Nurses picket outside Sturgeon Community Hospital: 'Looking for a fair contract'
EDMONTON -- Alberta's nurses union is drawing attention to the province's proposal to roll back nurses' wages by three per cent with an information picket at a St. Albert hospital.
By 6:30 a.m. Monday, about a dozen picketers had gathered outside the Sturgeon Community Hospital.
Among them was registered nurse and union local president Orissa Shima, whose sign around her neck read, "Willing to strike for a fair contract."
She said she and her colleagues wanted to let the public know they aren't prepared to take a wage cut after the pandemic, and are equal to a five per cent rollback when other proposed changes are factored in.
"We're being fed a narrative that it is us, the frontline heroes, that need to pay for bad government policy and government debt, like we haven't paid already with time away from our families, fear of catching COVID, and spreading COVID in the early months, moral injury, and burning out," Shima told CTV News Edmonton.
"What is a thank you when you're telling us we're worth less?" she asked. "It's a slap in the face, it's a punch in the gut, after all we've been through and given during this pandemic."
A week earlier, Alberta's finance minister said the proposal was part of work to get the province's finances "back on track" and that nurses there make 5.6 per cent more than their counterparts across the country.
According to Statistics Canada, nursing wages averaged $44.12 in June, the highest rate of the provinces but near B.C. and Saskatchewan's roughly $43 wages and Manitoba's $41.46 wages. Across Canada, the median was $39.72.
"That's part of the Alberta advantage," Shima said, noting Alberta workers see larger pay cheques in multiple sectors.
The government's proposal also includes eliminating semi-annual lump sum payments, reducing shift and weekend premiums, and removing charge nurse positions.
Both Shima and a nurse of 35 years called that last change dangerous.
"Things we were fighting for then," Sharon Lloyd commented, referencing the 1998 nurses strike she was a part of, "we are still fighting for now: patient safety, patient ratios, a nurse in charge on a unit. Yes, compensation is important. We don't want to be rolled back; we were rolled back in the 90s and we were rolled back for job security -- that's what they're saying now. That they'll roll us back for job security. And we don't believe them. We don't trust them anymore."
The government returns to the bargaining table with United Nurses of Alberta on Aug. 4 and 5.
Official Opposition and Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley has characterized the negotiations as "bad faith bargaining" that is driving workers to quit or find work outside Alberta.
The Alberta government has also proposed a four per cent rollback for hospital staff and, in 2020, announced a plan to lay off up to 11,000 Alberta Health Services jobs as a cost-savings measure.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nahreman Issa