Public sector workers met across Calgary on Tuesday for three union events, vowing to fight back against budget cuts and proposed wage rollbacks announced by the province.
Mike Parker is president of Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health-care workers. He was one of dozens marching and waving flags at an information picket in front of Calgary’s South Health Campus at noon.
“It is far-reaching and far deeper than we have ever seen in this province. We are closing childrens’ mental health programs. We are closing addictions programs. We are attacking the most vulnerable people in this province,” Parker said.
“We are all Albertans in this. The last thing we need to do is burn down our health-care and public education systems.”
Cuts of the magnitude that Jason Kenney and the UCP are planning will take a weak economy that we have here in Alberta and knock it into recession.– Gil McGowan, AFL president
The United Conservative government said it wants wage rollbacks between two and five per cent for public employees and intends to reduce the workforce, largely through attrition.
It also introduced legislation last week that allows for replacement workers in the case of a union strike and for greater oversight of collective bargaining.
The United Nurses of Alberta have filed a complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board over the proposed wage rollbacks ahead of independent arbitration, arguing it’s bargaining in bad faith. The government previously said it would seek a wage freeze.
“This province has a revenue problem and until this government faces up to what the real solutions are they’re going to continue to pick on workers,” said Heather Smith, president of United Nurses of Alberta.
The picket on Tuesday is part of an ongoing campaign that includes the launch of a new website opposing cuts by the Jason Kenney government.
“The message we’re sending today is relatively simple,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
“Cuts of the magnitude that Jason Kenney and the UCP are planning will take a weak economy that we have here in Alberta and knock it into recession.”
The presidents of unions affiliated with the AFL, which represent a combined 180,000 workers, met in Calgary Saturday afternoon in advance of an evening town hall inviting Albertans to “join the resistance.”
McGowan said the goal is to encourage people to take a look at the government’s promises versus its policies.
Workers and concerned citizens filled the Engineered Air Theatre Saturday evening to hear that message.
Donna Hokiro, national president of the United Steelworkers Union Local 1944, said the private sector only does well with a robust public sector.
“When you take money out of the economy, more people suffer and poverty just escalates,” she said.