Alberta’s proposed 7.5 percent wage increase is largest in years but still leaves province’s nurses far behind

By Kim Siever  

On February 15, the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) published an update on their website regarding ongoing negotiations for a new contract with their employer group. The group includes Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health, Lamon Health Care and the Bethany Group (Camrose).

The bargaining team for the nurses starting meeting with the employers on February 6, then met with them again February 14 and 15. During those meetings, the employers presented their first proposal for monetary items in a new 4-year contract.

Included in that proposal were the following wage increases: 2 percent on April 1, 2024; 2 percent on April 1, 2025; 1.75 percent on April 1, 2026 and 1.75 percent on April 1, 2027.

Keep in mind that April 1, 2024 start date is tentative. Technically, they’re proposing either that date or the date the contract is ratified, whichever is later. So, if it’s not ratified until October, that means the nurses will lose out on 6 months with the new wage.

This is a combined 7.5 percent increase – technically, 7.71 percent if we account for compound increases. This is more than their current contract, which gave them less than 5 percent over the life of the contract.

On that note, let’s compare this contract with the previous 3 contracts: zero for 2013-2014; 2 percent for 2014-2015; 2.25 percent for 2015-2016; 3 percent for 2016-2017; zero for 2017-2021; 1 percent for 2021-2022; 1.25 percent for 2022-2023 and 2 percent for 2023-2024.

When the 2017 contract was ratified during the NDP administration, it was supposed to be wage freezes in 2016–17 and 2017–18, with renegotiation in 2019-2020. Alberta Health Services under the United Conservative Party proposed a 3 percent wage rollback for that final year and UNA proposed a 3 percent increase. The zero increase listed above was the result of arbitration.

Nurses saw no wage increases for the contract negotiated during the NDP administration.

During the decade between 2013–2014 and 2023–2024, Alberta nurses saw an average wage increase of 1.15 percent and a total increase of 11.5 percent. With these new increases, the average annual raise jumps to 2.32 percent and a combined rise of 19 percent or 20.69 percent if we account for compound increases.

In April 2012, the consumer price index for Alberta was 127.0. This past December, the most recent data we have, it sat at 165.6. That’s an increase of 38.6, or 30.39 percent. So, while wages for nurses did increase by 20.69 percent since April 2012 (or will have once the new contract, if ratified, expires in 2028), inflation during the same period increased by over 30 percent.

And remember, that’s just until this past December. We’re still missing January through March of this year for the current contract, plus the inflation we can undoubtedly expect to witness over the next 3 years.

That means that the gap of nearly 10 percentage points between wage increases and inflation will more than likely widen by the end of the new contract.

Even though this is the best proposal the nurses have received in years, they’re still playing catch-up after 5 years of wage freezes and two years of less than 2 percent. Not only that, but according to the UNA, these increases will still leave Alberta nurses being $2 an hour behind their counterparts in Ontario and British Columbia.

So much for Alberta having the highest wages in the country.

The proposal from the employers included more than just wage increases. For example, they proposed increasing the premium for preceptors – registered nurses or registered psychiatric nurses assigned to supervise, educate or evaluate students – from 65¢ an hour to $1 an hour. They also proposed increasing the recruitment, retention and relocation incentives for rural nurses in every year of the new contract.

In the current contract, the Rural Capacity Investment Fund allocates $5 million for recruitment and retention incentives and $2.5 million for relocation assistance. By the end of the new contract, those amounts will have grown to $5.849 million and $2.925 million, respectively.

The nurses’ bargaining team will back at the negotiations table with the employer group on March 5, 6 and 7. The current contract between nurses and the four employers expires at the end of March.

UNA represents over 35,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and allied workers in Alberta.

Republished with permission from Alberta Worker

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