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Members of Alberta's largest union review details of four-year tentative deal

EDMONTON - Members of Alberta's largest public-sector union are reviewing a proposed contract that stands to put a lot more cash in their wallets than the government's previous offer.

The four-year Alberta Union of Provincial Employees deal calls for a lump-sum payment of $1,850 the first year, followed by pay increases totalling 6.75 per cent over three years.

The previous offer was a lump-sum payment to cover two years followed by increases of one and two per cent in the following two years.

The union isn't gloating in a message to its 22,000 members about the deal, which it said was reached during an "extraordinarily difficult" round of negotiations.

"It doesn't do anybody any good to gloat," union president Guy Smith said in an interview Tuesday.

"One of the things we are trying to do is rebuild a fractured relationship with the government. We are well on the way to do that."

Members are expected to vote on the contract with a mail-in ballot in the coming weeks, with the results expected by the middle of June.

Premier Dave Hancock has said he will urge his cabinet to ratify the contract.

The deal was announced Monday, the same day the government dropped its appeal of an injunction the union won against legislation that would have imposed an austere contract similar to ones that went into effect last year for Alberta physicians and teachers.

The Alberta Teachers Association contract froze salaries for three years to be followed by an increase of two per cent in 2015 and a one-time lump sum payment.

Alberta physicians approved a seven-year deal retroactive to 2011 that called for no pay hikes in the first three years. That is to be followed by a 2.5 per cent raise in each of the next two years, and then cost of living adjustments.

Smith said Hancock's willingness to meet with the union and Alison Redford's decision to resign as premier last month were factors in the breakthrough.

When the two sides couldn't reach a deal last summer, AUPE filed for binding arbitration.

In December, Redford's government passed a law removing that right of arbitration for this round of bargaining.

AUPE then challenged the law in Court of Queen's Bench, which ordered it put on hold pending an in-depth hearing.

Smith said the union's resolve not to accept the imposition of an austere deal was crucial.

"The fact that Bill 46 existed to try and pummel us into submission and the fact that we did stand up and fight back — it showed how determined we were to get a negotiated agreement for our members," Smith said.

"We had to scratch and claw to get to where we got to."

Mark Ramsankar, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, praised AUPE for achieving a negotiated deal.

The ATA faced a legislated settlement last year when the Calgary Board of Education and some union locals rejected a proposed contract that was approved by most other school boards in the province.

Ramsankar said the association won't try to reopen its agreement, but will keep AUPE's experience in mind when it sits down with the province to bargain future deals.

"I think it is important that the focus remain on the fact that negotiated settlements are possible and that the government shouldn't be wielding the legislative hammer before you have taken the opportunity to fully explore all of the options," Ramsankar said.

"The interference and the threat of legislation literally walks on the rights of individuals and that is not what our province is supposed to be about."

The Alberta Medical Association declined to comment on the AUPE contract.

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