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Vegreville rallies after 52 seniors centre workers given layoff notices: ‘This is not good news’

53 employees, AUPE members who are LPNs, health-care aides, cooks at Vegreville Century Park supportive living centre, will be out of work as of Nov. 1, 2019.
53 employees, AUPE members who are LPNs, health-care aides, cooks at Vegreville Century Park supportive living centre, will be out of work as of Nov. 1, 2019. Wes Rosa, Global News

A protest took place Monday afternoon in Vegreville, after 52 Alberta Union of Provincial Employees who work at the Century Park supportive living centre were issued layoff notices.

The centre is run by out-of-province private operator Optima Living Communities. The 52 employees, which include LPNs, health care aides and cooks, all received their layoff notices in early September.

“They want to show a profit for their shareholders. They don’t care about the impact on this community, they don’t care about the impact on seniors that live in this facility,” AUPE vice-president Rod Feland said.

Optima Living says it kept one recreational worker on staff, and that only around 30 of the laid-off employees were full time.

“We’ve cared for these people for years. We know them inside and out,” said former Century Park staff member Suzanne Malo.

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“If they can get away with it, I think it’s not going to stop them from trying to do it to somebody else,” Malo said.

The 52 laid-off AUPE members have been told they can re-apply for jobs at the facility following their layoffs. Their last day of work in the current positions will be Oct. 31.

Optima Living said that half of those employees have already applied to be rehired by Pro Vita, the employee contracting organization that will be managing the new hires.

Ali Shivji, the managing director of Alberta operations with Optima Living, said that while those employees could be hired in different positions, they will receive “wages and benefits that are aligned with the marketplace in Alberta.”

Shivji added the company is making “organizational changes” to the Vegreville centre.

“The changes planned will, over time, further enhance the quality and safety of services provided. We are committed to the community of Vegreville and the same number of jobs currently in the town will remain,” Shivji said in a statement.

Seniors advocates say they’re concerned the new wages won’t meet the level the AUPE employees earned.

“The only people you can hire as a result of that is people who may not have the required training,” Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar said.

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“At the end of the day, the only ones who suffer are the seniors.” Azocar said.

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Vegreville mayor Tim MacPhee says he has heard similar sentiments from others in the community.

“They [the seniors] built this community. Here they are at one of the most vulnerable stages of their life, and the quality of care that they’re receiving from the local people has been very good.

“We’re very concerned,” MacPhee said.

The announcement hit hard in Vegreville, as these recent layoff notices were handed out almost exactly a year after the town’s citizenship case processing centre was officially shuttered.

That closure, which was a decision made by the federal Liberals, saw about 200 people either transferred to Edmonton, retire or find other employment.

READ MORE: Citizenship case processing centre in Vegreville officially closed

“It [the closure] was a very negative impact, after a year we’re just getting back to some form of normalcy,”  MacPhee said.

“This is not good news for us.”

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WATCH BELOW: When the federal government announced plans to move a government office from Vegreville to Edmonton, it said the move would benefit taxpayers. But Global News has uncovered documents suggesting the move will have the opposite effect. Kent Morrison reports.

Documents suggest moving Vegreville government office to Edmonton won’t save money
Documents suggest moving Vegreville government office to Edmonton won’t save money