University of Alberta staff unions are joining ranks with health care workers in their ongoing fight against decisions proposed by the provincial government.
The U of A’s Association of Academic Staff (AASUA) and the Non-academic Staff Association (NASA) will both attend a rally in support of health care workers, November 5 from 12 to 1 p.m. The rally will take place at the U of A hospital, and will also be joined by other organizations like the Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA).
This rally follows a wildcat strike, a strike unauthorized by a worker’s union, that took place on October 26, where hundreds of health care workers across Alberta walked out in protest of the provincial government’s decision to outsource 11,000 health care jobs.
Elizabeth Johannson, the president of NASA, said that though the provincial government has claimed the outsourcing of jobs is a move in the direction of fiscal responsibility, she sees it as something that will only lower worker’s wages.
“It doesn’t really save the money that it’s being painted as saving,” she said. “When you have private companies performing these types of services, then a profit for those companies has to be built into the cost.”
The jobs to be outsourced include laboratory, linen, cleaning and in-patient food services — a decision that will likely affect women and new Canadians the most.
“We’re living through a global pandemic and the work that those folks are doing is absolutely integral to getting through the challenges that we’re trying to get through as a society in dealing with COVID-19,” Johannson said.
Supporting strike promotes “positive vision for the future,” says Johannson
Johannson believes it’s important that people across the province join together to send the premier of Alberta a message.
“NASA’s hope is that many people will speak up about how important those things are to them as well,” she said. “When NASA goes out to support workers in healthcare, we’re showing support for our positive vision of the future, and support for all of the things that our province needs to work towards building.”
Ricardo Acuna, the president of AASUA, commended the strikers for their action during a difficult time.
“We need to acknowledge that the healthcare worker’s wildcat strike was a really brave and important act,” he said. “Historically in Alberta — but especially with this particular government — it has been very difficult for unionized workers to express their discontent with what’s going on.”
He noted that those in post-secondary education are facing similar cuts, giving AASUA an additional reason to support the strike.
“At the U of A we’re facing a thousand layoffs,” he said. “We’re facing all of this at the hands of the provincial government that is working very hard to cut public services across the board. That requires us to stand in solidarity. We just can’t sit back when our fellow public sector workers stand up to fight back, we need to be there with them.”
Johannson also highlighted the parallels between the two sectors.
“I think that our premier is not providing the support that’s needed in a lot of different areas,” she said. “Health care is one of them, and so is education.”
“Cuts of this size and speed haven’t been seen in any university,” she said “Even if you believe that there is some fat to be trimmed, this is much more than trimming fat, this is cutting deeply into the marrow.”
Health care strike helps U of A staff build a “sense of what’s possible,” says Acuna
“These cuts to staff are also being imposed on students,” he said. “Tuition is skyrocketing and staff are getting cut back, leading to fewer student services. What happens when you’ve got way more students in your classes and, where you used to be able to deal with a human being, you’re now expected to deal with a web portal?”
Ultimately, Acuna hopes the health care worker’s action can inspire something similar for AASUA.
“I think that we need to see that there’s power in acting like a union,” he said. “There’s power in pushing back against proposed wage cuts and against layoffs.”
“Seeing how a group of health care workers can mobilize and make an impact and get people on their side, and actually successfully push back against the government is really important. I think it helps build our sense of what’s possible for us.”
A previous version of this article included the headline “U of A staff unions to attend strike in support of health care workers.” The headline was updated on 4 November at 1:30 p.m. as the event is not a strike but a rally. The Gateway regrets the error.