Alberta Minister of Finance and President of the Treasury Board Travis Toews delivers the 2021 budget in Edmonton, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The union representing registered nurses in Alberta says it’s insulting and hypocritical for finance minister Travis Toews to suggest nurses are putting their needs ahead of citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

United Nurses of Alberta calls finance minister hypocritical in contract talks

United Nurses of Alberta calls finance minister hypocritical in contract talks

EDMONTON — The union representing registered nurses in Alberta says it’s “grossly insulting” and hypocritical for Finance Minister Travis Toews to accuse them of putting their needs first during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Normally when we’re in negotiations it’s (the) ministers of health that pipe up,” David Harrigan, director of labour relations for the United Nurses of Alberta, said in an interview Friday.

“This round (of bargaining) is the first time that the minister of finance continues to throw out these news releases grossly insulting the UNA.”

Harrigan questioned why the province is having contract talks with other public sector unions during the pandemic but wants the UNA to put its deal on pause.

“Mr. Toews had no problem at all with the government insisting on negotiating with (the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees). I’ve never seen such hypocrisy,” he said.

During the pandemic, the government has also continued negotiations on a new agreement covering pay and working conditions with physicians. A tentative deal was recently announced by Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Paul Boucher, the head of the Alberta Medical Association.

The rank and file members of the AMA are now voting on whether to ratify that agreement.

The last four-year collective agreement with Alberta Health Services and the United Nurses of Alberta expired almost a year ago.

The UNA says it represents more than 30,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and other workers in the province.

The two sides began negotiating a new deal in 2019, but then mutually agreed twice to suspend contract talks to the end of this month in order to focus on the pandemic.

This week, the UNA formally notified Alberta Health Services it wants to get back to bargaining and seeks meeting times in April or May.

Harrigan said the government is proceeding with other health initiatives, such as reducing surgical wait times, and that it’s time to get back to the table to sort out the contract and determine how nurses will fit into those changes.

He said no Albertan will suffer because of it.

“The AHS negotiator is not out there dealing with COVID. Alberta Health Services hires people to negotiate their collective agreements, and they hire professional negotiators. They don’t hire COVID health care professionals.”

Toews disagrees. In a news release issued Thursday, he said he was “very disappointed” with the UNA decision.

“Right now, Alberta’s government is focused on what matters most – the rollout of our vaccination program and continued response to the pandemic,” wrote Toews.

“We’re starting to make headway in this battle with COVID-19, and I’m hopeful that other unions at AHS do not follow the lead of UNA, and will agree to delay negotiations that puts the health of Albertans first.”

Harrigan said he suspects the real reason the province does not want to return to the bargaining table is that it would have to disclose its plan to proceed with a layoff program revealed in late 2019.

That plan would see 500 nursing positions eliminated over three years, a figure the UNA says is equivalent to more than 700 employees losing their jobs once job-sharing is factored in.

Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has said Alberta nurses are better compensated than those in comparable jurisdictions and that carefully targeted reductions and outsourcing are needed to keep the health system viable.

The layoff plan was put on hiatus in March 2020, when Shandro and Toews announced there would be no nurses let go during the pandemic.

Harrigan said the plan is dormant but not extinct.

“They want to keep that hidden,” said Harrigan.

“They don’t want to admit to the public that as soon as this pandemic is over, there’s going to be huge layoffs.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer City Hall. (File photo)
Red Deerians will see a slight tax increase, but the municipal portion is at zero per cent

The provincial educational requisition went up by about half a per cent

The length of grass on people’s lawns could be part of the new Community Standards bylaw being considered by Red Deer city council. (Black Press file photo).
Loitering, noise complaints, swearing covered in proposed bylaw

A few old rules could be dropped and new rules added

Heather Buelow, owner of Aerial Edge Studio in Blackfalds, says she has spent all of her savings to keep the studio going through government-mandated shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Either open in-person or close permanently: Central Alberta yoga studio defying rules

A central Alberta woman is allowing clients back into her traditional and… Continue reading

Sweden skip Niklas Edin makes a shot against Scotland in the Men's World Curling Championship gold medal final in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, April 11, 2021. Curling's Humpty's Champions Cup in Calgary has been pushed back a day due to the delayed finish of the men's world championship. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Start of Humpty’s Champions Cup pushed back a day in Calgary

Start of Humpty’s Champions Cup pushed back a day in Calgary

Men’s world curling championship in Calgary concludes amid COVID scare

Men’s world curling championship in Calgary concludes amid COVID scare

New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, April 12, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Higashioka and Cole help Yankees beat Blue Jays 3-1

Higashioka and Cole help Yankees beat Blue Jays 3-1

Alberta doctors say trust must be rebuilt after proposed new labour deal rejected

Alberta doctors say trust must be rebuilt after proposed new labour deal rejected

People line up in the rain for a COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up clinic at the Masjid Darus Salaam in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood in Toronto on Sunday, April 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Provinces defend health restrictions as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise

Provinces defend health restrictions as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature Speaker apologizes for condemning new COVID health restrictions

Alberta legislature Speaker apologizes for condemning new COVID health restrictions

Ukraine’s leader requests a talk with Putin, gets no answer

Ukraine’s leader requests a talk with Putin, gets no answer

Madelyn Boyko poses along with a number of the bath bombs she makes with her mom, Jessica Boyko. Madelyn says she enjoys making the bath bombs with her mom as it is a special time for just the two of them. (Photo Submitted)
5-year-old Sylvan Lake girl selling bath bombs in support of younger brother

Madelyn Boyko is selling bath bombs for CdLS research in honour of her younger brother

Most Read