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Lethbridge AUPE health-care workers join provincial marches against ‘disrespectful’ cuts

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WATCH ABOVE: AUPE health support workers in Lethbridge marched in front of Chinook Regional Hospital on Monday to protest the Alberta government’s decision to cut 11,000 health support staff jobs. As Emily Olsen reports, those on strike say it wasn’t an easy choice, given the COVID-19 pandemic – Oct 26, 2020

Retired nurse Doreen Brazier was one of many people out supporting striking AUPE health workers in Lethbridge Monday morning.

“I had to shout out my support,” Brazier said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like now. My heart goes out to them, it really does.”

Read more: Health-care workers walk off the job in wildcat strikes across Alberta: AUPE

She said she believes support staff are in the right for standing up against what some say is a provincial push to privatization amid a pandemic.

“The nurses, the lab workers, the X-ray techs, everybody needs the government’s support,” Brazier said. “Not to be cutting jobs.”

Following an announcement earlier this month that 11,000 health-care support jobs would be cut, Lethbridge AUPE members marched on Monday in front of Chinook Regional Hospital. 

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“Who comes out in the middle of a pandemic and tells more health-care workers that their jobs are gone?” AUPE VP Karen Weiers said during the march Monday.

She added the decision to march was not an easy one for healthcare workers to make.

”[The] concern [of those on strike] is for the people here in Lethbridge and across the province,” Weiers said.

“This isn’t about wages, it’s about stopping privatization,” another woman in attendance said.

Protesters in Claresholm shared the same message on Monday — demanding more government support for current health-care workers.

“Most provinces are going above and beyond for their health-care workers right now, and our province is talking about cuts and getting rid of us,” AUPE Local 058 chair Loree Preete said Monday morning. “It’s very disrespectful.”

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Read more: UCP approves policy to create private health-care system in Alberta

In a statement Monday morning, Alberta Health Services said the marches across the province were “illegal strike action” and that it will be “responding quickly.”

“We are doing all we can to address any interruptions to patient care caused by this illegal job action,” said a statement from AHS. “Our focus is on ensuring patients continue to receive the care and treatment they need.

“AHS is enacting contingency plans to redeploy non-union staff, including managers, wherever possible to cover for missing staff. AHS is monitoring the situation closely to try to mitigate patient care interruptions.

“AHS is postponing non-emergency surgeries. All emergency procedures will continue as well as some urgent surgeries, such as cancer procedures. Non-urgent ambulatory care procedures and clinic visits are also being postponed. Patients will be contacted directly if their appointments are affected. Visitors may be limited at some acute care sites depending on the level of strike action.

“Essential visitors for continuing care residents are encouraged to continue to visit. Loved ones will appreciate the ongoing support, and especially so given the impact of labour action on our sites. All visitors will continue to be required to follow COVID-19 protocols.

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“We have reached out to staff to ask them to return to work and end the illegal strike. AHS has made an application to the Labour Relations Board today to formally ask the board to direct the affected employees back to work.

“All AHS sites remain open.”

Read more: Alberta nurses’ union calls on AHS to bring back paid leave as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Alberta’s Finance Minister Travis Toews addressed the strikes Monday afternoon.

“[I am] very disappointed in union leadership for putting patient care at risk and jeopardizing the efficient operation of our health-care system at a time we desperately need it,” Toews said, urging staff to return to work.

The Labour Relations Board also held a hearing on the strikes late Monday afternoon.

AUPE members say they will continue to strike until their demands are met.