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Union members rally outside Alberta hospitals to support health-care workers

Click to play video: 'Province-wide rallies to support health-care workers, fight cuts' Province-wide rallies to support health-care workers, fight cuts
WATCH: Across Calgary, there were three rallies over 12 hours to support health-care workers during the pandemic. As Christa Dao reports, the rallies were also to send a message to the government about the latest health care cuts. – Nov 5, 2020

Members of several unions held rallies outside of a number of Alberta hospitals on Thursday to show their support for health-care workers.

One of the rallies was held by members of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), in front of the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.

Those attending the rally are asking for Alberta’s provincial government to reinstate pandemic pay and isolation pay and to reverse a decision to cut 11,000 Alberta Health Services jobs.

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

“Over the last year – and especially in the last few months – the support we’ve seen from the people in Alberta has been incredible,” CUPE’s Alberta chapter President Rory Gilles told Global News.

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“Albertans work together, Albertans come together, not just in times of crisis but at all times, and this government doesn’t seem to understand that. They don’t want to listen to Albertans and they don’t want to make things better and we’re sick and tired of them making things worse – and that’s why we’re out here today.

“We’re taking proper precautions: we’re wearing our masks, we’re doing proper physical distancing – but we’re making our voices heard.”

During the rally at the Foothills Medical Centre, representatives from AUPE, the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) could be seen holding signs.

Click to play video: 'CUPE holds rally at Foothills Medical Centre' CUPE holds rally at Foothills Medical Centre
CUPE holds rally at Foothills Medical Centre – Nov 5, 2020

Read more: Union wants better protections, pandemic pay reinstated for Alberta meat plant, grocery store workers

A statement issued by a spokesperson for Alberta’s ministry of labour on Wednesday said the government recognizes “the tremendous work of all Albertans throughout this pandemic.”

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When it comes to pandemic pay, the province said it put $170 million towards long-term care and supportive living sites’ staffing and supports.

“The funding supports topping up the wages of 12,000 health care aides by $2 an hour for the duration of the pandemic, increasing health care aide staffing levels by the equivalent of 1,000 positions and providing paid practicums to fast-track another 1,000 health care aide students into jobs in continuing care facilities,” ministry spokesperson Adrienne South said.

Click to play video: 'Unions push for pandemic pay as COVID-19 numbers climb' Unions push for pandemic pay as COVID-19 numbers climb
Unions push for pandemic pay as COVID-19 numbers climb – Nov 4, 2020

“The province remains committed to providing support for all health care aides that work in contracted facilities, including the many community-based, non-profit facilities.”

Thursday’s rally at the Foothills Medical Centre follows a wildcat strike by health care workers within the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) across the province two weeks ago, which was later declared illegal by the Alberta Labour Relations Board.

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“The support that we have received from the public and other labour groups and citizens has just been overwhelming and it’s so encouraging to see that when those great workers walked out of their facilities to stand up for public services, that it was recognized and is being given thanks now by other people,” said Susan Slade, vice president of the AUPE.

“The fight is not over. This government is not backing down from their privatization and it’s important that we have good public services in this province. That’s what this province is about.”

The rally is one of several at hospitals across the province on Thursday, with 10 to 12 different unions expected to join in to show their support.

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Several unions, including members of the AUPE and Health Sciences Association of Alberta, rallied outside of the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.

Jillian Pratt with the University of Alberta Non-Academic Staff Association said she was there to show support and solidarity for all health-care workers.

“We are going into our eight-month mark of the pandemic. We have a government that is overly hostile, especially to our health-care workers. We want to let our health-care union siblings know that we are here for them, we support them and we’re going to help fight for them too,” she said.

“It’s of the utmost and most paramount importance that we keep all of our health care public. To be outsourcing and selling things to the lowest bidder is not quality public health care.”

Health Minister Tyler Shandro maintained that contracting services out is not privatization.

“Contracting out in the health system is something that’s happened for years and years and years,” he said Thursday. “It’s happened under the NDP.

“We’re going to continue to make sure that AHS is focusing on patient care… We can be more efficient in AHS operations so that we have the ability to spend more on patient care.”

Another rally was held at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre.

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– With files from Sarah Offin and Emily Mertz

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