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Picket line showdown

Despite bitter cold, AUPE strikers had toasty hands and toes as they walked the Symphony Senior Living Aspen Ridge picket line for the second day on Tuesday.

“We’ve got hand warmers, foot warmers. Residents brought them out. Brought us some coffee, some doughnuts,” said Cherie Lamb of Penhold, a full-time kitchen employee at the Red Deer seniors facility.

About 35 Alberta Union of Provincial Employees members were on picket-line duty at 3 p.m. on day two of the strike/lockout.

“We were scheduled to come out first thing this morning. We came out here, but it was just far too cold with the windchill to carry on without endangering the employees.” They were back at 1 p.m.

Staff intend to picket from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, depending on the weather.

Nearly 130 licensed practical nurses, health-care aides and other staff walked off the job on Monday after contract talks failed.

AUPE rejected Symphony Senior Living’s demand for the right to terminate any employee without cause.

Symphony argued it was a matter of having the ability to remove a worker for non-cause reasons such as lack of empathy, passion or dedication to seniors.

Lamb said she just wants a fair contract and termination without cause is a huge concern.

“It would be nice to walk in there and not have to walk on eggshells wondering if I’m next on their list,” Lamb said.

“I’d like to know my job is secure.”

Symphony, a privately owned and operated seniors care facility located at 3100 22nd St., has 152 suites with a total of 157 residents.

Symphony has been contracted to provide 49 care beds for Alberta Health Services. But last week, Symphony announced it is cancelling that contract over the coming year. The contract includes 40 assisted-living beds for dementia patients, four assisted-living beds for non-dementia patients and five transition beds for people coming out of hospital.

Deron Bilous, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Beverely-Clareview, said Symphony is a company that’s been getting subsidized by the government and refuses to pass that money on to staff.

“The bottom line for a corporation is to earn a profit. The bottom line of a publicly-run, publicly-funded facility is to care for its residents. If it’s a privately-run facility, care is important. It’s not their No. 1 priority,” said Bilous who came to the picket line on behalf of the NDP to show support and solidarity for striking staff.

Working in health care in Alberta is already tough enough, he said.

“A lot of health-care workers are over-worked. They are suffering from stress from the burden. And there are some that are leaving the province. They do get paid a little bit more in our province, but at the same time we have a higher cost of living.”

He said if Alberta charged a fair share for oil royalties and addressed the flat tax system, the province would have the dollars to fund the services Albertans have come to depend upon.

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