Nurses across the province took to the streets in opposition to job cuts they say are imminent, escalating their campaign for public support after union arbitration with the province resulted in a zero wage increase last month.
United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), the union representing more than 30,000 nurses in Alberta, held 32 information rallies and walks on Thursday to bring attention to “what is happening at the bedside.”
“Our profession has a long history of having to work hard and fight for what’s best for Albertans and patients,” said Jenna Knight outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital, where she works as a nurse. “We’ll continue to do that through the harsh situations right now.”
In November, UNA received a letter saying Alberta Health Services would look to cut 500 fulltime nursing positions, starting with attrition. Union president Heather Smith said at the time that translates to 750 registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses.
Close to 100 UNA members and supporters waved flags as passing vehicles honked in support outside of the hospital, one of five sites in Edmonton, on Thursday, the 32nd anniversary of the 1988 nurses strike.
They were joined by members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta in a
“show of solidarity and strength from health-care workers across the province.”
‘DEFINITELY AN IMPACT’
The UCP government, which has had a fraught relationship with organized labour during its tenure, sought two to five per cent wage rollbacks, while nurses advocated for a wage increase before the wage freeze was handed down in January.
NDP MLA David Shepherd said the government has treated public and health-care workers condescendingly and like “the enemy” in negotiations.
“We are not going to build better health care for Albertans, we are not going to provide better quality of care by attacking the very people who provide that care,” said Shepherd on Thursday.
“I think what this demonstrates, again, is how much front line care workers care about the work they do.”
Steve Buick, press secretary to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, said the minister has “great respect for the work Alberta nurses do,” and is focused on saving money in order to reinvest it into the health-care system.
“Reducing costs does not mean reducing care,” said Buick in a Thursday emailed statement. “We can reduce excess costs without reducing care — it’s what we campaigned on, (and) the Mac Kinnon report and the AHS review confirmed it.”
Knight, a nurse of more than a decade, is concerned that nurses will have to do more with less, and that patients will suffer because of it.
“There’s definitely an impact when you take away reducing the number of hours and people working and caring for these patients,” she said.