Health-care workers walk off the job in wildcat strikes across Alberta: AUPE

Front-line hospital workers walked off the job at several locations across Alberta Monday morning to “defend their jobs and the public health-care system that keeps Albertans safe and alive,” according to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

Shortly after 8 a.m., dozens of health-care workers could be seen picketing outside of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

Terry Inigo-Jones, communications officer with the AUPE, said the walkout started Monday morning at the Royal Alex, then groups across the province joined in, including workers at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary and other sites in Fort Saskatchewan, Cold Lake, St. Paul, Wetaskiwin and Leduc.

“Anger has been building among members for months,” AUPE president Guy Smith said in a media release.

Smith said, “the last straw” for health-care workers was a recent announcement by Health Minister Tyler Shandro that 11,000 Alberta Health Services jobs would be cut. Earlier this month, Shandro announced about 9,700 jobs will be lost through outsourcing support services such as laundry and community lab services.

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Read more: Thousands of Alberta Health Services jobs to be cut in effort to save $600M annually

Shandro said AHS was also asked to eliminate 100 management positions. At the time, Shandro maintained “there will be no job loses for nurses or front-line clinical staff.”

Smith said in a media release Monday morning that nursing and support workers “decided today that there was no other option but to fight to protect Albertans at risk, especially during the deadliest pandemic in a century.

“By constantly short-staffing public health care, this government is pushing our members to the breaking point exactly when Albertans need them most.”

The AUPE represents more than 90,000 workers, including about 58,000 in health care. The union represents about 2,800 nursing-care and support workers at the Royal Alexandra.

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“Across this province, working people are rising up against Jason Kenney’s job-killing policies and are joining the fight in solidarity. This was a decision taken by the members themselves. AUPE is a democratic union and we respect the wishes of our members,” Smith said.

Front-line hospital workers walked off the job at several locations across Alberta Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. This picture was taken at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Front-line hospital workers walked off the job at several locations across Alberta Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. This picture was taken at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital. Lisa MacGregor, Global News

AUPE vice president Susan Slade said the walkout included unit clerks, housekeeping, food services and laundry services staff, as well as licensed practical nurses, health-care aids and maintenance workers. Registered nurses were not involved, Smith added.

“Anybody that works as support staff within AHS as well as the nursing care that we represent,” Slade said. “The members are angry, they’re frustrated. These are public jobs that need to stay in the public and it’s very provocative of Tyler Shandro to be writing pink slips and telling people that they are going to be abolished and at the same time, praising them for the work they’re done in this last eight months.

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“They have done a wildcat strike so they won’t be going in until some of the negotiations have been met and that’s for it to be worked out.”

Slade said she hopes the government will take notice and act quickly.

“These members are out here. This is not something that anybody takes lightly. They recognize what this means and at the end of the day, our members have been upset right back since Bill 9. So it’s something that we’ve been holding members back for months and this was just the breaking point.”

The AUPE said its members are committed to ensuring patient safety during any dispute.

“Members will do everything in their power to keep Albertans safe. Public safety is why they are taking this action. They know that slashing thousands of front-line jobs during a pandemic is mad. It will lead to lower levels of care and higher costs. It will lead to tragedies,” Smith said.

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Opposition leader Rachel Notley said the wildcat strikes are “deeply concerning.”

“Like all Albertans, our caucus believes patient safety must always be the top priority,” she said in a statement.

“Jason Kenney’s proposal to privatize the work of 11,000 front-line health-care workers in the middle of a pandemic will absolutely result in poorer quality health care for Albertans. His suggestion that this can be done without compromising care defies common sense. For the sake of Alberta patients and the people who care about them, this reckless plan must stop.”

Front-line hospital workers walked off the job at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.
Front-line hospital workers walked off the job at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Carolyn Kury de Castillo, Global News

In a statement, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health-care professionals in Alberta, said it supports AUPE workers.

“Health-care workers have been working tirelessly to keep Albertans safe and they have been rewarded with threats to their jobs by a government that is hell-bent on ripping apart our public health-care system,” HSAA president Mike Parker said in a media release.

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“The blame for any disruption to patient care that may occur today needs to land squarely at the feet of Jason Kenney and the UCP.”

Global News has reached out to Alberta Health Services and the Alberta government for a response, which will be added to this story once it is received.

More to come…

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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