Unions rally in Peace River

Protesters carried signs with various messages at the protest in Peace River on Jan. 22.

Workers will not stand for proposed cut, wage freezes

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Just days after the opening of the new Sunrise Medical Clinic, protestors were marching in front of it Jan. 22 to oppose what they say are provincial government cuts to health care.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny has repeatedly said his government has maintained its commitment to health care and has actually increased the health care budget by one per cent this year.

Meanwhile, unions have received letters notifying them of upcoming changes, including the contracting out of some services, which will result in the loss of thousands of unionized public sector jobs by 2023.

A group of about 40 people, including representatives of three different unions, union members and supporters, gathered in front of the Peace River Community Health Centre for the protest. The attendees marched in front of the hospital and medical clinic and listened to speeches by union reps from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees [AUPE], United Nurses Association [UNA] and Health Sciences Association of Alberta [HSAA].

“We’re here today to let the government know we’re not going to stand for this,” says Bernard Pinard, chapter chair of Local 43 chapter 003 of the AUPE.

AUPE vice president Kevin Barry says the protest was not a job action but an information picket to inform the general public and local union employees and members about what’s happening in the community.

“What we’re saying is that labour is under attack in this province. This government does not like labour, definitely does not like public service, but it’s not about private against public. It’s actually labour getting together to ensure that we work towards getting good collective agreements and make sure we’re all paid fairly,” Barry says.

“Alberta’s been notorious for having a very inactive labour movement, but this government has awakened a giant where labour is actually sitting together, talking together to make sure that we’re working together to protect the services that Albertans need.”

Barry says handing $4.7 billion in tax giveaways to corporations and asking Albertans to pay the price by losing public services and getting rid of what he says could be up to 10,000 public sector employees is not the way to balance the budget, especially with an additional $2 billion added to the deficit.

“We’ve seen that even in the private sector they’re losing jobs on a regular basis month by month, so we need to be in this together to fight what’s actually happening in the government,” Barry says.

“I’m really fearful what’s going to happen in rural areas with the policing being downloaded onto them, now the taxes that some of the oil and gas companies haven’t been paying are going to be downloaded onto them. It’s clear that this government is not helping rural communities. They’re going to hurt them.”

“We are all in this together,” says Sarah Craigen, UNA Local 30 president.

“All of our contracts come due about the same time. We have more power now then we have ever had, even back in ‘88, even back in ‘97, and we need to use this power, not just for no cutbacks.

“We’ve just been handed a suggestion from AHS on the bargaining table that we take zero, zero, zero, and zero. That would be seven years straight of no wage increases and we’re all going to be facing this,” Craigen says.

“They say that AHS is the long arm of the government? Well they’ve got them under their armpits, and it’s the pits.”

Kenney has said that Alberta spends 20 per cent more on health care per capita than other large provinces but with worse health outcomes.

Craigen says the argument that health care workers get paid more in Alberta than elsewhere in Canada is due to the higher cost of living, and everyone in Alberta on average gets paid more.

She adds she’s not just protesting for her own wages.

“Most of us here want to make sure that health care is not privatized, that health care is not for profit,” Craigen says. “This is not where we make money as a community. We don’t make money off the backs of sick people who can’t fight back, disadvantaged people, of people on AISH. This is not where you balance the budget. You actually balance the budget by bringing in more staff, because then those of us who are here aren’t burnt out, sick and injured, and we get healthier people, which means healthier patients, and I’m out here for my patients.”

Jorden Lenz, HSAA North District board member, agrees.

“These guys are asking us to do more with less. Shame.

“They’re denying overtime. My own discipline is paramedicine. We’re dropping cars. The general public doesn’t realize how many ambulances aren’t in their community,” Lenz says.

“They’re counting on the resources we provide, and we are worth it.”

All of the unions say they are preparing for possible direct job action in the future.

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