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Nurses rally outside Sturgeon Hospital

Province calls us 'health-care heroes,' then hits us with wage cuts — union rep

Nurses and their supporters lined Boudreau Road Monday morning holding signs in protest outside the Sturgeon Community Hospital to raise awareness about proposed rollbacks to their wages by the province and Alberta Health Services.

“We've been getting lots of honks and lots of public support, which really just kind of fills our tank. It’s just nice to know that you're supported,” said Orissa Shima, the nurses’ union representative for the Sturgeon.

The province is asking the United Nurses Union (UNA) to accept a three-per-cent wage cut and rollbacks on other provisions in their contract in exchange for job security.

“I think the three-per-cent wage rollback is kind of the final straw. That's what really kind of galvanized my members to listen up. I'm getting a lot of emails and texts and stuff from the local here,” said Shima.

Brittany Mock came to the protest from a 12-hour night shift. She said she understands where the government is coming from, but she thinks the province is asking for too much.

“Everywhere is hit with economic hard times, especially post pandemic. I can see where they're coming from. But it does feel like they're trying to take a lot from us – with wage cuts, as well as education cuts, and cutting our designated days off … it seems like a lot,” said Mock.

Cassidy Wilson said she is dedicated and that is why she also came off a 12-hour night shift to the picket line.

“We've sacrificed a lot. We've put ourselves and our families at risk. And to be told we're worth less now, it's just unacceptable when there's been so many other giveaways in other areas of this province,” said Wilson.

Guy Smith president of Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) was happy to see people organize the information picket.

“Employers like Alberta Health Services, and the Government of Alberta, are trying to squeeze a lot of concessions out of these workers – wage concessions, benefit concessions. And these folks are the ones on the front lines protecting Albertans against COVID, and they've been through hell and back. They've shown up to work every single day, they put themselves at risk of working [while] short staff,” said Smith.

Smith said it’s obscene the government isn’t giving workers the respect he believes they deserve and are instead getting concession proposals from them.

Smith said he is expecting to see the same rollbacks and proposals for other workers in nursing care in the province.

In a July 16 press statement, Finance Minister Travis Toews said the province is thankful for Alberta’s health-care support staff.

AUPE asked for a five-per-cent increase in salaries over two years during negotiations on July 15, which represents $105 million to the taxpayer, said Toews.

Toews emphasized the importance of keeping focused on the long-term fiscal health of the province at a time when Alberta is $93 billion in debt.

Budget 2021 was the largest single-year investment in health care in Alberta’s history, at $23 billion committed to the health expense. Toews said an additional $1.5 billion was spent in response to COVID.

“Albertans pay more than most Canadians for public services, including health care. In 2019, we paid $5,470 per person on public-sector compensation, compared to $4,834 per person in British Columbia and $4,702 in Ontario,” Toews stated.

Toews said the province's proposal is fair and reasonable.

AHS is offering job security to employees in exchange for the one-time wage reduction. This is a fair and equitable trade,” he said.

Shima said she doesn’t understand why nurses are paying for bad decisions she believes the government has made.

“They've wasted billions … Why are nurses having to pay? We've paid a lot during this pandemic from time away from our families, fear of catching COVID, and spreading COVID.

“Why are we paying for his war room? Why are we paying for the billion-dollar bet on Keystone? Nurses aren't overpaid in this province. I think that we deserve a fair contract,” said Shima.

Ultimately, nurses are hoping for a fair contract, said Shima, one that doesn’t include wage and other rollbacks that have been in their collective agreement for decades.

“Words are hollow when you say that we're health-care heroes and you appreciate what we're doing, but we're worth five-per-cent less," said Shima.

On top of the three-per-cent wage hike, the province has also proposed an elimination of semi-annual lump-sum payments, reduced shift and weekend premiums, and other rollbacks to their contract. The elimination of these payments would be equivalent to a five-per-cent compensation reduction, according to a statement by the United Nurses of Alberta negotiating committee.

"Come to the table with something that actually means something, and it isn't hollow. If you appreciate us, then let's get to the table and show us you appreciate us,” said Shima.

More bargaining dates are set for Aug. 4, 5, 10, and 13.

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