Two weeks ago, on Oct. 6, 7 and 8, thousands of AUPE members across the province called into the union’s largest virtual townhall of 2020 to ask your elected Executive the tough questions about the issues that matter most to you. Topics covered included:
- Premier Kenney’s attack on jobs and essential public services, and the union’s plans to stop him
- The province’s botched wage-increase plans for frontline workers
- The UCP’s mishandling of the pandemic
- Protecting public-sector pensions
Thanks to so many members calling in and commenting on the Facebook Livestream, President Guy Smith, your Vice-Presidents and Secretary-Treasurer Jason Heistad were able to cover all of these topics and more.
But high participation rates also meant they couldn’t get to all of your questions in the 2-hour sessions.
We want to ensure all members have the answers they need to move forward into the next few months and the new year with confidence. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions members put to your Executive, along with some questions they couldn’t address live.
FAQ: Fight Back Townhall Edition
Q: I keep hearing strike talk within the union. As nurses, health-care aides and general support services staff, how do we walk off the job without putting patients and long-term care residents at risk?
A: We know how dedicated our members are to the health and wellbeing of Albertans – just look at the frontlines during the pandemic, where public-service and private-sector workers stood in solidarity with each other to keep serving their communities through this challenging and scary time.
Most AUPE members provide what’s known in the province’s labour law as “essential services”: services that would “endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public,” if they were interrupted. When we take action, we follow the “life and limb” principle, which means we consult with different parties to ensure the appropriate measures are taken so no life or limb is lost when we’re fighting for a better Alberta.
You do high-stakes work, and at the end of the day, fighting to protect your jobs and your working conditions isn’t going to hurt Albertans – a government seeking mass, permanent layoffs in your industries will though.
Q: Are the UCP really going to privatize hospital food, laundry and environmental services?
A: That’s the UCP plan. Just this week (Tuesday Oct. 13), Health Minister Shandro revealed AHS’s plans to implement a number of dangerous recommendations posed in the Ernst & Young report Premier Kenney commissioned last year.
As early as April 2021, the two plan on cutting 800 clinical jobs (nursing care and physician positions) and contracting out close to 10,000 general support services positions to the private sector. Laundry, food services, environmental services and more would be outsourced and downgraded in this process.
The destruction won’t stop at health-care, though. On Wednesday Oct. 14, UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews made it clear he wants to inflict similar cuts on all government ministries, meaning the UCP is planning a massive attack on direct government services jobs.
Q: Won’t our bosses just replace us if we strike and take direct action? How big a threat are scabs?
A: That’s an understandable fear. After all, just last year the provincial government introduced legislation that reverses the ban on scabbing in place since 2016.
But if members stage a mass job action, it’s highly unlikely the UCP will actually be able to fill the gaps you leave in your wake. Your work is highly specialized and requires firsthand knowledge, emotional intelligence and lots of on-the-job training that can’t be replicated overnight. You’re tough to replace, and ESAs ensure just enough staff stay behind to continue doing the important work you perform every day so no Albertan is at risk of injury or illness.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the UCP’s scab scheme lightly. Their plan is yet another example of just how little this government respects your expertise and your right to fight for a stronger public service.
Q: How do we expect members to cope financially if we do strike? I can barely afford rent, groceries and child-care as it is.
A: The UCP have not made Alberta into the affordable province you deserve, that’s for sure. The COVID crisis, and Kenney’s response to it, hasn’t helped working people’s financial situations.
While taking strike action is never an easy decision, losing thousands of jobs, in a volatile economy is even scarier. And fortunately, because we’re always pooling our collective resources, AUPE is financially prepared for a strike. Not only does the union provide picketing members with strike pay after five days on the line, but it also covers the cost of benefits you’ve negotiated into your collective agreements while you’re striking.
Check out this article we shared in February on how to financially prepare for a strike. It includes several tips and resources for members, so you don’t have to sacrifice your personal wellbeing while you stand in solidarity with your coworkers.