October 30, 2019|Collective Bargaining, Exclude, Welcoming

Through 2014-2016 our firm was assisting clients respond to the downturn in the resource markets in Alberta. 

We were applying all our energy to effectively respond to pass after pass of client requests to identify and implement cost-reducing measures. 

It was an at times frantic effort by those who took it to heart. Exhausting for those at times lifting 10 times their weight, wanting to preserve as many jobs/livelihoods as possible. We knew there was no place to go for those getting laid off.

“20%…cut another 20%!” 

There was nothing facetious about it. It was about saving jobs, both within the client and contractor community of employees. We saw the writing on the wall, and together with our clients, we moved the needle on costs. 

Labour rates was the last place we looked. 

Process improvements, shifts cycles, innovation, training, different work execution models, inventory reductions, home-office staff benefits reductions, renegotiating with utilities, vendors, and service providers were examined first.

Many companies were down to what they called “lights-on costs,” the fixed costs required to keep the administrative and operations buildings on…lights-on-costs. 

Only at that point, did employers start to take a look at wages and layoffs. 

We helped with some heavy lifting to work through total compensation reductions, including reducing significantly the frequency of incurring “double-time” hour costs in the maintenance industry (saving roughly $196 million / year). 

It helped save jobs. 

Still the situation was dire and roughly 170,000 jobs were lost in Alberta’s resource sectors.

Our firm also received the equivalent of a pink slip of our own -from Alberta’s industry for our efforts. 

We were part of the cost reducing necessity.

Why should we be any different?

As such, we did not make one dollar in our home province of Alberta from Q1 of 2016 to June 2018.

Things were dire. 

Our RRSP’s were tapped to make payroll, we ran out of things to sell, ultimately losing my home in the process. 

So like many, in and around 2018 we started over…at zero (truth be told – less than zero). 

It got so bad a long term friend and colleague said he might have some work for us and asked if we could meet for a coffee. I had to ask twice if he was buying – he got the drift. So I biked to the coffee shop, and we had a productive meeting.

The worst, though, is after hiring close to 27,000 Canadians to projects in Western Canada, we saw our network of industry professionals in pain, going bankrupt, feeling despair, 18-48 months between jobs. 

I have a stupid (or maybe not so stupid)  coaster for my coffee cup on my desk that states, 

“Do what you can 

Where you are 

With what you have” 

(Theadore Roosevelt). 

Like many, I woke up every morning scouring job boards. 

As you can imagine, labour relations consultants weren’t the first people rehired or top-of-priority for companies while the industry was at the bottom of the downturn.

Thus, I came across a lot of precious job postings for others while looking for my own. 

So when it looked like I came across a credible job posting in another profession, I would forward, like, share or otherwise tag it so my network would see it.

On blind faith alone, I just hoped it would help some people and companies out. 

I didn’t have much to offer anyone at the time (actually, I felt a little helpless myself) but I had a willingness to listen. 

The only thing tangible I felt I had. was connections with a lot of industry professionals and companies. 

This started my daily morning practice of scouring for jobs and posting the same to my network, regardless of whether it was in my firm’s competitive interest to forward the jobs. For our firm, this transcended relative competitiveness. When you love an industry, it’s like that.

Then I started to notice something peculiar about many postings, typically in industries outside of oil and gas and on public sector job postings…

“Oil and Gas Experience Need Not Apply”.

Some HR wizards figured out that the oil and gas culture (we can be intense, “get ‘er done,” creatures) would not fit well within certain other organizations. Also, it was surmised that former oil and gas workers would be a flight risk. 

Those presumptions changed recruitment practices by many during the downturn, including within the only growing sector of the economy and the public sector. 

For me that was and will remain a dark period in the collective behaviour of many HR professionals in Alberta. 

While our resource sector needed it the most, our public sector turned its back on displaced private sector employees. 

Think about that for a moment. 

We don’t need to carry resentment forward; that’s not what this article is … 

In the coming weeks, the public sector unions will be torquing up messaging at how hard done by they are by the “evil” Alberta Government’s direction of fiscal responsibility. 

Remember, wages in Alberta took a dip and are just now returning to 2014 rates. 

Over this time, public sector employees had either a freeze or a raise, so they have already received their raises and then some relative to private-sector employees in Alberta. 

While many in the private sector had a 100% wage decrease, all the while being effectively excluded from public sector participation in the only sector of the economy that grew during the NDP’s one term. 

The 2% reduction is not punitive or disproportionate in any way…far from it. 

There will be a great deal of noise and emotion about this in the coming weeks. 

I encourage Albertans to take an evidence-based, dispassionate look before losing our heads.  

We need to give our  elected government our support and room to govern. 

This has a lot to do with why they were given the mandate they were given by Albertans – to  right the ship. 


Sam Kemble

Industrial Relations and Workforce Supply Strategist, Chief Negotiator