by Alexander Delorme, Communications Staff
AUPE members live in nearly every town, county and city in Alberta. From Acadia Valley to Zama City, members work, live, and raise our families in communities big and small.
“We may be separated by distance, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t united,” says AUPE President Guy Smith.
Today, the union faces its greatest solidarity challenge yet with a UCP government hell-bent on remaking Alberta to serve its rich friends instead of everyday Albertans.
Premier Kenney has wasted no time making huge cuts to the services Albertans, and especially rural Albertans, depend on, including 16,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the public sector over four years.
“In rural Alberta, attacks like this tear at the fabric of whole communities,” Smith says. “We’ve sounded the alarm on the Premier’s cuts though, and he knows he has to get through us before he can get to remote cities and towns.”
While the fight to save jobs, public services and communities has largely been taken up in the streets, the attack on Albertans started in the legislature, with Bill 9, which ripped up thousands of AUPE members’ contracts.
Members wasted no time getting organized and held over 61 rallies across the province – not just in Edmonton and Calgary, but smaller and rural communities too, including Claresholm, Drayton Valley, Elk Point, Grande Prairie, Lac La Biche, Okotoks, Peace River, Red Deer, St. Paul and more.
The province-wide solidarity was overwhelming. However, the government’s attacks quickly became more localized.
In rural Alberta, attacks like this tear at the fabric of whole communities. We’ve sounded the alarm on the Premier’s cuts though, and he knows he has to get through us before he can get to remote cities and towns.
RAPP comes under Fire
First there was the UCP’s decision to end the elite Wildland Firefighter Rappel Program, or RAPP.
These are the firefighters flown in by helicopter to the scene of fires in dangerous areas that cannot be reached from the ground. They’d battle the blaze and clear land, so other fire teams could be brought in to mitigate spread and often save remote towns.
The UCP had already made cuts to the number of AUPE members working in lookout towers, who spot early fires and alert firefighters.
Ending RAPP was the last straw.
A grassroots campaign of former RAPP workers and AUPE members started the Save Alberta Rappel campaign. To date they have raised thousands of dollars and erected Save Alberta Rappel billboards throughout the province, including in Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen’s riding.
Healthcare gets hit twice
The UCP-created chaos soon spread to rural health care. Since they’ve been in power, the provincial government's actions have forced rural doctors to decrease the services they offer, and according to the Alberta Medical Association, many are considering leaving the province entirely.
Then came COVID-19. Alberta’s continuing-care facilities, especially privately operated ones, experienced some of the most horrific outbreaks and received insufficient assistance from the province. This included a completely botched $2 wage top-up for health-care aides (HCAs) that took weeks to show up on paycheques.
“COVID-19’s rampage through Alberta’s continuing care facilities was an entirely preventable tragedy,” says Smith. “Private interests and a reluctance on the companies’ part to offer full-time hours for each worker at each site led to burnout and all around unsafe working and living conditions.”
Despite this, Alberta Health Services (AHS) is still looking to sell off what’s left of publicly operated, health-care laundry facilities – many of which are in rural Alberta – and to expand private surgical facilities.
AUPE members will carry on fighting the UCP’s reckless job cuts. The pandemic has certainly limited our ability to use certain tactics, but members are as engaged as ever. We’re going to show this UCP government the power of workers in every community, large and small, across Alberta.
Attacking advanced education
Then came the $317 million cut to post-secondary education. This alone accounts for hundreds of job losses throughout the province, made worse by COVID-19.
Post-secondary institutions all over the province, from Athabasca to Vermilion, Olds to Medicine Hat and everywhere in between, have had to make cuts to programs and jobs to keep pace with the UCP’s spending restrictions.
In rural communities, where campuses are a central hub and a big source of jobs, the effects have been dizzying.
“AUPE is now launching the Save Advanced Education campaign," says Smith. "Members are organizing for a powerful, frontline-driven pushback again the UCPs cuts.”
Members have already held a telephone town hall, and are working to contact each and every post secondary member over the summer to build the strength needed to force the UCP to reverse the cuts.
“If it was up to the UCP, they’d hand over Alberta to the highest bidder,” says Smith. “Putting profit before people hurts everyone, but no one is feeling it more than rural Albertans.
“AUPE members will carry on fighting the UCP’s reckless job cuts. The pandemic has certainly limited our ability to use certain tactics, but members are as engaged as ever. We’re going to show this UCP government the power of workers in every community, large and small, across Alberta.”