A group of nurses organized an information picket in St. Albert on Monday to raise awareness about the province’s proposed wage rollbacks.
United Nurses Local 85, which represents about 400 registered nurses who work at the Sturgeon Community Hospital, organized the event.
“We’re having an information picket today trying to raise awareness about the rollbacks that nurses are facing at the negotiation table,” said Orissa Shima on Monday. Shima is a registered nurse and the local UNA representative at the Sturgeon Community Hospital.
“Nurses have been here on the frontlines working this pandemic for the last 16 months, and we were pretty disheartened and disappointed to see the rollbacks put before us.
“Nurses have been more tired than anything, but these rollbacks have really raised the ire of nurses.”
Earlier this month, the union said employers like Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health are proposing a three per cent salary rollback as the provincial government aims to get its finances sorted.
The union, which represents more than 30,000 nurses in Alberta, said this is on top of other cutbacks like the elimination of semi-annual lump-sum payments as well as reduced shift and weekend premiums.
Shima said nurses’ faith in the provincial government “sure isn’t there.”
“What I’m hearing from my members is that it really is a gut punch or a slap in the face. Nurses feel let down by this government for sure.”
“We need to recruit and retain nurses and you’re not going to do that by telling us we’re worth less. We need to recognize that there’s a shortage. We need more nurses, not less, and we can’t afford to drive nurses out of the province,” Shima said.
“When you don’t have enough nurses, your care is impacted.”
On Friday, Alberta Health Services held a news conference Friday to respond to recent reports from frontline health workers of bed and department closures at several Alberta hospitals.
The Opposition NDP said there have been bed closures, cancelled surgeries or shuttered emergency rooms in communities across the province — including Edson, Grande Prairie, Rocky Mountain House, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, High Prairie, Slave Lake, Wainwright, Lacombe, Barrhead and Edmonton.
AHS said Friday the current spate of hospital bed closures is minimal, not unusual and isn’t affecting patient care.
Deb Gordon, the chief operating officer for AHS, said more than 98 per cent of beds in acute and emergency care are available provincewide.
Gordon said there are only two locations — Fort Vermilion and Elk Point — where emergency services have closed and forced patients to be diverted elsewhere at certain times.
Gordon said beds open and close routinely to respond to patient and staffing needs and that is common to every health system.
She added that COVID-19 has proven a challenge, noting staff worked harder and longer during the pandemic and may not always be available now for summer relief as in years past.
But she stressed it’s not affecting patients.
But the United Nurses of Alberta and the Opposition NDP say that data doesn’t match the reality on the ground.
“There are beds closing at the Sturgeon Hospital due to nursing shortages on one of our in-patient units,” Shima said. “That isn’t normal here.”
In a July 6 statement, Finance Minister Travis Toews commended the “invaluable role” nurses have played in the COVID-19 pandemic but noted Alberta needs to get its finances back on track.
“On average, Alberta nurses make 5.6 per cent more than in other comparator provinces. This costs Alberta approximately $141 million per year at a time when our finances are already stretched,” he said.
“The need to bring wages in line with other large provinces does not diminish our deep respect for the exceptional work and dedication of public sector workers.
“It is simply reflective of our fiscal reality and one that many sectors in the province have experienced.”
Premier Jason Kenney said July 12 that the province will reallocate saved dollars directly to patient care.
“Any dollar that we save in collection bargaining negotiations — or for that matter, in a new agreement with the medical association — 100 per cent of those savings would be kept in the health system to improve patient care.”
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