AUPE executive vice-president Bobby-Joe Borodey
IT WAS JUST TOO MUCH for housekeepers and other frontline healthcare workers in Alberta October 26. Thousands of them, all members of the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), walked off the job at 49 hospitals and other worksites. It was their way to show Jason Kenney their anger and their strength.
“I’m sure people are surprised and didn’t think it would be housekeepers who would take this step,” said AUPE executive vice-president Bobby-Joe Borodey. “But they did and so did all the others. They’ve had enough.”
The housekeepers, laundry workers, food services staff, environmental services employees, Licensed Practical Nurses and Health Care Aides who walked out are all essential workers in Alberta’s battle to beat covid-19. They are also targets for layoff.
The Kenney government recently announced it plans to lay off 11,000 public sector healthcare workers and privatize their jobs.
The AUPE strikers were joined by members of other unions at the same worksites. Many workers from other unions also vowed to refuse to do strikers’ work. In addition, at some sites AUPE members legally picketed on breaks, but didn’t leave their jobs.
“By constantly short-staffing public healthcare, this government is pushing our members to the breaking point exactly when Albertans need them most,” said AUPE president Guy Smith.”
The United Nurses of Alberta said their workers could and would join the picket line in solidarity with the striking healthcare workers in AUPE.
Employer threatens to retaliate
Alberta Health Services officials immediately warned strikers of harsh retribution: “Staff who choose to participate in illegal job action will be subject to disciplinary action and will not be granted amnesty,” said a memo to employees early in the day.
Such threats likely had less impact on workers already living under the threat of being laid off.
The Alberta Labour Relations Board ruled the work stoppage to be an illegal strike on the same day it started and ordered the employees back to work. The ruling was immediately sent to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench so it could be enforced with contempt of court citations if workers defied the order—none did.
“My expectation is that all unions respect the bargaining process,” said health minister Tyler Shandro—conveniently ignoring the reality that the wildcat strikes had nothing to do with bargaining and everything to do with the government’s arbitrary plan to eliminate 11,000 jobs and contract the work out to for-profit companies.
AUPE strong for wildcat strikers
A post on the AUPE website reads: “Your union stands with you in this battle, no matter what form it takes. And we’re standing with the members who braved the ridicule and threats from AHS when you staged the wildcats on Oct. 26.
“On call-in shows, social media posts, and at lunch rooms, bus stops, and everywhere, Albertans were talking about you, applauding you and saying, “Solidarity with all Alberta healthcare workers!
“Right now, AHS is publicly trying to intimidate you and saying it will pursue disciplinary action against individual members who participated in Monday’s wildcats.
“Remember: AUPE is your shield, and your union representatives are taking all steps necessary to protect you from these disturbing retaliations.”
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