CANMORE – The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the United Nurses of Alberta braved temperatures approaching -30 C to rally in front of the Canmore Hospital against provincial cuts to the Alberta health care system.
"Workers are angry," said AUPE vice-president Karen Weiers, adding that it is because “public sector workers are under attack.”
The rally served as a platform to fight budget cuts and share information with Bow Valley residents on how these changes will affect the delivery of health care in the area.
“This affects not only the workers' livelihoods, pensions, benefits and their jobs,” Weiers said. “But it affects the services that are provided to Albertans and this is something that Albertans need to recognize.”
The picket comes after the province warned unions that thousands of health-care positions could be eliminated in the province over the next three years at the end of November. These cuts include hundreds of front-line nursing jobs.
AUPE received letters on Nov. 29, 2019, from the government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services, indicating that approximately 2,500 front-line positions could be lost by the end of 2023, that 400 Auxiliary Nursing Care full-time employees (FTE) will be cut beginning in April and that 2,000-3,000 FTEs in AHS General Support Services will lose their jobs between April 2020 and April 2023 via cuts and contracting out to private providers.
The 2019 Alberta Budget as a whole was not good for health care services in the province, Weiers said, and the picket was designed to show Canmore the direct hits public sector workers are taking.
“These people are not only fighting for their jobs," she said.
"They're fighting for the services that they also utilize as Albertans.”
For those looking to support health care workers, Weiers said she recommends contacting MLAs, voicing their concerns with the premier and joining one of the picket lines in a sign of solidarity.
“This isn’t the platform that they [the UCP] ran on and this isn’t what people voted for,” Weiers said.
“When you start hurting Albertans, the very people you are supposed to protect – there’s something wrong with this government.”
It was important to see Canmore step up and ensure their voices are heard, she said, because the rally showed solidarity with other picket lines taking place across the province.
Second vice-president with the United Nurses of Alberta and former Banff-Cochrane MLA for the NDP, Cam Westhead, participated in the rally.
He said he was there to show his support for the working people of the Bow Valley who provide health care services in Canmore and Banff.
“This government made a promise in the election not to go after front line workers and they’re doing the exact opposite,” Westhead said.
“They’ve broken a promise and we’re here to send a message that this government is not looking after the best interests of Albertans.”
The current government has shown they are willing to "walk over workers' rights" and break promises, Westhead said, explaining that the time has come to stand up and fight back.
He said rallies like the one seen in Canmore have been taking place across the province in an effort to raise awareness about the potential effects of these cuts. The picket lines are a “symptom” of the government's failure to listen and engage with the concerns of Albertans.
“They've still gone ahead with these damaging cuts,” Westhead said.
The cuts are an especially concerning threat for front line workers in the Bow Valley area, he added, because of the high cost of living. If these jobs are lost, people may be forced to leave the community.
“That’s a detriment to the kind of place we want to live in,” Westhead said.
He added that the cuts are part of the continued process to privatize health care in the Bow Valley and province as a whole. Westhead cited health care services such as maternity that have been amalgamated between Banff Mineral Springs Hospital and Canmore Hospital.
He added that the loss of jobs could be an indication of further cuts and closures to health care services that could take place in the region.
“That could mean people from Canmore and Banff having to drive to Calgary,” Westhead said.
“It’s difficult enough to live in rural areas like this where we don’t have a lot of services and we have to go to larger urban centres.”
President of the Calgary and District Labour Council Alexander Shevalier was in attendance in a show of solidarity against the government's "attack" on union members.
“We have hundreds of workers that are being laid off,” Shevalier said. “It means fewer people doing more work and so it’s going to strain people – you’re going to see more burn out, higher turn-over and there are a lot of unknown consequences to what the government has done.”