Nursing care workers push back on wage freezes

Nursing workers employed by Carewest have been without a contract for almost 2.5 years, and the employer is proposing 2 years of wage freezes, after 3 years of freezes in the last contract.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees held an information rally in Calgary yesterday in support of nursing care workers there.

The rally was held at Dr. Vernon Fanning Centre in northeast Calgary. The centre is operated by Carewest and provides programs and services for over 280 long-term care residents and rehabilitation clients.

It’s also the site of a recent unionization push by over 120 nursing care workers employed there.

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Carewest is the largest public care provider in Calgary and one of the largest in the country.

AUPE has been trying to negotiate a new contract with Carewest on behalf of workers employed with the company. AUPE workers at Carewest have been without a contract since their last one expired in June 2020, over 2 years ago.

However, those negotiations haven’t gone very well.

For example, the company initially proposed wage freezes in the first two years of the new contract, followed by a 1% increase this year (despite inflation hovering around 7%), and 1.25% next summer.

And that follows negotiated wage freezes in 2017 and 2018, an arbitrator-mandated wage freeze in 2019. In other words, Carewest wants their nursing staff to have no wage increases for 5 years straight.

Now, to be fair, they did propose a 1% one-time lump sum pandemic payment for 2021.

Since that initial proposal, however, Carewest has readjusted their offer by moving the 2021 wage freeze to 2024, the last year of the contract.

The company has also proposed that some workers work overtime without overtime pay, the ability to impose mandatory overtime on workers, the ability to impose mandatory changes to scheduled vacation time, limiting time off for medical appointments, and making it harder for workers to file grievances.

According to Bobby-Joe Borodey, vice-president of AUPE, they’re holding the rally because “our members have had enough of being treated with such disrespect by Carewest.”

Borodey went on to refer to Canwest’s desire to “squeeze our members” while Alberta braces “for another surge of demand on health care brought by the next wave of COVID-19 and the beginning of flu season”, as “madness”.

Attendees at the rally reported that there were roughly 50 people participating at any given time during the rally; although, participants came and went throughout the event, meaning there were more than 50 as a total.

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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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