Alberta Health Services wants to cut wages for front-line health care workers by four per cent, including 990 general support services workers at Red Deer’s hospital, says the union representing those workers.
Susan Slade, vice-president with Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said Red Deer hospital has always been understaffed and overcrowded, then came the stress of the pandemic, and now support staff are being “slapped in the face” with a proposal to slash to their wages.
“Sometimes you don’t even have any words for what’s going on in this province, especially to the very people they’ve been calling heroes for the last year and a half. Unbelievable, truthfully,” Slade said.
“People are tired and they are overworked.”
General support workers represented by the AUPE include workers in cleaning and environmental services, food services, laundry, lab work, protective services, supply chain and purchasing, long-term care, and more.
AUPE said negotiations with AHS started back up this week after the pandemic put discussions on hold last year. At that time, AHS wanted a one per cent cut. Now AHS is proposing a four per cent cut immediately upon ratification, followed by three years of zero per cent increases.
Slade said frontline workers ensure people are safe when they go to the hospital and were essential in protecting people during COVID, which continues to be a threat.
“Health care is not just nurses and doctors. There are a lot of other people that really ensure that those hospitals are clean and running. Those are the very people they are going after now.
“It’s just saving pennies off the backs of the people that actually don’t make the big money.”
AUPE said many support workers have multiple jobs because AHS frequently offers only part-time and casual work.
Slade said staff shortages have meant temporary closure of beds at rural hospitals and cutting wages won’t attract new staff.
Earlier this month Alberta Health Services also announced 55 jobs will be lost in Red Deer hospital’s laundry department now that the province has hired a province-wide vendor.
“The UCP has decided to privatize out the remaining laundry facilities which is a pretend cost-saving measure. We do know that privatization costs more,” Slade said.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a statement that the province was thankful for Alberta’s health care support staff who worked tirelessly during the pandemic. But with $93 billion in debt, Alberta must focus on the long-term fiscal health of the province and control spending.
“Yesterday at the negotiating table, AUPE asked AHS for a five per cent increase in salaries over the next two years. That represents $105 million to the Alberta taxpayer. This follows a demand for a four per cent raise over two years by UNA (United Nurses of Alberta),” Toews said.
“Albertans pay more than most Canadians for public services – including health care. In 2019, we paid $5,470 per person on public sector compensation, compared to $4,834 per person in British Columbia and $4,702 in Ontario.”
He said the proposal made by AHS is “fair, reasonable, and in the best interest of all Albertans.”
“AHS is offering job security to employees in exchange for the one-time wage reduction. This is a fair and equitable trade.”
Toews said AHS was meeting with AUPE on Friday to continue negotiations and he was confident that both parties can work together.