Alberta postsecondary staff have been receiving smaller wage increases for years

Earlier this month, the Alberta government published the collective agreement wage tables, effective as of October 2021.

The monthly update shows the wage increases for post-secondary academic and non-academic employees, as negotiated in bargaining sessions between employee groups and the postsecondary institutions where they worked. The data dates back to 2006.

I’m going to focus on the unionized non-academic workers in this article.

The data includes wage increases for 24 institutions: 8 universities, 13 colleges, and 3 others (Banff Centre, NAIT, and SAIT), and covers nearly 21,000 workers.

Of those 24 postsecondary institutions, only 1 doesn’t have an expired contract. Here are how the contracts break down by expiry date:

Expiry year# of contracts

As we can see, most of the workers (96.4% in fact) haven’t had a working collective agreement for over a year. Nearly 7,500 have been without one for 2.5 years or longer.

Now, let’s take a look at the wage increases for the universities over the last 13 years.

A clear pattern is emerging. For the first 4 years of the dataset, wages increased at much higher rates than over the next 7 years, which themselves were higher than the last 3 years.

All the bars might make it confusing, so let’s look at the average increase between all universities in each year.

There. That’s much easier to look at. And it still tells the same story: workers are getting far less money than they used to.

Here’s the average wage increase per year if we include the colleges and the 3 other institutions:

Sure enough, still shows wage increases trending down. In fact, only two worker groups (CUPE at Banff Centre and AUPE at University of Calgary) saw increases in 2017. Workers at all the remaining 22 institutions had 0% increases in 2017.

In 2018, workers at Banff Centre were the only ones who saw an increase. That was the worst year. Even in 2010, workers at 4 institutions saw wage increases.

And while there was a bump in 2019 numbers, not a single institution saw workers get more than a 1% increase. That wasn’t enough to cover inflation, which was 2.3% as of December 2019.

In fact, if you average out the increase between 2017 and 2019, you’re left with a pretty bleak picture. One institution (Banff Centre), had an average increase of 1.08% during those 3 years, one had 0.75% (U of C), 15 had 0.33%, and 7 had 0%.

That’s a combined average of just 0.28% increase per year.

Meanwhile, inflation went up each of those years by 2.13%. That means that inflation increased by more than 7 times the rate at which wages increased, on average, among all institutions.

As far as 2020 and 2021 data go, all but two institutions lack collective agreements past last summer, so we don’t have much. Banff Centre is the only one scheduled to receive an increase this year (1.0%), and their agreement expires next spring.

But it doesn’t look good. For example, the University of Lethbridge is asking for a 4% wage rollback for the first year (2020–2021), followed by another multi-year wage freeze.

How do you compete with ever increasing costs of living if your wages don’t keep up?

The average wage increase between 2017 and 2019 was only 0.28%.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on municipal, provincial, and federal politics, specializing in investigative journalism and critical analysis from a leftist political lens. He also writes regular editorials on general politics and social issues.

3 replies on “Alberta postsecondary staff have been receiving smaller wage increases for years”

As I was reading the article and looking at the first few charts I began picturing in my mind another chart that would show each year’s average “real” wage increase (or decrease), after taking into account that year’s rate of inflation, which I suspect would look pretty grim over those last 10 years.

To clarify, I meant each year’s average “real” wage increase for Alberta postsecondary staff, so the same data you already show for each of the 14 years less the inflation rate in each of those years (which you already refer to in the text of the article for a couple of the years).

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