Union members at hospitals across Alberta — including in Red Deer — say they walked off the job Monday to defend their jobs and the public health-care system.
Earlier this month, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced up to 11,000 job cuts at Alberta Health Services to save money. Some of the cuts will come by further contracting out jobs.
Those workers could include about 500 Alberta Union of Provincial Employees members working at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre as laundry, housekeeping and food services staff, as well as administration clerks, licensed practical nurses and health-care aides.
“We are standing up for public health care and we are standing up for the quality work that every one of these people do every day when they walk through those doors, putting themselves at personal risk every time they do that,” said AUPE vice-president Bonnie Gostola, while about 50 union members protested outside the main doors of the hospital Monday morning.
“Our members have decided they just can’t do this anymore. We’ve protected this province and you’ve treated us like dirt, so enough is enough.”
AHS said in a statement that all health facilities remain open, but some surgeries and ambulatory care clinics are being postponed. Patients will be contacted directly if their appointments are affected.
Non-union staff, including managers, were being deployed wherever possible to cover for missing staff.
“We are doing all we can to address any interruptions to patient care caused by this illegal job action. Our focus is on ensuring patients continue to receive the care and treatment they need,” the statement said.
“We have reached out to staff to ask them to return to work and end the illegal strike. AHS has made an application to the Labour Relations Board today to formally ask the board to direct the affected employees back to work.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews said he expects all unions to respect the bargaining process, and said those involved in the illegal action will be held accountable.
“Government’s primary concern is ensuring the health and well-being of patients, which has been put at risk this morning,” said Toews in a statement.
AUPE president Guy Smith said members are committed to ensuring patients’ 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 in a statement.
Gostola said most Albertans would agree that government has no business privatizing public health care.
“That’s the American model and we’ve seen what that’s done south of the border.”
She invited the public to join the protests.
“We are going to fight for the rights of these workers, and we’re going to fight against any type of corporate greed that’s going to try and come in and take what should be publicly delivered, public jobs,” Gostola said.
Red Deer-North MLA Adriana LaGrange said in a statement that the UCP government was elected on its 2019 election platform, which included maintaining or increasing health-care spending, and maintaining a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system.
“My priority as an MLA is to improve Albertans’ access to publicly funded health services, including reducing wait times, which have increased in recent years, and continuing to advocate for the Red Deer Hospital, which Alberta’s government has already taken action on,” LaGrange said.
Toews said Alberta spends 42 per cent of its budget on health, which has increased 17 per cent since 2015.
“Health spending is at record highs and is expected to be $20.9 billion this year – this does not include $769 million earmarked specifically for COVID-19,” said the minister.