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Unions may get more bargaining power with new Alberta labour bill: U of C prof

Labour Minister says the law won’t give unions the upper hand, emphasizing both parties don’t like strikes

Labour Minister Christina Gray.

The Canadian Press

Labour Minister Christina Gray.

Unions could theoretically have the upper hand in upcoming negotiations with the government should a proposed labour bill pass, says a University of Calgary professor.

On Tuesday, Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray presented Bill 4, which gives public workers in areas previously considered essential services – like nurses, paramedics and correctional officers – the right to strike in Alberta, but they must first negotiate the conditions of any job action. 

As the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) enters labour negotiations with the government in January, Stefan Staubli, assistant professor at the University of Calgary, specializing in labour economics said unions could threat to strike if their demands aren’t met.

“They can use it as an instrument to pressure (the other party),” he said. “But it could also be an empty threat.”

However, he said unions are less likely to strike during economic downturns, adding strikes are more likely when wage increases aren’t on the table. 

David Harrigan, UNA director of labour relations, said he thinks unions won’t have an upper hand. 

Instead, the new law means both parties will now negotiate seriously, he said.

“The problem with outlawing strikes and saying that hey can’t happen makes it easy for a party to not be terribly serious when they go into bargaining,” he said. 

Minister Gray agreed with Harrigan, emphasizing both parties aren’t eager for a strike. 

“For people who are in that labour relations world and are used to this collective bargaining, it’s really not seen as an advantage to one side or the other,” she said.

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