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Alberta nurses' union files unfair labour practice complaint against AHS citing 'bad faith' bargaining


The union representing Alberta nurses has filed a labour practice complaint against Alberta Health Services (AHS), alleging the transfer of 3,200 nurses to a new provincial addiction agency is being done without regard for their contract rights.

The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) filed the complaint with the Labour Relations Board this week, noting that its employer “failed to negotiate in good faith,” as required by Section 60(3) of the Alberta Labour Relations Code.

UNA’s complaint stems from plans for AHS to transition approximately 3,200 members – about 10 per cent of the union’s membership – to a new employer called Recovery Alberta.

The province announced last week it was creating the new organization which will take over delivery of mental health and addiction services from AHS. Operations are expected to move from AHS to Recovery by July 1 after legislation is passed.

“The provincial government has stated that the plan for Recovery Alberta has been done in collaboration with AHS and front-line workers, yet no consultation or information was shared with UNA and no bargaining occurred with UNA regarding the transition,” the complaint says.

“The ‘transfer’ was announced publicly on April 2, 2024, concurrently with when it was announced to UNA.”

The union complaint adds that AHS “interfered with UNA’s representation” of its members by notifying AHS employees directly of the transfer before negotiating how the transfer would proceed with the union.

“This undermines the role of the union as exclusive bargaining agent with respect to its members, and interferes with the union’s ability to effectively represent their members,” the complaint says.

David Harrigan, UNA’s director of labour relations notes that it was his team’s understanding that Recovery Alberta would be a new organization governed by the province and not that it would be considered a brand-new employer separate from AHS.

“Without any sort of warning there was just this public news conference,” Harrigan said.

“We have a letter of understanding in our collective agreement that says if there's a transfer of services to a new employer, the nurses that are affected have options. They can go to the new employer if they wish, or they can say I don't want to go to the new employer, I want to stay at AHS and they can exercise their rights to remain, but the government isn't saying that”

Harrigan calls the situation “extremely frustrating” and a blatant ignorance of a collective agreement that’s been in place for more than 20 years.

“I mean, it's been used a number of times over the last 20 years so certainly AHS must have been aware of it and there must have been a decision made to just ignore it,” he said.

“That doesn't set the tone at all, especially to start off a new organization in a manner that causes confrontation and complaints to the labour board.”

As a result, UNA is calling on AHS to cease engaging in direct communication with employees regarding their transfer to Recovery Alberta and instead bargain in good faith.

AHS commits to 'good faith' negotiations

CTV News requested comment from Alberta Health Services regarding UNA’s labour practice complaint.

“AHS will work through the established process with the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) to address UNA’s complaint to ensure a productive path forward. We respect the bargaining process and are committed to continue to bargain in good faith,” read an emailed statement.

“Every single frontline worker, regardless of the union they are a member of, is a valuable member of the healthcare system.

“The announcement of Recovery Alberta provides a path forward for refocusing the healthcare system while ensuring we have the next three months to consult with workers and unions and support a successful transition before a single staff member moves to the new provincial health agency.”

The following remedies in the interim are also being requested by UNA:

  • A declaration the employer has violated the code;
  • An order that AHS cease and desist violating the code;
  • An order directing the employer to bargain in good faith;
  • An order directing AHS to cease engaging in direct communication with employees regarding their transfer to Recovery Alberta;
  • An order providing the union and its members with general damages resulting from the employer’s interference with the union’s representational rights and the members’ right to be represented;
  • An order that the employer post notices for employees setting out the board’s orders on the matter;
  • Any of the above remedies on an interim basis; and
  • Any other order or direction that is appropriate in the circumstance.

Opportunity to 'find common ground'

Alberta Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Dan Williams responded to the ongoing labour practice complaint at a press conference Tuesday, noting that he wants to respect the process and let it play out in its appropriate place.

“I'll tell you that I plan to have the terms of employment continue on without change going forward for health-care professionals as they come over,” Williams said.

“I think that there's an opportunity for us to find common ground here. When I speak to frontline health-care workers, they want the same thing I do and we connect on wanting to see more increased mental health and addiction support. This shift allows us to do that in a serious way and I'm going to do that in a thoughtful way in partnership with frontline workers and their respective unions.”

CTV News learned from UNA that employees who transfer from AHS to Recovery Alberta will not see their role, pay, or benefits changed.

It begged the follow-up question to Williams as to why Recovery Alberta would be created in the first place if it could mean added bureaucracy and red tape for select nurses who will now work under the new employer.

“AHS does great work, it’s an organization of approximately 120,000 individuals, but mental health and addiction is a big enough priority policy for us to no longer ask AHS or the government to do it off the side of its desk,” said Williams.

“This needs to be centred and focused, having a cabinet minister at the cabinet table and focusing on this. It’s what Albertans I think, expect of us, and having an organization that doesn't, you know, do mental health and addiction between other key health care, whether it be emergency rooms or surgeries, instead focuses primarily on it, allows us to better serve Albertans.” Top Stories

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