AHS proposes wage freeze for general support workers

This follows wage freezes in two of the previous three years.

In an update posted to their website over the weekend, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees reported that during bargaining sessions last week, Alberta Health Services proposed that general support services workers accept 0% wage increases for 4 years.

General support services workers provide support of varying kinds throughout AHS. For example, they include food services, housekeeping, administrative support, specialized cleaning, clerking, laundry, and even refrigeration mechanics.

GSS workers within the AHS system have been without a collective agreement since their previous one expired on 31 March 2020.

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As a result of taking over 2 years to years to bargain—partially due to pandemic-related delays—two of the four years of proposed wage freezes would be retroactive: 2020 and 2021.

If ratified, this proposal would be in effect—despite being a four-year agreement—until only 2024, which means bargaining for the next agreement would probably begin some time next year.

According to AUPE, the proposal from AHS for GSS workers to accept four straight years of 0% wage increases—even during inflation levels the province hasn’t seen in decades—was presented by AHS “in exchange for employment security”.

In other words, if GSS workers don’t accept these wage freezes, AHS threatens to start laying off workers. Granted, there’s no guarantee that there still won’t be layoffs. After all, AHS already sold off laundry facilities.

Even so, that “employment security” means that if they do lay off GSS workers, they will still keep them “whole”. That means that AHS will simply move them somewhere else in the system, even if it’s in a position with completely different skill requirements, different hours, and a different location.

Having to work a graveyard shift in a different city is stretching the definition of “employment security”.

The wage freezes are actually a movement up for AHS, who originally proposed wage rollbacks. Last summer, AHS told AUPE bargaining reps that they wanted GSS workers to take a 4% wage rollback in the first year and 0% increases the next 3 years.

Under their most recent collective agreement, GSS workers were given two years of wage freezes under the NDP, with the option to come together for a wage reponer in 2019. The reopener went to arbitration, which ruled that GSS workers be awarded a 1% increase in 2019.

That means, if the AHS proposal is accepted, GSS workers will have received only a 1% increase over a period of 7 years.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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