Collective Agreements → Negotiations
Photo: United Nurses of Alberta's 2013 Negotiations Committee. Back row: Sheila Dorscheid (Local 37), Diane Plowman (Local 30), Colleen Adams (Local 160), Anna-Marie Nicol (Local 12), Diane Lantz (Local 1), Gail Pederson (Local 38). Front row: Alan Besecker (Local 302N) Heather Smith (UNA President), David Harrigan (Director of Labour Relations), Heidi Gould (Local 229), Steven Johnson (Local 120), Jeannine Arbour (Labour Relations Advisor), Claire Galoska (Local 95).
UNA's approach to collective bargaining
Bargaining collective agreements is UNA’s most important job. This is because the agreements we negotiate with employers govern the pay, benefits and working conditions of all UNA members.
A collective agreement is a legally binding contract between a union, negotiating on behalf of a group of employees, and an employer. Typically, collective agreements set out such things as wages, scheduling rules, overtime pay, sick leave, job security, benefits and other employee rights.
Since it was founded, UNA has negotiated collective agreements that have greatly improved salaries, benefits and workplace conditions for all members. UNA has more than quintupled the wages of Alberta nurses since it was founded. In 1977, a new nurse earned only $6.28 an hour!
Members set UNA’s bargaining priorities
Before the expiry date of any UNA collective agreement, affected members can attend “demand setting meetings” at which the locals determine their bargaining proposals.
This is the process through which UNA’s members democratically decide their priorities in bargaining. UNA’s negotiating committees, the people who actually meet with the employer’s representatives at the bargaining table, are made up of working members of the union, elected by their co-workers to represent them.
UNA members vote on their agreements
No UNA agreement takes effect before the members whose working lives it governs have the opportunity to discuss and ratify it in a democratic vote. Province-wide agreements like the contract with Alberta Health Services must be subject to a vote of all affected members, and must be passed by a majority of both members and locals.
Are strikes by nurses legal?
In 1983, the Alberta Legislature passed a law making it illegal for hospital employees, including nurses, to strike. If a dispute couldn’t be settled in bargaining, this law made it compulsory for the parties to resolve their differences through binding arbitration – a process that gives an edge to employers. In response, UNA adopted a policy against this restriction on the collective bargaining rights of its members. “UNA is opposed to any compulsory arbitration legislation,” the policy states. “Regardless of any legislation, UNA members alone and not the government or any other body shall decide when this union will strike and when it will not.”
UNA believes any collective agreement it signs must be voluntarily accepted by members in a democratic vote, not imposed by arbitration, or any law or ruling.