-time pandemic payment equal to 1% of their basic rate of pay for all hours worked in 2021. Keep in mind, however, that this is a one-time payment and will not affect the base rate that wage increases are based off of.
The only other change from the previous contract that AUPE shared was that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation would be a named holiday under the new contract.
The tentative agreement wasn’t available, so I was unable to compare the two contract to see what other significant changes may be been made.
Workers will vote on the new agreement on the 8th and 9th of November. Visit the AUPE website for voting times and locations.