Highway maintenance in Alberta has been contracted out to private companies, like Toronto-based Carillion Canada, since the mid 1990s under Premier Ralph Klein. Since 1996 no group of workers have been able to successfully get a private employer in this sector to agree to a collective agreement for their workers…until now.
And it didn’t come easy. These workers stuck together and fought for nearly 3 years to win themselves an agreement that ensures fair and safe working conditions on Alberta’s highways.
AUPE members employed by Carillion are responsible for helping to keep our provincial highways clear and safe all year-round. For example, in Alberta all contractors are expected to provide snow and ice control before traffic is heavy. Anyone required to drive on an Alberta highway in the winter knows how crucial this work is.
The new collective agreement between Carillion staff and the company ensures minimum staffing levels including for bridge crews and mechanics. It also requires the employer to maintain a regular workforce, which means consistent, safe staffing all year.
Across the labour movement, its a massive challenge to work in solidarity to bargain a union contract when you don’t share a single work location. When your ‘worksite’ is a provincial highway it’s much harder to coordinate against a well-resourced employer. There isn’t a lunchroom bulletin board for staff or a chance for after-work socializing outside the office. Despite these huge challenges Carillion workers came together and pulled off an amazing feat.
The people that maintained Alberta’s provincial highways, including snow ploughing, were once AUPE members. That was before Premier Ralph Klein contracted out the work in 1996.
AUPE was able to welcome these workers back into the union family when they successfully voted to unionize with Alberta’s largest union in 2015. Carillion workers’ first collective agreement was the final step in the reunion!