Solidarity rallies for health-care workers bring out support in Calgary, Edmonton

·3 min read

Several rallies were held across Alberta on Thursday morning to show solidarity for health-care workers who walked off the job last week to protest the provincial government's announcement it would outsource thousands of jobs.

On Oct. 26, hundreds of health-care workers engaged in a wildcat strike after Alberta's Minister of Health Tyler Shandro announced that Alberta Health Services would lay off between 9,700 and 11,000 employees.

They were swiftly ordered back to work by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

On Oct. 27, Finance Minister Travis Toews told reporters that nursing and support workers who participated in the strike could be fined, suspended or even fired from their jobs.

On Thursday, supporters gathered in front of the Foothills Medical Centre and the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre in Calgary, and Edmonton's University of Alberta Hospital, to show their support for the front-line workers.

"We [are here] to thank all of the brave members that walked out on Oct. 26," said Bobby-Joe Borodey, one of the vice-presidents of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) — the union that represents the health-care workers — at the rally in front of the Foothills hospital.

"We did that to send a message to [Premier] Jason Kenney and the UCP government that this direction that they're heading in with privatization is awful, and it's something that Albertans don't want."

'Make no mistake, they're all front-line workers'

Unions representing Alberta's health-care workers told CBC Edmonton in mid-October that there would be major labour strife if the government follows through on the proposed restructuring plan underpinned by thousands of layoffs.

Most of those who will lose their jobs work in laboratory, linen, cleaning and in-patient food services with AHS, and their positions will be outsourced to private companies.

According to Borodey, there is no overstating the value of their work during COVID-19.

"Make no mistake, they're all front-line workers," Borodey said. "When this pandemic started, they were the heroes that were on the front-line — the first line of defence at keeping Albertans safe at hospitals and health centres across the province.

"And then, when we're in month eight, all of a sudden, they're zeroes. And they're overpaid and replaceable. So, they're feeling pretty deflated and frustrated."

Mike Symington/CBC Calgary
Mike Symington/CBC Calgary

Mike Mahar, the Canadian director of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), said that as fellow essential workers, the ATU wanted to attend the rally at the Foothills show its support.

Mahar, who had strong words for the provincial government, said transit workers understand the intense pressure of working the front-lines during the pandemic.

"We're in the same risk as these guys. It's high-stress. It takes a lot of dedication, it takes a lot of courage to go to work every day. And then to have the employer treat you with such disregard, it's, you know, it's demoralizing," Mahar said.

"To have the carpet pulled out from under you like that, during a pandemic — it's actually reckless. I think it's criminal. Not just putting those people out of work, but doing it right now … it's going to cost people's lives, I bet."

NDP MLA David Shepherd, who also attended the rally at the Foothills, said he is receiving hundreds of emails from people who are tired of the attacks on health-care staff.

"[The UCP government] announced this as our province is entering into the second wave of COVID-19. It's absolutely unacceptable," Shepherd said.

CBC News asked the Alberta government for comment on the rallies but it has not yet responded.

However, in October, Shandro said the cuts are eventually expected to save up to $600 million annually, and there will be a "long-term and gradual" implementation of the plan.

He also said that any savings would be funnelled back into patient care.