Health care support workers hit the picket lines

Gov’t calls strikes ‘illegal’

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Support workers at the Slave Lake Health Care Centre walked off the job on Monday morning, Oct. 26. They were participating in a province-wide protest by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) against government cuts. It follows the announcement a couple of weeks ago that 930 positions in health care would be cut or changed, starting immediately. It’s part of a bigger government plan to slash the provincial health care workforce by 11,000.

Later that same day, the government called the strike ‘illegal’ and that the perpetrators would be ‘held accountable.’

Asked how long the workers would continue picketing, local AUPE spokesperson Robin Gallagher said that’s up to the AUPE leadership, and suggested asking Mike Dempsey, one of the vice presidents.

Reached on the picket line in Athabasca, Dempsey (a conservation officer on a leave of absence) said “it depends how the government reacts. The ball is in the court of the UCP.”

The government, via Minister of Finance Travis Toews, fired the ball back over the net with razor blades sticking out of it.

“Alberta Health Services is taking immediate action with the Alberta Labour Relations Board to end this illegal activity,” he said in a news release. “My expectation is that all unions respect the bargaining process, stop putting Albertans’ safety at risk and abide by the law.”

Dempsey told The Leader front-line staff “have had enough.”

What they’ve had enough of, he continued, is the scenario of tax breaks for industry (“It doesn’t work at all.”), plus the threat of a two-tiered health care system, plus cutbacks to staff in the middle of a pandemic.

“This is enough,” he said. “They call us heroes one week; the next week: ‘We’re going to get rid of a bunch of you. You can come back and work for less for a private company.”

“This is enough,” he said. “They call us heroes one week; the next week: ‘We’re going to get rid of a bunch of you. You can come back and work for less for a private company.”

Dempsey said similar pickets were happening in towns and cities all over the province, including High Level, Westlock and Barrhead.

The Slave Lake group looked to be about 20 in number when The Leader stopped by on Monday morning. Not all wanted to be in the photo.

Following a ‘get back to work’ order by the Alberta Labour Relations Board, the workers were back on the job as of Tuesday morning. On its website, the AUPE said its members “won support from all over Alberta for their heroic stand, and proved once and for all that health care staff is more than doctors and nurses.”

Union members picket at the entrance to the Slave Lake Health Care Centre on the morning of Oct. 26. Later that same day the provincial government declared their actions illegal.

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