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A Red Day in Wood Buffalo

Wearing red to support bargaining isn’t just for show—AUPE members in Fort McMurray prove it can also be a great tool to organize for action

Mar 27, 2024

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By Rae Carlson, Communications Staff

The winters are long in Fort McMurray, and so are the shifts for AUPE members working at Northern Lights Regional Health Centre and Willow Square Continuing Care. When it comes time to hunker down and work hard, nobody does it like the workers in Northern Alberta’s boom town.  

Fort McMurray is a town with strong people. But being strong shouldn’t be an excuse to put up with fewer people doing the same work. Cuts and privatization are hitting the healthcare system here hard and that is the government’s fault. 

“I had never been to a union meeting before,” recalls Brittany Baker, a team lead in environmental services. “Then they contracted out laundry, and I knew it was time to get more involved.” 

Today, Baker’s chapter is more active than ever. Read on to see how they pulled off one of the province’s most inspiring Wear Red for Bargaining campaigns.

Members of Northern Lights Health Centre wearing red
Members at Northern Lights Regional Health Centre wearing red to show solidarity

Getting Organized

Organizing your coworkers can be a lot of work, especially after a full shift on your feet, but it all comes down to making steady progress. AUPE Vice-President James Gault has been preaching this message throughout Alberta’s northwest region since his election last October.

“Don’t think you have to do something huge at first,” he says. “You gotta build up to that. You gotta start small and start somewhere."

"Once you pull something off and raise everyone’s confidence, that’s when you can move on to big, disruptive action."
AUPE Vice-President James Gault

James Gault, Vice President

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According to Baker, word-of-mouth and one-on-one conversations are the secret behind  organizing her chapter so quickly.  

“I just talk to people,” she says. “I’m a bit of a loud-mouth, I suppose, but I’ve been around for 8 years now and people know who I am. I showed up to our annual general meeting and got voted in as Chapter Chair, just like that.” 

Baker knew her coworkers needed a place to connect, so she created a private Facebook group and invited the kitchen and maintenance staff members. She posts in the group frequently, asking members what they want to see at bargaining and preparing them to flex their mobilizing muscles. 

Members at Willow Square Community Care wearing red
More red from members at Willow Square Continuing Care!

Information spread quickly from their active Facebook hub. You must give your members a reliable place to get information, which keeps them coming back, which makes it even more reliable and active. It’s a cycle. 

“In-person conversations are key,” says Gault. “These daily conversations, which can take just a couple of minutes before or after work, really add up. It’s much easier to gather a group for a direct action campaign when everyone knows their role and spreads the word.”

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Wearing red across Alberta

AUPE members in all bargaining sectors have organized Wear Red days for showing solidarity with their negotiating teams. This is what Baker’s organizing was leading up to: one big day to show AHS they were united. 

“Direct action campaigns, like ones we’re seeing across the union right now, are the best reminder that there’s more of us than them,” says Gault. “More importantly, it shows the employer that we are united in our goals.” 

"Direct action campaigns... are the best reminder that there’s more of us than them."
AUPE Vice-President James Gault

James Gault, Vice President

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The response in Fort McMurray was overwhelming. Every General Support Services worker in Baker’s Chapter wore red, and they all plan to keep it up when other negotiating teams are in bargaining, not just their own. 

Baker knows the organizing does not stop there. She and the members she works with are preparing for whatever it takes to get the respect they deserve from their employer. They are ready to turn up the heat if that is what it takes.  

“People need to know our value,” she says. “The work we do is important, and it is difficult, but we don’t mind doing it under fair conditions. Some days you just look around and the red flags are everywhere.” 

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