After bargaining for over a year, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the provincial government are heading into mediation.

AUPE president Guy Smith said the province recently applied for mediation in its talks with the union around a new contract for its approximately 23,000 direct employees of the government.

Andy Sims, a former head of the Alberta Labour Relations Board who helped draft the NDP government’s overhaul of labour laws last year, has been appointed mediator.

Smith said the AUPE agreed to mediation but isn’t happy that negotiations have dragged on to reach this point since the last contract expired on April 1, 2017.

“There’s an overall frustration we haven’t been able to secure a collective agreement yet,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

“Our members are getting frustrated, but we have said we’re not going to sign an agreement that’s not going to meet their needs and we’ve still got some major issues outstanding.”

Smith declined to provide details on sticking points in bargaining.

But the Notley government has been trying to put a cap on salary increases for public-sector unions. The most recent big contract reached saw the United Nurses of Alberta accept a two-year wage freeze from Alberta Health Services, with compensation talks reopening in the third year.

In mediation, the mediator works independently with each side to try and address their specific issues and help them find common ground. His work is not binding.

Smith said the union is not anywhere close to job action but noted that if mediation fails, “the only way to resolve an impasse at that point … would be a strike.”

The AUPE for years was prohibited from striking but a Supreme Court decision required the province to rewrite legislation, giving the union the right to legally walk off the job. The law also sets out a process for designating some public sector workers as essential services.

AUPE also has two open contracts with AHS, for its units representing auxiliary nurses and support staff.

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AUPE going into mediation with provincial government

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