Nurses want respect heading into bargaining

United Nurses of Alberta just held their annual general meeting, and they made it clear that they want the government to be serious in contract negotiations next year.

The Alberta Nurses of Alberta held their annual general meeting last week, and the message from ANA president, Heather Smith, was clear: nurses want respect.

As of 31 March 2024, the current contract for over 30,000 nurses employed by Alberta Health Services will expire. Even though it was a 4-year contract, it wasn’t ratified until January of last year, nearly two years after the previous one expired.

Other contracts UNA has with healthcare providers throughout the province (such as Covenant Health and Capital Care) are also set to expire at the end of next March.

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Ahead of negotiations, which Smith expects will begin in the new year, the UNA wants the Alberta government to recognize that solving the province’s nurse shortage will “require treating nurses and other health care workers with respect.”

While speaking to nearly 1,000 attendees (including registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, staff, and observers) at the UNA annual general meeting, Smith warned that “you can’t recruit and retain nurses—which the government admits it needs to do, and says it wants to do—without treating nurses with respect, and to be blunt, that’s going to cost money.”

According to Smith, UNA members have proposed twice as many changes to the next contract than they did in 2019, ahead of bargaining on the current contract in 2019.

She said that nurses in Alberta are worried about professional responsibilities and health and safety, both of which have seen a high number of reports filed by UNA members, adding that nurses are “desperate . . . to help protect their patients and ensure the safety of the facilities in which they work.”

In the current contract, the UNA had negotiated a 4.25% wage increase over 4 years. While that was better than the contract they got under the NDP, it came short of allowing pay for nurses to keep up with inflation last year, never mind all 4 years of the contract.

In March 2016, the last time UNA members received a wage prior to the current contract, Alberta’s consumer price index was 135.0. In March of this year, it sat at 161.7, an increase of 19.78%.

During that same period, wages increased only 2.25%. That means that these nurses have received a reduction in real wages of 17.53%.

In other words, for every $100 they spent in March 2016, they can now afford only to spend $82.47.

And that’s not including inflation, which is sitting at 3.7%, as of last month, or the 2% raise for the final year of the contract.

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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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