EDMONTON -- Members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) walked off the job Monday morning to protest the government's plan to contract out about 11,000 laundry and lab positions, a move AUPE calls dangerous to Alberta’s health care system.

More than 1,000 nursing-care and support workers are participating in the wildcat strike in approximately 30 facilities across Alberta, including the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

“Shame on this government,” AUPE President Guy Smith said in Edmonton. "Every single government, every political leader across the world is thanking and celebrating the work of their health-care staff during this pandemic. Only in Alberta, during the pandemic, do they tell ya that you’re going to lose your jobs."

Alberta Health Services said some surgeries and ambulatory clinics may need to be postponed. 

In a written statement, Finance Minister Travis Toews referenced the record increases in health spending and said he expects unions to respect the bargaining process.

“Government’s primary concern is ensuring the health and wellbeing of patients, which has been put at risk this morning,” Toews said. “Those involved in this illegal action will be held accountable.”

AHS made an emergency application to the labour relations board Monday morning.

“Let’s be clear. This isn’t a strike action,” Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer said at a separate government announcement on Monday. “This is a wildcat strike and an unlawful step.”

AUPE has received messages of support from the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the United Nurses of Alberta, the Alberta Federation of Labour and Friends of Medicare.

On Oct. 13, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced a plan to cut as many as 11,000 jobs. Along with contracting out laundry and lab services, the changes are expected to save the province $600 million annually.

“Some of the most important people in the hospital is our cleaning staff,” said Suzanne White, working leader of Environmental Services at Calgary’s South Health Campus. “And [the government is] doing this when there’s a pandemic. It’s wrong.” 

Shandro said nurses and frontline clinical staff would not be among the layoffs during the pandemic.

The majority of jobs, about 9,700, the government said, will end up under a private employer when AHS begins to contract out services: 400 laundry workers; 2,000 lab workers; 4,000 housekeepers; and 3,000 food workers. 

At the time, Smith said AUPE members would be preparing to strike in response.

AUPE represents more than 90,000 workers across the province, including about 58,000 health-care workers.

This is a developing story, more details to come.