As the lyrics to Solidarity Forever say: “Without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn.”
Every group effort is made up of individuals. While each role is essential for collective success, some of those working in the background do not receive the recognition they deserve. Such is the case with surgical processors working in Alberta’s health care system.
AUPE member Fekerte Haile works as a surgical processor at the Foothills Medical Centre. Surgical processors perform a variety of tasks, such as cleaning reusable equipment, executing function tests, and ensuring instruments are sterilized before handing them off to doctors. Haile and her coworkers take on up to 85 unique cases per day, as well as emergency requests, all of which are critical for patients' safety.
“I am really happy to be unionized. That also means we have to challenge the union, to challenge ourselves.”
“We are looking after all patients in the hospital, and not just those in the operating room,” says Haile. “I think it’s something a lot of people take for granted.”
Although surgical processing is a huge and important department, they are one of several groups of General Support Services workers who are overlooked because they work behind-the-scenes.
“It’s challenging, but important,” says Haile. “We are special, and I love my work, but we are sometimes not acknowledged for what we do.”
All AUPE members working in Alberta’s health care system are underappreciated despite the important role they played during the pandemic. They have also weathered numerous attacks from the provincial government, including former Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s plan to cut 11,000 front-line jobs. Surgical processors were not part of Shandro’s job-killing plan, but that does not mean the government and Alberta Health Services value Haile and her coworkers like they should.
“Without our department, nobody can do anything,” says Haile. “We clean, we assemble, we process, and then they take the instruments and do what they do. It is mentally, physically challenging work.”
Surgical processors do so much, and they know their working conditions would be even more difficult if they did not belong to a union.
Haile appreciates everything that comes with being an AUPE member, but she also believes we could do better, like more engagement when negotiating collective agreements. Doing better also includes, crucially, having members take ownership of the union. Members from AHS General Support Services and beyond must work together to create positive change and make AUPE the best it can be.