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Bargaining in the Broader Public Sector Conference

October 16, 2018
The Westin Edmonton


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Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 1


Scanning the Horizon: Assessing the state of Alberta's economy

9:10 AM - 10:00 AM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

According to the provincial government, "Alberta has emerged from the worst recession in a generation, caused by the steepest and most prolonged oil price shock in Canadian history." Despite this recovery and forecasts for economic growth, various indicators, such as the relatively high unemployment rate, suggest that not all Albertans are sharing in the return to economic prosperity. Moreover, risks to continued growth and prosperity, such as pipeline controversies and an emerging trade war, loom large. In this session, leading economists will provide an overview and point-out key factors parties should take into account when bargaining. Specific issues to be addressed include:

  • What do the key indicators signal for the short- and long-term economic situation in Alberta? Will the economic situation ever return to "normal" or is the economy evolving such that lower growth is to be expected? How does the situation in Alberta compare with other provinces and Canada as a whole?
  • What is the status of the labour market in Alberta? What is the outlook for employment in 2019? How does this compare to the situation across Canada? What do general trends in employment mean for employment and wages in the broader public sector?
  • What pattern-setting settlements and awards have been reached in the public sector? How do wage adjustments compare across various sectors such as healthcare, education, etc.? How do recent public sector settlements compare to recent settlements in the private sector?
  • What are the current projections for salary increases in the private sector? What role should these projections play in broader public sector negotiations?
  • How will protectionist US trade policy and pipeline controversies affect the provincial government's fiscal capacity (its ability to generate revenue)? What role will fiscal capacity – or uncertainty about fiscal capacity – play in ongoing and upcoming rounds of bargaining?
  • Has the provincial government made appropriate assumptions about oil prices, interest rates, and other key factors in its economic and fiscal projections? How will the government's assumptions affect bargaining?

BREAK (with refreshments)

10:00 AM - 10:15 AM

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 2


Feeling the Freeze: Bargaining challenges and opportunities in a tight money economy

10:15 AM - 11:15 AM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

With compensation accounting for a significant portion of government expenditures, public sector wages can be a popular target of cost-cutting measures aimed at bringing deficits under control. Even during periods of economic recovery, governments frequently set the stage for negotiations by announcing the need for wage restraint as a measure to reduce spending, creating significant challenges at the bargaining table. In this session, experienced negotiators will discuss the strategies that they employ when negotiating in a tight economy, addressing issues such as:

  • What external political, economic and social factors should the parties consider when establishing their bargaining objectives? Are employers open to offering other monetary gains as long as they are not classified as "wage increases," such as lump sum payments or signing/ratification bonuses? Are they receptive to suggestions of cost saving measures that could offset an increase in wages?
  • How does the approach to bargaining change, if at all, when under an unspoken wage freeze mandate? Are the parties required to share any additional information? Should an employer be prepared to offer concessions in exchange for a wage freeze? How can unions achieve deals that will be ratified by their members?
  • What are some examples of non-economic terms that parties can focus on when a wage increase is not on the table? Working conditions? Job security? Staffing? Workload? Changes to collective agreement language? Are there any examples of creative measures that parties can take in working around a wage freeze?
  • How should the parties approach bargaining in order to reduce the risk of a standoff? How can an employer demonstrate that it is not simply stonewalling the union? Could a refusal to negotiate wages constitute a failure to bargain in good faith?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 3


Bargaining under the Charter: Will legislated wage restraints pass constitutional muster?

11:20 AM - 12:05 PM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

Last decade's financial downturn ushered in an era of renewed fiscal austerity, with governments across the country turning to wage restraint legislation in an effort to control spending, either in their role as a large employer or as a source of funding to the broader public sector. This has inevitably resulted in constitutional challenges, with unions arguing that such legislation infringes on section 2(d) of the Charter by substantially interfering with their right to bargain collectively. While results have been mixed, the differing outcomes provide a useful guide in helping to gauge when governments overstep their bounds. In this panel, legal experts will draw upon the lessons from recent wage restraint cases, addressing issues such as:

  • How does Alberta's current economic climate compare to the circumstances in other jurisdictions where wage restraint legislation has been imposed? Are there any economic preconditions that must be present before a government can validly resort to wage restraint legislation? Is such legislation appropriate when the provincial economy is in the midst of a recovery?
  • In what circumstances will wage restraint legislation be deemed to substantially interfere with meaningful collective bargaining? Are there common features that have led to the legislation being upheld by the courts? What factors have resulted in the legislation being deemed unconstitutional?
  • Will pre-legislative consultations "cure" otherwise intrusive legislation? Never? Sometimes? Always?
  • What criteria do interest arbitrators or compulsory arbitration boards apply in formulating their awards? Are they receptive to "inability to pay" arguments made by public sector employers? Are there any creative solutions that have been used to work around legislated caps on wage increases?

NETWORKING LUNCH

12:05 PM - 1:00 PM

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 4


Cracking the Code: Interpreting and applying changes to Alberta's Labour Relations Code

1:00 PM - 1:30 PM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

Last year, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act made the most sweeping changes to Alberta's Labour Relations Code in a generation. Card-check certification became available for unions with the support of over 65% of proposed bargaining unit members. Enhanced mediation and first contract arbitration were introduced. A reverse onus provision was introduced to shift the burden of proof in unfair labour practice complaints to the employer, and the Alberta Labour Relations Board gained new remedial powers to deal with unfair labour practices. This session will provide a summary of the Alberta Labour Relations Board's approach to these important legislative changes. Specific issues to be addressed include:

  • How has the Board exercised its new powers to intervene in situations where parties are having difficulty negotiating a first collective agreement? In what circumstances will the Board refer a first contract dispute to arbitration?
  • What is the process for "enhanced mediation," which is available to parties having difficulty reaching a first collective agreement? How does "enhanced mediation" differ from the “normal” section 65 mediation process?
  • How has the Board adjusted its approach to determining unfair labour practice complaints in light of the new reverse onus provision in section 149(2) of the Code, which shifts the burden of proof in unfair labour practice complaints to the employer?
  • What use has the Board made of its new remedial powers in unfair labour practice complaints? When will the Board order remedial certification without a vote as a response to unfair labour practices?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 5


Mission Impossible? Meeting the challenges of negotiating essential services agreements

1:35 PM - 2:50 PM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

While Alberta's essential services legislation came into force more than two years ago, to date, few unions and employers have been able to successfully negotiate essential services agreements (ESAs). The Alberta Union of Public Employees and the government are a notable exception. In this panel, AUPE and government negotiators will discuss their strategies for reaching an agreement with representatives from other sectors, providing first-hand insight into the key obstacles to progress and how they can be overcome. Issues to be addressed include:

  • What are the most significant sticking points to successfully concluding an ESA? Determining the type and scope of services that are essential? Setting a level of service deemed safe to the public? Assessing the degree to which non-bargaining unit members can meet the need for an essential service? Taking into account the fact that some non-essential services may become essential if they are not provided for an extended period of time?
  • When should ESAs be negotiated (e.g. before the collective agreement expires, when negotiations for a collective agreement reach an impasse, etc.)? Should the same people be responsible for negotiating both the ESA and the collective agreement?
  • Is there a preferred process to follow? For example, does it matter who makes the first proposal? Should the first proposal concentrate only on reaching a "framework agreement?" If so, what should be in a framework agreement?
  • How can parties make the most effective use of the umpire they choose?
  • What approaches have proven successful in overcoming key obstacles?

BREAK (with refreshments)

2:50 PM - 3:05 PM

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 6


Fair or Foul: An interactive session on unfair labour practices

3:05 PM - 4:00 PM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

What distinguishes hard bargaining from bad faith bargaining? When will a party be found to be taking a bargaining issue to impasse illegally? Does it make a difference if the employer is the government itself (instead of a broader public sector employer)? Using scenarios drawn from real life, attendees will have an opportunity to share their opinions with colleagues and vote on each case, and then gain insight into how labour board members approach these perennially vexing issues.

CONFERENCE ENDS

4:00 PM

NETWORKING RECEPTION

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Keynote Speakers


Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  

Fundamentals of Bargaining: Mastering the rules of negotiation in a strike/lockout regime

9:00 AM - 4:00 PM

* Workshop Leaders to be announced

Workshop Summary

Before Bill 7, An Act to Enhance Post-Secondary Academic Bargaining, radically altered the legal landscape governing negotiations between academic staff associations and post-secondary employers, staff associations were not even considered "trade unions." Now, parties in the post-secondary sector find themselves in the midst of negotiations governed by the same rules, and the same threat of strike or lockout, as other employers and unions governed by the Labour Relations Code. In this hands-on, full-day program, top union and employer negotiators will explain how parties should adjust their thinking and bargaining strategies in response to these significant changes and provide guidance on complying with the new, legal "rules of the game." Workshop leaders will discuss how recent legislative changes affect every step of the bargaining process. While special attention will be paid to the post-secondary bargaining context, participants in all areas of the broader public sector will benefit from this session.

Workshop participants will learn how to:

  • Change bargaining strategies to adapt to the new strike/lock-out regime
  • Meet disclosure obligations
  • Recognize workplace changes that may violate the "statutory freeze"
  • Maintain effective communication with employees without compromising negotiations or violating the Labour Relations Code
  • Distinguish hard-bargaining from bad faith bargaining

VIEW THE WORKSHOP AGENDA



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