Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dear Public Sector Unions: You're Not Helping.

So, it's been an interesting week in Alberta politics, Nation.

As predictably as winter following autumn, or a Flames first-round playoff exit, the knives have started coming out for Premier Stelmach after the one-two punch of a poorly-received television address and poll numbers showing the Tories at 40% (or lower) popular support.

Those people most emboldened by the image of the Premier "on the ropes", though, haven't been the whispered leadership contenders waiting in the wings... it has been the public sector unions. In particular, 3 of them: The AUPE, the United Nurses of Alberta, and the Alberta Teacher's Association.

AUPE's head honcho has been quotes as saying wage roll-backs are not even worth discussing, as the union won't accept them. He's also leery of a wage freeze, noting that the "jobs ahead of raises" argument was used by Ralph in the early 90's - and that job cuts happened anyway.

United Nurses of Alberta have been on the warpath since the summer, when Stephen Duckett asked them to have a grown-up conversation about how nurses are used, and in what roles (they described the merest suggestion of changes as "bullying"). They haven't rejected the call for a wage freeze yet, as they're waiting to see how the health care system will be run before deciding their bargaining position. Rest assured, though, they'll be right there, standing side-by-side with the Friends of Medicare protesting every single paperclip order that gets cancelled due to budgetary concerns.

Then there's the ATA. They started protesting BEFORE Ed's announcement on Wednesday night, launching a website and a campaign that has made it very clear that they're against ANY cuts to education funding. There's not a single unnecessary worker, no redundant offices, nobody orders extra crates of photocopy paper from Grand & Toy that end up not being used... there's no fat to be trimmed in the education system, at all.

(This brings to mind the argument I have yet to fully articulate regarding why I am in favour of fully funding the provincial Auditor General. More on that some other time.)

We spent $36.4 Billion as a province this year. 36.2% went to Health. 25.7% went to Education. Since 1999, government spending on Education has increased by 87%. To say this government doesn't value those programs is as ridiculous as the assertion that there is absolutely no way to reduce spending in these huge bureaucracies without affecting front-line service delivery.

We are not in a sustainable position, here, folks. Health Care, Education, the 60,000-member public service (of which I'm a member, you'll recall)... these are all HUGELY expensive items in the provincial budget. And we can't just wait for the price of natural gas to rise again, and then everything will be hunky-dory...

This is the highest-spending government in the nation, per capita. A fact that our friends in the Wildrose Alliance are always more than happy to bring up. And do you want to know what's going to happen to these unions and special interest groups if costs AREN'T brought under control?

The Wildrose Alliance will get elected to govern.

Is that REALLY an outcome you'd prefer over wage freezes and manageable budget cuts, unions?

I dunno... it seems to me you're more likely to get a fair shake from Ed Stelmach or Ron Glenn than from Mark Dyrholm or his "outreach guy". But maybe that's just me.


fOrMerjourno said...

ES, maybe it's time for the WRA to have a hand at governing. Maybe - just maybe - we'll get more fiscally responsible spending.

I admit it. I think teachers and nurses and public employees should be fairly compensated. But these monetary ills are not a one-off. Had we had fiscally responsible spending through the 1980s and 1990s and the foresight to diversify our economy beyond natural gas and oil, I think we would have found ourselves in a much healthier situation.


Anonymous said...

I am very confused by the assertion of FJ that there was not fiscally responsible government spending in the 80s and 90s.

In the 80s, at the end of another period of boom in Alberta, the coffers of the Province were pillaged by federal confiscation of resource revenue. In the 90s, a spendthrift Premier was replaced and his replacement put in place the discipline necessary to retire the Provincial debt. That was done by all Albertans having to play a part.

And, should this individual have lived in this Province during that period, they would know that we have developed some diversity, but you tell me how you steer away from working with the resources, both natural and human, that give you an advantage over your worldwide competitors.

Okay, so to my comment on your work ES. . .

Now, in the teeth of a worldwide financial storm, the unions that work inside areas where over 60% of every Provincial budget dollar is spent say that they won't help out. Every Albertan is impacted by this downturn aren't they?

How dare they state that they are too important to modify their agreements and not have an increase? How arrogant! What an insult to those of us who have taken a 100% paycut, having lost our jobs. (Oh, and FS, my job was NOT in oil and gas!)

Now we have a confrontation forming, one that they may win the battle but they will not win in what will be a long war. Do these unions really believe that a majority of Albertans will line up to support them? If they do, then the Liberals and the NDP would be polling a lot more than the miserable combined 30% that exists today.

Anonymous said...

I've read your blog for quite some time and mostly respect your point of view - but stop being such an apologist already! The current group running the province has done many, many things wrong, and doesn't appear to have the self awareness to recognize this.

They can't even get a self imposed pay cut right. Rather than rip on the unions (which I admit are often guilty of stretching the limits of reason) why don't you ever take a critical view of the government?

If Stelmach doesn't want to pay Alberta's workers, why did he bail out the teachers pension plan to the tune of $2 billion last year? I think we both know that at the time, there was a lot of money lying around and he didn't want to deal with the problem in a responsible way, so he covered it up with cash. Now that revenues are down he wants to cut up previously agreed upon contracts.

This guy doesn't have a plan, doesn't do what's right, and frankly doesn't deserve your constant support. Why don't you just call a spade a spade and admit that he's floundering and maybe doesn't have the answers. It's abundantly clear to most people.

Anonymous said...

Joey my friend.... I am not sure about this one. Lets not compare Education spending cuts to "extra photocopies" etc.. ( I hope its just This government has no control over their budget, bottom line.

If they want to keep the people of Alberta happy, they better take a long look in the mirror and get it together over the next few years.

If not, its not the WAP they have to worry about, its the "next generation" of MLA's in waiting that will ensure that the current crop is sent to pasture, lol.


Unknown said...

Teachers need to be fairly compensated. So do Nurses.

Asking them to take pay cuts (when their salaries are already tied to the Average Average Weekly Earnings) asks them to be cut more than everyone else.

However, there's a clause that states that teacher's pay won't decrease if the AAWE does... I think it would be fair to get rid of this clause. This would make their cut equivalent. (As it is the AAWE increased last year, and is expected to increase next year.)

Asking them to take pay cuts, when government votes themselves pay raises, asks them to share their loaf of bread while the bosses are eating caviar.

Asking them to take pay cuts, when government hands out ridiculous bonuses and severance pay to Health bigwigs who have not made any noticable improvements to the system, is a slap in the face.

These are the people that take care of your kids. The people that take care of you when you're ill. Do you really want them disgruntled?

By all means, cut out some of the unnecessary spending from Health and Education. But don't cut the jobs and salaries of the front-line workers. It's the easiest thing to do, but only results in a worsening of quality. Other cuts are harder, but would not be so detrimental.