Alberta Politics
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees President Guy Smith on the picket line at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital yesterday morning (Photo: TheProgressReport.ca).

UCP plan to lay off 11,000 public sector health workers sparks wildcat walkouts at 45 Alberta health facilities

Posted on October 27, 2020, 1:29 am
8 mins

Infuriated at the Kenney Government’s determination to lay off 11,000 public sector health care workers and privatize their jobs, members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees walked off the job in a province-wide wildcat strike yesterday morning.

Last night, the Alberta Labour Relations Board ruled the work stoppage to be an illegal strike and ordered the employees back to work.

Alberta Labour Minister Jason Kenney Copping on the video link, and his master of ceremonies, Jobs (and stuff) Minister Dough Schweitzer during yesterday’s news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

Exactly how many AUPE members were involved in the walkouts was not clear, although wildcat strikes by the union’s health care support workers, health care aides and licensed practical nurses took place at 45 health care facilities throughout the province.

While strikers were joined by members of other unions from the same worksites on their impromptu picket lines, there is no evidence of other health care workers striking in sympathy — although many vowed to refuse to do strikers’ work. In addition, at some sites AUPE members legally picketed on breaks but didn’t leave their jobs.

“Nursing-care and support workers decided today that there was no other option but to fight to protect Albertans at risk, especially during the deadliest pandemic in a century,” said AUPE President Guy Smith. “By constantly short-staffing public health care, this government is pushing our members to the breaking point exactly when Albertans need them most.”

For their part, AHS officials immediately warned strikers of harsh retribution: “Staff who choose to participate in illegal job action will be subject to disciplinary action and will not be granted amnesty,” said a memo to employees early in the day. Of course, such threats may have less impact on employees who face being laid off and having their jobs contracted out to private companies.

It could quickly become difficult to maintain infection control measures in many facilities if the strikes continue or escalate.

Nor was it obvious last night, despite the Labour Board’s ruling, what would happen next. The ruling was sent to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench so it can be enforced with a contempt of court if workers defy the order.

Finance Minister Travis Toews, who with Premier Jason Kenney in self-isolation for exposure to COVID-19 appears to be the government’s lead spokesperson on the file, issued a triumphal statement in which he vowed not to tolerate illegal strike activity.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alberta Health Services labour relations officials have been aware for weeks of the potential for a spontaneous reaction to the government’s massive restructuring of health care among the hardest-hit workers during the continuing coronavirus pandemic. They must have alerted the government to their fears.

Nevertheless, the government’s initial reaction yesterday offered little evidence the UCP had much of a plan about how to respond.

After demonstrations started taking place outside hospitals around 7 a.m., nothing at all was heard from Health Minister Tyler Shandro. Perhaps he was unprepared to defend the government’s view that health care support workers are not essential, except when the government decides they are.

A previously announced news conference by Labour Minister Jason Copping and “Jobs, Economy and Innovation” Minister Doug Schweitzer, recently demoted from the important Justice portfolio, attracted reporters seeking comment on the unfolding strikes.

The key message of their announcement seemed to be that a few low-wage jobs would be closed to temporary foreign workers for a spell as a response to Alberta’s high unemployment rate.

The rattled-looking duo quickly read their scripts, dodged questions from a few journalists asking about the wildcat strikes, and pulled the plug on the virtual news conference as quickly as decently possible. Wherever possible, they referred questions to a mid-day statement expected from Mr. Toews.

In the event, when Mr. Toews’s first statement of the day was published, it echoed the AHS threats and repeated UCP talking points about why the government wants to make big cuts to health care spending.

“My expectation is that all unions respect the bargaining process, stop putting Albertans’ safety at risk and abide by the law,” he concluded, apparently forgetting that the wildcat strikes had essentially nothing to do with bargaining and everything to do with the government’s arbitrary plan to eliminate 11,000 jobs and contract the work out to for-profit companies.

Still, this was an ironic position to take for a government prepared to use legislation to derail the collective bargaining process if it looks as if the results will not be to its liking.

Yesterday, the government made much of the fact the job action took place in the middle of a pandemic — notwithstanding the fact it’s been fighting with almost every health care employee group, including physicians, throughout the pandemic.

Alberta breaks the 500 barrier — 500 daily COVID cases a day, that is

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Alberta broke the 500 barrier — 500 cases of COVID-19 a day, that is.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw (Photo: Government of Alberta).

It’s probably only a matter of days now before we surpass 1,000 new cases every day.

Less than a week ago, UCP media cheerleaders were proclaiming that having concluded COVID-19 is under control, wishfully as it turns out, Premier Jason Kenney was surging ahead with economic action.

With the impact of the government’s “near normal” school reopening and a rule-free Thanksgiving weekend now being fully felt, the only thing that appears to be surging is COVID-19.

Nevertheless, Mr. Kenney has continued to insist on his determination to keep the province’s businesses wide open.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw yesterday ordered a 15-person limit on some gatherings in Edmonton and Calgary. However, that doesn’t apply to restaurants, theatres, religious services, weddings or funerals. So don’t expect it to do much good.

20 Comments to: UCP plan to lay off 11,000 public sector health workers sparks wildcat walkouts at 45 Alberta health facilities

  1. Kim Poirier

    October 27th, 2020

    It’s a terrible time to be Albertan. When is the next election scheduled?

    Reply
    • Rocky

      October 27th, 2020

      There’s going to be another election? Where’d you get that idea?

      Reply
  2. Dave

    October 27th, 2020

    Well the provincial government finally made that 15 person gathering limit mandatory, probably several weeks late though. I do feel the horse is possibly out of the gate already. The problem with the no or delayed restrictions approach is it inevitably leads to worse choices later – more stringent restrictions or more illness and death or possibly all of them. Mr. Kenney can not intimidate or bluster a virus like a political opponent or someone he considers unAlbertan. I don’t think he quite gets that and despite his wish to get back to other things, he can not wish COVID away.

    It is probably not the best time to constantly remind health care workers that they are disposable and will soon be laid off, but the UCP did not seem to get that either. So I suppose it is not surprising these walk outs occurred. When people are backed into a corner and not listened to, don’t expect things to go well.

    I expect AHS will get much more disfunctional if Shandro and Kenney continue down the path they have been, which they probably will if not somehoe stopped. However, I notice Mr. Shandro seems to be keeping a fairly low profile right now and the government ministers judged less likely to make things worse seem to be speaking more today. I don’t know what that means for Shando’s job security, but at least it shows that even those running the UCP realize he is part of the problem.

    Reply
  3. tom

    October 27th, 2020

    “Still, this was an ironic position to take for a government prepared to use legislation to derail the collective bargaining process if it looks as if the results will not be to its liking.”

    Reply
  4. Jim

    October 27th, 2020

    I think, or maybe hope, that the UCP has underestimated the support Albertans have for their front line healthcare workers. Going back to the days of orange I keep wondering why the NDP didn’t tout their reduction in healthcare expenditure on a per capita basis more. Can’t locate the exact source but I do remember a good graph showing cost per capita leveling off and going down slightly. It was headed in the right direction and without a bunch of pissed off employees or serious service disruptions.

    Reply
  5. Stephen

    October 27th, 2020

    Also of note: “AHS’ legal counsel explained the health authority had pre-emptively filed for a cease and desist order earlier in the month in anticipation of possible strike action”

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      October 27th, 2020

      Thank you for pointing this out. That knowledge doesn’t seem to have improved the response by the government, however. DJC

      Reply
  6. Rocky

    October 27th, 2020

    AUPE made a major mistake by losing its nerve and pulling back from its wildcat strike, handing an easy victory to the UCP. The UCP now knows it can do what it wishes and union leadership may talk big, but it is afraid to strike hard. AUPE should have increased the numbers of health care worksites on strike today, and pulled its jail guards out on Thursday, building momentum over the weekend. If they wanted to quit, Monday would have been the time to do it, with a message of “that was only a warning.” Nowhere is it written, “Fortune favours the chicken.” On the contrary, the chicken ends up in the pot.

    Reply
    • Kang

      October 27th, 2020

      Could not agree with you more Rocky. Apparently the AUPE leadership still thinks it is part of the middle class living in a democracy. Kenney and his Klan will show them how wrong they are when they put all of us in the pot.

      Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      October 27th, 2020

      Easy to say, Rocky, not so easy for the guys on the line. I ought to be out there, too, but if my local–061/062, InnoTech Alberta–struck, two things would happen. 1) nobody but the managers would notice. 2) we’d risk arrest for violating Jason’s “No protests here” laws.

      I fear this is the opening move in a large, ugly confrontation. Who says hospital workers won’t strike again? Wildcat strike, back-to-work order, then what? Work to rule? Rotating strikes? We’ll see.

      All I know for sure is, it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.

      Reply
  7. Abs

    October 27th, 2020

    Well, it certainly was nice not to hear from the Brothers Grimm yesterday, so on that point alone, yesterday’s action was a success. But you know what they say about narcissistic supply: when it gets cut off, expect narcissistic rage. I think we’re about to get a whoopin’ from the good ole Misfortune 500 authors. Attention vampires will be attention vampires.

    Reply
  8. Just Me

    October 27th, 2020

    I am cheering for Covid to wreak its karmic havoc on Alberta culture of idiocy.

    Maybe I’ll put that message on a t-shirt.

    Reply
  9. Political Ranger

    October 27th, 2020

    Conservatives are an ignorant and mean-spirited lot, now they are showing, in Albaturda, their belligerent and slow-witted ways. In short, they are proving every day that they are just too incompetent to run a government.

    Nationally, these low-life mouth-breathers are shouting complaints about every little thing being done but offer not a peep towards any kind of solution. Scheer had nothing, harper like Kkkenney demand ideological fantasies and threaten medieval punishments – not a thought amongst the whole sorry lot for how to better society or citizens.

    Oh boy! – but they sure can shill for those corporations and their foreign shareholders.

    Reply
  10. John T

    October 27th, 2020

    The UCP are running this show like the Keystone Cops they are. Kenney is demonstrating fully his autocratic, ideological side as well. It is the height of irony that Toews speaks of contracts when they unilaterally ripped up one with regards to physicians not long ago. These guys are totally inept.

    Reply
  11. lungta

    October 27th, 2020

    drove by
    honked
    solid traffic both ways ….i was the only one.
    this is classic con play book
    de-fund, dismantle demoralize and move
    throw hands in the air because it no longer works
    blame public
    privatize because “business” is better at everything than conservatives are
    i wish someone would connect
    the privatized extended care disaster
    with privatized health care
    i liked health care when it wasn’t a roll of the dice
    and faith in the heart of some financial CEO

    Reply
  12. D. Bruce Turton

    October 27th, 2020

    The UCP goons are obviously counting on the fact that those who now work in health care support services will have little to no choice but to accept ’employment’ in the newly privatized health care support services ‘industry’. The act of not allowing any more workers into the province from outside the country further solidifies this action. There is nowhere else to go for these people. Their options are restricted to being lesser valued, lesser paid, cogs in the new ‘industrial’ structure that the goons aspire us all to be part of.
    It will be difficult to reverse this “coup toward serfdom”, and the goons know this. There appears to be no alternative for those of us who abhor these top-down decisions but to withdraw any and all support for the goons. This may leave other innocent Albertans in the lurch, but then, why is this different than what the goons are doing to us?
    And now Cenovus will chop another 2000 jobs, mostly in Calgary by reports, so that we can all be better off!!! Do the goons realize that Calgary has the second highest commercial and office vacancy rate in all of the Excited States and Canada (Houston is worse! Quelle surprise!)?

    Reply
  13. Dave in Sask

    October 27th, 2020

    Meanwhile our premier is going to have a tough time keeping his election promises, but then he didn’t keep his promises from 2016.

    But at least the Sask Party is governing reasonably fairly. He may think he can get away with some cuts here if he smiles when making them.

    22 billion in the red is going to eat up a lot of revenue even with low interest rates.

    I am looking forward to the promised 10% cut in power rates.

    Reply
  14. Valerie Jobson

    October 27th, 2020

    I can’t tweet right now, being suspended, but here is some stuff from twitter today worth seeing:

    A fake nurse war room:

    https://twitter.com/AB_MD_WarRoom/status/1321179998326116352

    Edwin Mundt notes they are using someone else’s logo, also connected with FOS and others.

    https://twitter.com/edwinmundt/status/1321158076364247040

    Which makes me wonder if the CEC/war room is handling this little campaign with their usual ineptitude.

    Professor Lorian Hardcastle being snitch-tagged by advisor to Shandro:

    https://twitter.com/maxfawcett/status/1320776475876806656

    And an interesting thread about AHS filing for stopping the strike before it took place:

    https://twitter.com/Lorian_H/status/1320958039394955265

    And Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell from Oct 13:

    https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/confidential-alberta-health-services-document-reveals-massive-proposed-health-care-system-restructuring

    Reply
  15. David Grant

    November 1st, 2020

    I was there at the Foothills on Monday and it was great. I wanted to show solidarity and support to the striking workers and the opportunity is really inspiring. These people are true heroes because they had the courage to put their lives on the line. They were the lowest paid and they mostly women and persons of colour. I have no doubt that their managers came down hard on them but I only hope that they don’t feel ashamed of what they did. It took courage to do what you did and this will be necessary if we are going to push back this anti-labour legislation. As President Guy Smith has said many times that these struggles are not won in a day and take a lot of work to make substantive changes. I hope to see you in the next strike!!!

    Reply

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