'We’re here to stand up for the average person': General worker strike discussed at 'Resist Kenney’s Cuts' rally
EDMONTON -- Leaders of six prominent Alberta unions openly discussed the possibility of a general worker strike in Edmonton Monday night.
About 300 people, mostly union workers, attended a “Resist Kenney’s Cuts” panel event at MacEwan University.
The gathering had standing room only, even after organizers moved it to a larger space.
The unions allege Premier Jason Kenney is “gutting health care, education, and other vital public services” after news broke Friday up to 7,400 public positions could be eliminated by 2023 as the government finds cost savings.
“I’m terrified,” said Heather Devine, a registered nurse since 2004. “When you start cutting jobs that starts affecting patients. That starts affecting our homecare clients, and it’s dangerous. People are going to die. That’s the bottom line.”
Devine heard the calls and applause for a strike during the meeting, and didn’t rule out reluctantly supporting that.
“Nurses don’t want to strike. But we care about our patients. We’re here to stand up for the average person, for our most vulnerable,” she said.
Premier Kenney addressed the staff reductions on Friday while speaking from an event in Lake Louise.
"We’ve always been clear that getting our province’s finances back in order will require a reduction in the overall size of the public service and we hope to achieve that primarily through attrition," Kenney said.
Kenney argued he’s keeping his campaign pledge to maintain or increase health spending because it has increased by $150 million.
But union leaders are countering, saying frontline public service layoffs were not part of Kenney’s “healthcare guarantee.”
During the meeting, union leaders said a general strike is not imminent, but it is being considered.
“I hope we don’t get to that point,” said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
“If he (Premier Kenney) thinks that he can ram through this economy-destroying agenda, this public service-destroying agenda, he’s got another thing coming.”
Monday night’s attendees also heard from:
- Heather Smith, President, United Nurses of Alberta (UNA)
- Mike Parker, President, Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA)
- Guy Smith, President, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)
- Tom Hesse, President, United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 401 (UFCW 401)
- Lee-Ann Kalen, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Alberta Region)
The Alberta NDP has called for an emergency debate regarding the government’s plan to cut health care positions.