Alberta Union of Provincial Employees protested chronic short-staffing and deteriorating working conditions at Red Deer hospital on Monday.
Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre was one of two hospitals, along with two provincial buildings in Alberta, where rallies were held on International Workers’ Day or May Day.
“We’ve had so many people who have left the field because of burnout, because of the mental anguish, because of physical injury, all because of not having adequate resources to get the work done. That’s why we’re here. To draw attention to it,” said Bonnie Gostola before about 30 AUPE members and other union members chanted, carried flags and wore signs near the hospital at noon.
She said job vacancies go unfilled for so long that by the time they are filled other workers already have left the field, or they’re been injured or sick, so staff levels remain inadequate.
A recent AUPE survey found that about 40 per cent of members reported working without breaks, and 25 per cent worked through their lunches.
Gostola said she heard from one member who couldn’t make it to the rally because her office ended up being short on staff on Monday. Others likely faced the same problem or couldn’t join in because they were too busy to take their breaks.
“You have people working 14, 16-hour shifts and then have less than eight hours to recover before they come back the next day. We’ve gone back to the 1950s in terms of health and safety protection,” Gostola said.
Jason Heistad, NDP candidate for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake and AUPE executive, said people don’t realize the strain of short-staffing on the health care system until they need to go to the hospital.
“I want to support my friends and colleagues at the Red Deer hospital and everybody in Central Alberta. We need to care about each other. We’ve gotten through a pandemic, and we’ve got to make sure those services are available for everyone, all Central Albertans,” said Heistad who attended the rally.
About 500 AUPE members work in and around the hospital providing general support services and nursing care.
But Gostola said the May Day rally was held to recognize workers throughout the public sector who have been affected by a lack of staff.
“We’re not getting the recognition that this is an issue. We’re finding that if anything it’s gotten worse, not better, even though our employers know full well staffing is an issue.”