June 14th, 2024

Alberta nurses rally against proposed wage rollback

By Herald on August 11, 2021.

Local members of the United Nurses of Alberta and supporters held a Day of Action informational picket at Chinook Regional Hospital on Wednesday in solidarity with nurses across the province. Herald photo by Tim Kalinowski

Tim Kalinowski – Lethbridge Herald

Local nurses and their supporters held a Day of Action informational picket at Chinook Regional Hospital on Wednesday to draw attention to what they call the disrespectful way the UCP government is negotiating with healthcare workers who served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing current economic circumstances, the provincial government is seeking a three per cent rollback on nursing wages in Alberta.

“We have been in negotiations with the employer for the past several months, and frankly it is very disheartening and insulting that at this point that is the value the nurses hold for this government,” said RN Margie Emes, who serves as president of United Nurses of Alberta Local 120 in Lethbridge. “Nurses have been working overtime, and we have made many sacrifices through this pandemic.”

Emes rejects comments made by Premier Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews that suggest somehow Alberta nurses are overpaid in relation to other provinces.

“The government continues to point out that nurses make 5.6 per cent more than other nurses in other provinces; however, Albertans overall make 15 per cent more than other Canadians do in other provinces,” she retorted. “And (Toews) himself makes 22 per cent more than other politicians in our country. So it is really insulting to think we need to be making all the sacrifices. We haven’t had a pay raise in a number of years, and so it is really insulting to think we need to be at the crux of this budget.”

Toews reiterated comments to this effect in a statement released to the media on Wednesday in response to the protest actions across the province by nurses and their supporters.

“Reaching a new collective agreement with UNA is essential for the province,” Toews said. “The reality is that Alberta spends more money per person on health care than other large provinces, and this can’t continue.

“We are facing a $93 billion debt, and we spend more than half of the province’s operating budget on public sector compensation.

“We must continue to find efficiencies across the public sector – it’s an essential piece to restoring fiscal health and ensuring sustainable public services.”

Toews goes on to state the “appreciation and respect” Albertans hold for healthcare workers.

Emes says she and her co-workers have never felt any particular appreciation or respect from Toews and his government despite the sacrifices they have made to help those stricken by the coronavirus these past 18 months.

“We are overburdened,” Emes says. “We are exhausted. Nurses are working overtime extensively, working double shifts, working on their days off. So when you know there is a potential fourth wave arriving, or it has already arrived, the stress just continues to build among us.”

Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar put it much more bluntly in a statement released to the media on Wednesday.

“These frontline workers have literally put their own lives at risk to save the lives of countless Albertans,” said Azocar. “After a year and a half of this pandemic, health care workers are exhausted, and now they’re handed a pay cut? The government is making it extremely clear how little they value not only our vital health care workers, but all the Albertans who depend on the care those workers provide.”

Lethbridge-West MLA and Opposition Finance Critic Shannon Phillips, who came out in solidarity with protesters on Wednesday at Chinook Regional Hospital, said she found it rich that Toews would lecture nurses about the need for fiscal restraint.

“The fact of the matter is nurses aren’t out there asking for, I don’t know, a $1.3 billion giveaway for no particular reason at all which he was happy to give a pipeline company to not build a pipeline,” she stated. “Nurses aren’t asking for anything out of the ordinary. The fact is all these negotiations should be happening at the negotiating table with respect.

“Fundamentally what we are talking about here is respect for frontline workers. Do you have it? Or don’t you? It is really clear Jason Kenney does not.”

While Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf was not present on Wednesday for the informational picket, he told local radio station CJOC back in July he was not in favour of the three per cent wage rollback being proposed by his government to nurses.

“We should hold off on this,” he is quoted as saying. “We asked nurses to do a lot more. I’ve been a vocal advocate for a long time that we need to look at the whole structure. I find it a very challenging situation for the government which is looking for cost savings. As a husband to a wife who’s a nurse, it’s a very difficult time right now to talk about this kind of rollback.”

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I am sympathetic to the cause. However, I cannot understand why the nurses were not confronting the NDP government when they were racking up the debt. Surely somewhere, someone in nurseland thought, maybe we should protest this excessive spending by Notley, Phillips and Hoffman, as down the road that 70 billion dollar debt is going to have to be paid and paying it back may affect future negotiations in salary. The well does have a bottom. My favourite is “we are all in this together” except ME.

Southern Albertan

Jim Prentice, Conservative leader, reminded us in 2015 already (before the NDP won the election) that Albertans needed to look at themselves in the mirror re: Alberta’s finances. It has been said that there are two “fundamental decisions that have contributed to skyrocketing debt in Alberta…..Don Getty draining Heritage Fund savings into general revenues, and, the overarching elephant in the room, Alberta being the only province without a provincial sales tax leading to over-dependency on oil and gas revenues-a gamble that has especially hurt the province since the mid 2010s.”
Again, former Conservative Premier Peter Lougheed’s Six Principles for resource development were not followed by subsequent AB Conservative governments: “Behave like an owner, Collect your fair share, Save for a rainy day, Add value, Go slow, and Practice statecraft.”
Prentice was aware there was already a big financial mess to inherit, instead the Notley NDP got it, and it looks like they will again, in 2023.
United Nurses of Alberta contracts during the AB NDP days were held at 0%, so not even cost of living consideration. There is a good blog today re: the UNA information pickets and shedding light on the financial bumblings of the Kenney UCP as well.


So you give Notley et al a pass for their 70 billion debt splurge. Nice. Prentice ad logged are dead, move on

Southern Albertan

Notley had to deal with 40 years of financial mismanagement by the AB Conservatives as mentioned above. With respect, the late Premier Prentice knew it as well. We were also left with a $20-30 billion infrastructure debt from the Klein era, and, now we have the unwise Kenney UCP spending. Does the AB Conservative negative financial history and the now Kenney UCP financial bungling get a pass? We’ll hopefully be moving on once the Kenney UCP get the boot.

Seth Anthony

So what was 70 BILLION spent on?

Last edited 2 years ago by Seth Anthony