Nursing care workers approve 4.25% raise

Calgary nursing care workers employed by Carewest had been without a contract for over 3 years and their last raise was back in 2016.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees recently published an update regarding negotiations on behalf of nursing care workers.

The workers are emplyed by Carewest, the largest public care provider in Calgary and one of the largest in the country.

AUPE had been trying to negotiate a new contract with Carewest since their last one expired in June 2020, over 3 years ago.

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However, those negotiations hadn’t gone very well. Obviously. Or they would’ve had a contract sooner.

For example, the company initially proposed wage freezes in the first two years of the new contract, followed by a 1% increase last year (despite inflation in Alberta hitting 6%), and 1.25% this summer.

And that’s already after negotiated wage freezes in 2017 and 2018 and an arbitrator-mandated wage freeze in 2019. In other words, Carewest wanted their nursing staff to have no wage increases for 5 years straight.

Now, to be fair, they did propose a 1% one-time lump sum pandemic payment for 2021.

Since that initial proposal, however, Carewest had readjusted their offer by moving the 2021 wage freeze to 2024, the last year of the contract.

The company had also proposed that some workers work overtime without overtime pay, the ability to impose mandatory overtime on workers, the ability to impose mandatory changes to scheduled vacation time, limiting time off for medical appointments, and making it harder for workers to file grievances.

The negotiating team for the workers held information meetings on 31 August, which were followed by a ratification vote. AUPE said that workers voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of ratifying the new contract.

Here’s how the initial proposal from the employer compares to what the workers ended up with.

1 July 20200.00%0.00%
1 January 20221.00%1.00%
2 December 20221.00%1.25%
1 July 20231.25%2.00%

With ratification, the workers will get a raise of additional 1 percentage point over the length of the new contract, compared to the initial proposal. And since the date of the fourth increase has already passed, the raises will all be retroactive.

Notice that there was no raise in 2021 though? There are still two years of wage freezes. I mean, technically, a 1 July 2021 raise would have been effective until 30 June 2022, so there sort of was a raise, but it was delayed by 6 months.

Actually, that brings up an interesting point.

Because the 2021–2022 raise was delayed by 6 months, it means that the 3-year wage freeze that initially began in July 2017 (well, really July 2016, the date of the previous wage increase) was extended for 2 and half years instead of just two years.

In other words, instead of getting the last half of 2021 and the first half of 2022 on the new wage increase, hours worked in the last half of 2021 will be paid out at wages set in 2016.

The same goes for 2022’s raise. Because the second 2022 raise occurs in December instead of July, 5 months of 2022 will be on what should have been the 2021 raise instead of the new 2022 raise.

Here let me break this down a bit more.

2020 wage freeze12 months19 months
2021 wage increase12 months11 months
2022 wage increase12 months7 months
2022 wage increase12 months12 months

You see what I mean? While it’s good that workers are getting higher wages than initially proposed, they’re still being underpaid.

Also, keep in mind that inflation in Alberta for 2022 was 6%. So this new contract, even if you had up all the increases, won’t be enough to cover the increase to the cost of living for just last year. That’s not even counting the increase to the cost of living going back to 2016, when they got their last wage increase.

These workers are expected to manage their higher living costs on their own, as their real wages (wages minus inflation) have decreased over the last 7 years.

Remember that I had mentioned that Carewest had proposed a pandemic payment for hours workers in 2021. This is a on-time 1% lump sum payment. That means that it won’t increase their base rate when their last year raises kick in.

For example, when the 1 January 2022 wage increase takes effect, it will be a 1% increase of the wages set in 2016, not the 2016 wages plus the 1% pandemic payment.

Even though the extra money will be good, it’s a temporary increase and will hold them back in the long run.

That being said, anyone who has worked for 20 or more years for Carewest will receive a 2% long-service adjustment to their basic rate of pay, but that takes effect as of 1 July 2023. Again, while it’s better than nothing, it helps only a few workers, and the new 6.25% raise for those workers those workers will barely cover the increase to the cost of living just for last year, so they’ll still see a reduction in real wages.

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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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