Portage College workers to vote on a 3% wage increase

That comes with nearly 3 years of wage freezes though.

Earlier this week, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees announced that the bargaining team for chapter 8 of local 71 had reached a tentative agreement in negotiations with Portage College in Lac La Biche.

The most recent collective agreement expired in June 2020, over 2.5 years ago, and applies to support services workers at the college.

In that 3-year agreement, Portage College and AUPE agreed to two years of wage freezes (2017–2018 and 2018–2019), followed up with a wage reopener in the final year (2019–2020).

During wage reopener negotiations, Portage College, along with 7 other colleges in Alberta, had proposed a 2% wage cut. AUPE members rejected that proposal, and it eventually went to arbitration. The arbitrator ruled in favour of the workers, but gave them only a 1% wage increase.

Between July 2017 and June 2020, the life of that contract, the consumer price index for Alberta increased from 137 to 145, a 5.84% jump.

So, the workers saw a 1% increase over a 3-year period while inflation increased by nearly 6 times that much.

Bargaining for the new agreement was delayed because of the pandemic, but resumed in the autumn of 2021. The college began negotiations once again proposing wage rollbacks.

In January 2022, however, the college changed their mind and removed wage rollbacks from the bargaining table. They replaced the rollbacks with wage increases, but there’d be no wage increases until 2023.

The bargaining team for the support services workers at the college were eventually able to negotiate a 3% wage increase over the life of the contract.

1 July 20200.00%
1 July 20210.00%
1 July 20220.00%
1 April 20231.25%
1 December 20231.50%
1 February 20240.5%

And that last half of a percent is part of a gain share formula, which means it depends entirely on how well Alberta’s economy is doing. Generally speaking, the other public sector contracts that have included the gain sharing formula, it took effect if the average of all private forecasts for Alberta’s real GDP for that calendar year is at or above 2.7%.

Assuming they workers end up getting that extra 0.5% next year, that gives them a 3% increase over the life of the 4-year contract, which is less than 1% per year.

Keep in mind that Alberta’s CPI last July increased 7.39%. A 3% increase over 4 years isn’t even enough to cover inflation for just 6 months of the term. During the first two years of this agreement (July 2020 to July 2022), inflation increase 11.39%.

This is functionally a wage cut. If passed, it also means that in 5 of the last 7 years, these workers have had their wages frozen.

According to the statement released to the media earlier this week, AUPE claimed that Portage College couldn’t go any higher because of restrictions imposed by the UCP government.

Your team pushed hard for a good deal, and wanted an even better one. However, Portage College is restricted by the provincial government in ways that they could not work around.

This restriction includes having their Campus Alberta Grant funding cut by the province to the tune of over $3.5 million over the last 4 years, which amounts to a provincial funding reduction of 16%. This most current budget year alone for the college was a 3.5% reduction.

Outside of wage increases, the bargaining team representing the workers were able to negotiate some other wins.

For example, they were able to increase the safety footwear allowance from $120 a year to $150 a year. As well, they negotiated an increase to the health spending account, from $680 a year to $750 a year.

They were able to get job-protected leaves into the main agreement (they had been in a separate letter previously), updated the agreement to gender neutral language, clarified the composition of the Employee Management Advisory Committee, and clarified access to digital and print copies of the collective agreement.

Online voting on the tentative agreement begins tomorrow (24 February) and will close on 3 March.

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By Kim Siever

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

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