Alberta hospital support staff workers walk off the job in wildcat strike

by Stephen Dafoe

The Alberta government’s plans to save $600 million annually by outsourcing AHS laundry, housekeeping, food preparation, and laboratory work led to picket lines on Monday.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) general support staff launched a wildcat strike across the province on Monday.

“Anger has been building among members for months,” said AUPE President Guy Smith in a media release Monday. “The recent announcement by Health Minister Tyler Shandro of 11,000 jobs being cut in the middle of a global deadly pandemic was the last straw for them.”

Smith said the decision to strike was taken by the members themselves.

“AUPE is a democratic union and we respect the wishes of our members,” he said.

Minister of Finance and Treasury Board President Travis Toews called Monday’s wildcat strikes illegal.

“Government’s primary concern is ensuring the health and wellbeing of patients, which has been put at risk this morning,” Toews said of the province-wide strikes at AHS facilities. “Alberta Health Services is taking immediate action with the Alberta Labour Relations Board to end this illegal activity. Those involved in this illegal action will be held accountable.”

Toews went on to say he expects all unions to respect the bargaining process, and “stop putting Albertans’ safety at risk and abide by the law.”

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the wildcat strikes “deeply concerning.”

“Like all Albertans, our caucus believes patient safety must always be the top priority,” Notley said, adding the UCP proposal to privatize 11,000 front line healthcare workers would result in “poorer quality healthcare.”

“His suggestion that this can be done without compromising care defies common sense,” Notley said. “For the sake of Alberta patients and the people who care about them, this reckless plan must stop.”

While Toews called the strikes illegal, Notley said the UCP had introduced illegal legislation designed specifically to attack frontline healthcare workers.

The Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation called the union response to the outsourcing rhetoric.

“Union bosses are creating fear about our healthcare system when the reality is, we are talking about letting local businesses put Tide pods in the washing machines, and they’re already doing a great job,” said CTF Alberta Director Franco Terrazzano. “Union bosses need to dial back the rhetoric, and the government needs to follow through with the common-sense changes as soon as possible.”

Finance Minister Toews said he expects all unions to respect the bargaining process, and “stop putting Albertans’ safety at risk and abide by the law.”