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Small-Town Alberta workers kicked to the curb

VEGREVILLE - All 53 of the AUPE members who staff the Vegreville Century Park supportive living centre will be forced to look for new work starting Nov. 1.

Oct 03, 2019

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VEGREVILLE - All 53 of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) members who staff the Vegreville Century Park supportive living centre will be forced to look for new work starting Nov. 1. In early September, their employer, out-of-province private operator Optima Living, issued layoff notices to the workers after a decision to contract-out their work to a privately held company (Pro Vita), based in B.C.
The layoffs include LPNs, health-care aides (HCAs) and cooks, who have filed individual grievances and a policy grievance against the employer. While the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) reviews these files, staff have been banding together and mobilizing their community to fight back against Optima Living’s decision.
“Vegreville is no stranger to struggle and solidarity,” said Suzanne Malo, a former Century Park staff member who lives in the town.
Last year, the Federal citizenship Case Processing Centre, which offers support and protection for new Canadians in Alberta, was shutdown in Vegreville and moved to Edmonton. The closure left over 200 townsfolk jobless, spurring a community-wide fightback campaign called “Respect Vegreville.”
Century Park staff know firsthand the suffering these layoffs caused. They’re not prepared to let their neighbours go through this again and are planning a rally next week:
Monday, Oct. 7
At Century Park
4613 50 ST
Media and the public are invited to attend.
“Staff and residents at Century Park are each other’s second-family,” Malo adds.
“These hardworking employees are the faces dementia patients see daily; a constant source of support for the chronically ill; and a friend of the disabled. They make Vegreville home for some of Alberta’s most marginalized people. And now they’re being pushed out by this faceless company – the irony is unsettling,” said AUPE Vice-President Rod Feland.
Century Park opened in 2006 as an extension of Vegreville’s long-term care (LTC) centre. Built largely on volunteer hours and donations from four Vegreville families, the facility was publicly run and operated by East Central Health, one of Alberta’s then health authorities, until 2008.
Then it was sold to the first of three private operators who would oversee operations. In 2017, Optima Living bought Century Park, and like the two private companies before them, worked from behind closed doors, prioritizing profit over the wellbeing of residents and staff.
“The one place you could still see the sense of community that made Century Park possible, was on the frontlines,” adds Feland. “Now Optima Living wants to wipe that away. It’s shameful.”
Private, health-care contractors like the one Optima Living has hired, are notorious for paying workers low wages, taking advantage of vulnerable workers, and prioritizing part-time and casual positions over more stable full-time ones, all of which can lead to higher turnover and a more unstable home for continuing-care residents.
“The only people Optima’s decision will serve are Optima bosses and their shareholders, and the top
dogs at Pro Vita, who are looking to widen their profit margins,” said Feland.
Meanwhile Century Park staff and residents face an uncertain future.
“Fifty-three jobs means a heck of a lot to our community of just over 5,000, where health-care positions are limited and every one relies on each other’s incomes to prop up local business,” said Malo. “My neighbours might have nowhere else to turn for work except outside Vegreville, a place many of them have called home their whole lives.”
When the Case Processing Centre closed in 2018, at least 105 of the Vegreville staff members relocated.
AUPE Vice-President Feland warns that this type of displacement in small-town Alberta is only going to increase as the new provincial government fulfills its mandate to expand privatization in health-care and leave vacant positions empty as public-sector staff retire or leave their jobs.
However, he has confidence in the Century Park members and their town.
“Vegreville might be a small community, but it’s a strong one. They have people power and union power, and that goes a long way.”
For more information:
Celia Shea, AUPE communications officer, 780-720-8122



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