Alberta nurses protest proposed wage cuts at St. Albert hospital


Alberta nurses rallied outside a St. Albert hospital for several hours Monday hoping to raise awareness about proposed rollbacks to their wages.

Cam Westhead, a United Nurses of Alberta vice-president, estimates about 75 off-duty workers or supporters joined the information picket outside Sturgeon Community Hospital between 6:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The demonstration was meant to bolster public support for the nurses facing the prospect of a three per cent pay cut, the end of semi-annual lump sum payments, and reduced shift and weekend premiums as the union and employers negotiate a new collective agreement.

“The nurses are feeling disrespected, devalued, they’re feeling demoralized because of these rollback proposals,” Westhead said in an interview Monday.

The action comes as UNA wants to be sure Albertans are aware of the proposed changes during the summer months where people may be away or on vacation, and not paying close attention, Westhead said.

But so far nurses are seeing a lot of outside support for those aware of the potential cuts, he said.

“We’re hoping that the public will continue to take our side and push back against these UCP proposals,” he said.

“I think you would be hard-pressed to find an Albertan who doesn’t respect the work that nurses and health-care workers have done during the pandemic, and always … We want to make sure the public knows how much disrespect is being shown to us by the UCP government.”

Also of concern, Westhead said, is some language in the contract that seems to remove a provision that nurses will be in charge of a nursing unit.

He said it’s not clear why a registered nurse or registered psychiatric nurse may not be in charge.

“People go to hospitals to get nursing care, and it’s only natural that nurses should be in charge of the unit, because they know what care is needed and how to coordinate that care.”

Westhead says to expect more picketing in the future. A provincewide “day of action” — which is not a strike — is planned for Aug. 11, but some hospitals may have activities in the days leading up to or afterward.

When details of the latest proposal became public, Alberta’s Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a statement July 6 that the need to bring the province’s wages for nurses in line with other provinces reflects Alberta’s fiscal situation.

Bargaining for a new collective agreement has been underway since January 2020, but early this year the UNA rejected proposals to delay talks due to the pandemic, offering to meet with AHS in April or May.

Kassandra Kitz, Toews’ press secretary, said Monday in a statement the timing of ongoing negotiations is not the choice of the employer.

Both sides are set to return to the table in early August.