Health care workers demonstrated outside Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on Wednesday — the second time in almost a week.
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which rejected Alberta Health Service’s three-year contract with no wage increase in the first two years and the rate of inflation in the third year, held two-hour information pickets outside 10 hospitals across Alberta from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Last Thursday, AHS agreed to binding arbitration with Alberta Union of Provincial Employees after its General Support Services workers held illegal wildcat strikes outside about 20 hospitals and health centres around the province.
The next step for HSAA is also binding arbitration, unless AHS along with Covenant Health, is prepared to make a better offer, the union says.
After 10 months of negotiation, HSAA broke off mediation earlier this month after AHS finally tabled their offer.
Mavis Lockhart, HSAA member and Red Deer hospital worker, said members are angry.
“We won’t be doing the wildcat, but we’ll definitely be picketing,” said Lockhart outside Red Deer hospital where about 25 members with placards quietly walked the picket line at about noon and handed out leaflets.
HSAA represents 22,000 workers such as lab technologists, diagnostic imaging staff, professionals, parimedical technical, and general support workers, in more than 240 disciplines.
About 600 members work at Red Deer hospital.
Lockhart said the union wants a contract with a three, three and four per cent wage increase.
Members also want to maintain the 15.5 hour minimum rest period between shifts and bereavement leave that gives members time to travel to back from funerals, and other benefits.
HSAA President Elisabeth Ballermann, who visited picket lines at three hospitals in Edmonton, said arbitration poses challenges as some of the contract issues are complex and go beyond pay. HSAA may have to bring in expert testimony.
“We’d certainly prefer Alberta Health Services to come back with something people could consider and could vote on. But zeros are not it,” Ballermann said.
The inflation rate is running at three per cent, she said.
“Continued growth is what the government itself has been predicting lately. There’s all sorts of subsidies to corporations and to expect health care workers to basically shoulder the responsibility for balancing the books is just not appropriate.”
She said staffing levels are not keeping up with the demand for health care services.
There are members who can’t take vacation because they are so urgently needed.