Alberta union leaders launch protest website against UCP government
EDMONTON -- Labour-union leaders are urging Albertans to sign up to protest Premier Jason Kenney's government through rallies and demonstrations and, if necessary, provincewide general strikes.
Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says Kenney's United Conservative government is attacking the province's parks, workers, and public health system.
McGowan appeared at a news conference at an Edmonton hotel Wednesday morning, flanked by other union leaders as they launched a website called StandUpToKenney.ca.
The site asks Albertans to promise to take part in protests and makes a list of 12 demands of the provincial government, including ending “the war on doctors,” rescinding a plan to contract out as many as 11,000 laundry, lab and food services health positions, and take a second COVID-19 wave more seriously.
“We’ve heard it from our members, we’ve heard it from our affiliate unions, we’ve heard it from other groups, and people in civil society and just ordinary Albertans. They’re horrified about what Jason Kenney’s government is doing to our province, whether it’s health care, education, the response to the COVID crisis,” McGowan said Wednesday.
“So we’re stepping up to the plate and we’re saying to all of those Albertans who are calling out for some kind of organized extra-parliamentary protest, that we will put our resources, our skills, our tools, our abilities at their disposal.”
'THIS ISN'T A LABOUR CRISIS': SHANDRO
Hundreds of health support staff walked out on Monday over the government's plans to cut jobs and privatize some services at hospitals.
The workers returned to their jobs on Tuesday after the Alberta Labour Relations Board deemed their action illegal, but some surgeries had to be cancelled and rescheduled.
- READ MORE: Alberta hospital workers walk out to protest job cuts amid COVID-19, AHS calls strike 'illegal'
- READ MORE: Alberta hospital worker strike ruled illegal by Alberta Labour Relations Board
- READ MORE: More job action can be expected, says law professor day after wildcat strike
The United Conservative Party dismissed the unions' campaign as "NDP politics."
"This isn't a labour crisis," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said. "There is nothing extreme about contracting out services."
Government house leader Jason Nixon called the website the latest disruptive, regressive action by McGowan, noting the union leader has previously called for a boycott of businesses that support the UCP.
Nixon urged Opposition Leader Rachel Notley to denounce McGowan's actions, given what Nixon said are the organizational ties between the NDP and the labour federation.
“They (the AFL) are now calling for illegal strikes,” said Nixon. “The official Opposition needs to condemn these behaviours. They have not condemned the behaviour of Gil McGowan to date.”
NDP and Opposition Labour Critic Christina Gray said her party stands with workers.
"The reason the wildcat strike occurred was because of the actions of the UCP government," Gray commented.
"These workers -- their backs are up against the wall."
While McGowan said Monday's walkout showed mass action can be effective, he said what he was proposing Wednesday wasn’t a strike or protest -- as defined by the bargaining process.
“If there are strikes in the context of bargaining, they would be in addition to and separate from what we’re announcing today.”
The provincial government has said it will respect the rights of unions to express opinions, but will not tolerate illegal strikes “and will use all available legal mechanisms to respond as needed.”
The Alberta Federation of Labour, United Nurses of Alberta, Health Sciences Association of Alberta, Canadian Union of Public Employees Alberta, and U of A Non-Academic Staff Association all participated in the conference.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2020.