Skip to main content

From the bargaining table to the street: Alberta employees push for 'better'

As federal public service workers continue their strike across the country, hundreds of Albertans are lending a hand and asking for a little help of their own.

The Alberta Federation of Labour's (AFL) "Workers Demand Better" convention was joined by many Calgarian employees Friday as it marched through downtown.

About 400 people gathered to shine the spotlight on issues like wages, working conditions and pensions.

The rally comes as Public Service Alliance of Canada employees picket and other industries threaten work stoppages.

Tensions are bubbling over in other industries across Alberta, including at both WestJet and DynaLife, where bargaining has supposedly hit an impasse.

And in Fort McMurray, hundreds of oil and gas workers say employers Civeo and Imperial Oil are planning to terminate hundreds following highly criticized wage rollbacks.

"The labour movement is revitalized in a way I haven't seen in my lifetime," Canadian Union of Public Employees president Rory Gill said.

"That's why we're seeing thousands of people becoming involved in the labour movement: because they understand their power. If we stand together and work together, we can change things."

Employees tell CTV News they're looking for better working conditions and higher salaries that don't lag behind the cost of living.

It's a lot of labour unrest to be happening at the same time, but experts say it's not all that surprising.

The pandemic introduced millions to different wages and work-from-home structures.

Now that Canada is essentially returning to "normal," unions say workers have a better idea of their value.

"There was a lot of changes to the workplace: reductions in wages and hours, and folks being asked to work from home, and a lot of real significant disruptions," labour lawyer Stephen Torscher said.

"(Now), even to go back to what we had before COVID-19 can potentially trigger a constructive dismissal."

"What workers have seen is you don't have to remain in this rigid box that employers have set up for decades now," Gill added.

"There are lots of ways to do your work, and workers are asserting their power."

One Mount Royal University economics professor says that's a good thing, and that striking employees aren't overstepping their bounds with unrealistic requests.

"If there is more demand for workers, then of course workers have the upper hand," Anupam Das said.

"What workers are trying to do is simply trying to maintain a certain level of standard of living. And, in my opinion, it's not a big ask."

Workers on hand Friday believe what they're fighting for is undoubtedly an election issue.

Many already consider the NDP worker-friendly.

AFL president Gil McGowan says his group is unsure about what another UCP-led term would mean for the province.

"Especially given the fact that companies in the private sector are making so much money right now and the provincial government is recording multi-billion-dollar surpluses," he said.

"Our employers, in both the public and the private sectors, can afford to do better."

The AFL represents roughly 170,000 workers from 29 affiliated unions.