Ponoka nurses gathered for an information walk and picket at the Tractor Park on Aug. 11, to show their concern with proposed cuts to nurses’ wages by the Government of Alberta.
The group of about 50 people walked through downtown Ponoka before returning to the park, located across from the Rising Sun Clubhouse. The participants received honks from passing vehicles as they held their signs with slogans including “Stop Kenney’s cuts” and “Don’t pull the plug on public health care.”
Participants included members from United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA).
Members from UNA’s Local 31, representing nurses from the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre, as well as Local 22, from the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, participated in the walk.
Local 31 president Camille Tschabold says Alberta Health Services is currently in ongoing negotiations with UNA, which represents Registered Nurses (RN’s) and Registered Psychiatric Nurses (RPN’s), and negotiations with AUPE and HSAA will soon follow.
“Right now … we’re kind of all in the same boat with health care, so we all kind of banded together to show our support for each other and public health care,” said Tschabold.
“AHS is being directed by our government to make a bunch of cuts, right now specially to RN’s and RPN’s,” she said.
Tschabold says the government is trying to cut something from pretty much every point of the agreement they had.
She says the UCP are trying to take three per cent off nurses’ base wages and an additional amount off of each of their shift differentials and agreements from previous years for a wage increase.
Instead of wage increases, there have been lump sum payments based on hours worked in a year, and with those cut, and for full time employees, that amounts to another two per cent off their earnings.
Nursing unit organizational changes are also pending.
“They are also trying to take away, that it has to be an RN or an RPN that has to be in charge of a nursing unit and change it to any kind of regulated health professional, so that could mean that there could be an occupational therapist or a health care aide, in theory, in charge of a nursing unit and (that’s) not something they’re necessarily familiar with,” she said.
Tschabold added the proposed contract rollbacks would not only result in pay cuts, but wage freezes and no rest days as well.
“With all of these cutbacks they’re making, they’re just not making it very inviting for nurses to want to work in Alberta,” she said.
“We’re already struggling with so many nursing shortages and unsafe patient care related to that … if they go through with all of these cuts, I’m afraid of what staffing might be like in the hospitals and the repercussions it might have for patient safety.
“Again, with the other unions going through negotiations as well, it might be just the tip of the iceberg — they might start with just cuts for us, and then continue to cut in all different areas of health care, and that’s just concerning for us.”
“I’m here in solidarity with Alberta’s health care workers, particularly nurses, who’ve been continually attacked by this UCP government,” said Janis Irwin, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood and critic for women and LGBTQ2S+ issues.
“I wanted to come out and show my support. Even through I’m from Edmonton, I think central Alberta, Ponoka, Red Deer area — they all need to know that they have support in the Alberta legislature because a lot of them don’t feel represented right now by the UCP.”
“We’ve had a lot of support from the public from doing a couple of these demonstrations and information walks it seems, but we’re not getting any of that support back from the UCP government,” said Tschabold.
“In our most recent negotiation meetings, AHS had tried to go back to the government to get some negotiating going with us, to meet on some middle ground and the government refused. They’re not giving us any kind of compromise at all.”
UNA called Aug. 11 a “Day of Action” in a press release and stated that members would be holding information pickets across the province to “send a message to the Alberta government … of their commitment to Albertans and our province’s public health care system.”
Information pickets were held in 25 communities with health care facilities that employ RN’s and RPN’s represented by UNA.
“After 18 months on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta’s nurses are exhausted and overworked,” said UNA in the release.
“Nurses go to work every day to make sure Albertans get the best and safest patient care possible. They need fairness in the workplace.
“Beds are closing because hospitals are short of nurses. This is a result of the pressure on the system caused by pandemic and a long history of under-staffing nursing positions.
“The rollbacks proposed by the government are an insult to nurses and won’t help Alberta recruit and keep health care workers, which is what is needed most to keep hospital beds open.
“Nurses must also be able to focus on safe patient care, which is hard to do when hospitals are understaffed and government is attacking nurses and other health care workers.”