Ponoka Centennial Centre’s General Support Services (GSS) staff hit the picket line on Oct. 26, joining other health care workers across the province in strike action.
The GSS workers, members of the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), went on strike in protest of the United Conservation Party’s plan to privatize the work of 11,000 front line healthcare workers.
“We want to save our jobs,” said Len Icke, union steward and rural Ponoka resident.
At about 2 p.m., over a dozen works were at the north entrance of the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury at about, and another 30 or 40 were gathered at the south entrance. They had been out since 11 a.m.
Icke says the workers were on a ‘wildcat’ strike, meaning the time is all unpaid. He expected a back-to-work order to be handed down from the labour board at any time.
According to Icke, only Centennial Centre workers went on strike, and there was no work stoppage at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre.
“Anger has been building among members for months,” said Guy Smith, president of AUPE in a news release.
“The recent announcement by Health Minister Tyler Shandro of 11,000 jobs being cut in the middle of a global deadly pandemic was the last straw for them.”
“Alberta Health Services (AHS) is responding quickly to illegal strike action by AUPE staff at various sites across the province,” said AHS in a news release.
“We are doing all we can to address any interruptions to patient care caused by this illegal job action. Our focus is on ensuring patients continue to receive the care and treatment they need.”
AHS says it will deploy non-union staff to cover missing staff and will try to mitigate patient care interruptions.
“We have reached out to staff to ask them to return to work and end the illegal strike. AHS has made an application to the Labour Relations Board today to formally ask the board to direct the affected employees back to work.”
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley also responded.
“Jason Kenney’s proposal … in the middle of a pandemic will absolutely result in poorer quality healthcare for Albertans,” said Notley.
“His suggestion that this can be done without compromising care defies common sense. For the sake of Alberta patients and the people who care about them, this reckless plan must stop.”