The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and several Alberta unions, including the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), unveiled a campaign against the premier on Wednesday.
“The premier wants to frame opposition to his government as a battle with so-called ‘union bosses,'” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “But the truth is that the UCP has launched attacks on many things that Albertans hold dear.
“So it’s not Kenney against unions; it’s Kenney against health care; Kenney against education; Kenney against parks, AISH, and the environment. It’s even Kenney against a responsible response to COVID-19.
“That’s why we’ll be asking all Albertans to join us in building towards something big. And they can do that by indicating their willingness to stand up to Kenney.”
The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), Canadian Union of Public Employees Alberta (CUPE) and the University of Alberta Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA) also took part in the launch of the “Stand up to Kenney” campaign.
The campaign asks Albertans to visit the website www.standuptokenney.ca and sign a pledge indicating they’re ready to take part in province-wide rallies or protests that may include job action or strikes in the future.
McGowan said a committee will create a list of all its allies and urge the United Conservative government to sit down with representatives and address their concerns.
“If the government doesn’t respond to our concerns, we’ll begin a series of virtual, regional, and province-wide protests that could include work stoppages,” he said.
“These actions will be separate from individual contract-related actions organized by individual public sector and private sector unions in the context of their contract negotiations but they will be mutually supportive and they may coincide.
“Mass in-person protest action will not begin until it can be done safety in the context of the pandemic,” McGowan said Wednesday. “But we’re urging people to sign up now so we can move quickly and decisively when it is safe to do so.”
On Monday, general support services workers in Alberta’s health-care sector and auxiliary nursing care staff walked off the job as part of wildcat strikes across parts of the province.
Picketing took place outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital and University of Alberta in Edmonton, Foothills hospital and the South Health Campus in Calgary, as well as at many other facilities across Alberta.
In a news release, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) president Guy Smith said members were trying to defend jobs and protect Alberta’s public health-care system.
“Anger has been building among members for months,” he said.
“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.
“This government is pushing our members to the breaking point exactly when Albertans need them most.”
The health-care workers were ordered back to work Monday night after the Alberta Labour Relations Board found the job action to be illegal under s.71 of the Labour Relations Code.
“I’m very disappointed with Gil McGowan’s comments and with union leadership, looking to create conflict at a time when, as Albertans, we really need to come together to both deal with the pandemic within our borders and also deal with the economic recovery and the great fiscal challenge that’s in front of the province,” Finance Minister Travis Toews said Wednesday.
UCP Government House Leader Jason Nixon said this is the latest in a pattern of behaviour from the AFL and McGowan that he described as “troubling.”
“From my perspective, the NDP should remove the AFL from their leadership at the very least… They should stand up in the house today and condemn the calls for illegal actions.
“Whether you’re calling for illegal action right away or whether you’re calling for it in a week, you’re still calling for illegal action.”
NDP MLA Christina Gray stressed the Opposition supports the workers.
“We continue to call for the government to reverse the cutting of 11,000 front-line health-care hero jobs in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.
“We support the workers. The reason that the wildcat strike occurred was because of the actions of this UCP government — everything from changing legislation to attack contracts… reducing their rights through bills like Bill 32, to now threatening to fire 11,000 workers.
“The system right now is increasingly under pressure and under chaos.”
Earlier this month, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the United Conservative government would be cutting up to 11,000 health jobs to save money during the pandemic, but he said nurses and front-line clinical staff would not be affected.
Shandro said Wednesday that AHS is prepared for any future strikes.
“They’ve been hearing through the grapevine that these illegal actions might be occurring, and so they’ve taken actions to be able to mitigate. We look forward to be able to make sure that AHS has all the resources they need to be able to continue to respond to any illegal action, including going to the labour relations board.”
He added he’s proud of Alberta’s response to the pandemic but also said AHS can be more efficient.
“That’s why we’re moving forward supporting AHS on a careful, reduced version of the plan AHS submitted to us in August. That plan would have affected 16,000 staff through AHS. We scaled it back to 11,000, almost all through contracting.”
Toews stressed that 99 per cent of unionized employees showed up for their shifts as scheduled on Monday, but added Alberta Health Services is conducting a review of what took place and employees who took part “in the illegal action” will be held accountable.
“Those repercussions can range from suspensions to fines to even termination,” he said.
Toews said union leaders will also be looked at.
“There was a high degree of possibility that union leaders were instrumental in the activities yesterday. The labour relations board will be conducting a review to understand the impact that union leaders had on the illegal walkout action.”
— With files from Canadian Press