Alberta health-care workers could face sanctions for wildcat strike

·3 min read

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is considering "disciplinary options" for unionized health-care workers who walked off the job earlier this week.

Nursing and support workers who participated in Monday's wildcat strike could be fined, suspended or even fired from their jobs, Finance Minister Travis Toews told reporters at the legislature on Tuesday.

"They're looking at individual employee actions, individual employees who took part in the illegal walkout," Toews said.

Next steps could include reporting any regulated workers to disciplinary bodies for professional sanctions, he said.

Working conditions and the Alberta government's move to outsource up to 11,000 jobs prompted the job action.

On Monday night, the Alberta Labour Relations Board declared the workers' walkout to be an illegal strike.

Although the board cited no wrongdoing by their union, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), Toews said AHS will ask the board to investigate whether union leaders were involved in organizing the strike.

"Just from information in the public realm, it would appear that union leaders were instrumental, or certainly there was a high degree of possibility that union leaders were instrumental in the activities," Toews said.

Although he wouldn't point to specific evidence, Toews said social media posts, news reports and information received by his office suggest leaders were involved in organizing the walkout.

AUPE issued a short statement Tuesday, saying leaders can't comment on AHS's labour board complaint. Moves to investigate individual employees may prompt the union to file grievances against the employer, the statement said.

On Monday, AUPE President Guy Smith said the walkout was led by workers, not union officials.

"We know that your employer's going to react very strongly to what you're up to today," Smith said over a megaphone Monday to workers rallying outside Edmonton's Royal Alexandra Hospital. "They're going to try and bully you and intimidate you to not be out here. If you stick together and stay strong, nothing can overcome the power of workers standing together — remember that."

Opposition calls move a 'witch hunt'

AHS said the organization is reviewing Monday's events and considering next steps including possible disciplinary options and consequences.

"That process could take some time to ensure we complete a thorough review and investigation," spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in an email.

He did not say how many workers AHS was investigating or how long it would take.

Scott Neufeld/CBC
Scott Neufeld/CBC

Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said the move is a continuation of the UCP government's attack on health-care workers.

"If the finance minister insists upon engaging in a witch hunt against regular, hard-working frontline workers in the middle of a pandemic it will show us that they have learned nothing from yesterday," Notley said on Tuesday. "What they must absolutely do is declare a truce."

The government has said outsourcing up to 11,000 health-care jobs such as cleaners, laundry and food service workers, porters and others could save up to $600 million a year. Two-thirds of health-care centre laundry across the province is already handled by private contractors.

The NDP disputes the estimated cost savings of outsourcing. Notley said the government expects low-wage health-care workers, many of whom are women of colour, to cheerfully report to high-risk jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic while waiting for pink slips.

"On what planet does this look even a little bit like basic common sense and humanity?" Notley said.