Workers and supporters gather outside Chinook hospital in Lethbridge to protest government cuts

In Lethbridge, around 100 healthcare workers joined in a province-wide wildcat strike Monday against the goverment's plan to eliminate up to 11,000 jobs during a pandemic

Members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) across the province walked off the job Monday morning to protest the government's plan to contract out about 11,000 laundry and lab positions, a move AUPE calls dangerous to Alberta’s health care system.

More than 100 nursing-care and support workers are participating in the wildcat strike at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. The union says workers at other hospitals across the province are also walking out. 

CTV News has also confirmed strikes at the University of Alberta Hospital, at the Foothills Hospital and the South Health Campus in Calgary and at Chinook Hospital in Lethbridge.

Health-care workers take to the streets: “Across this province, working people are rising up against Jason Kenney’s job-killing policies and are joining the fight in solidarity," says #AUPE president Guy Smith. #abhealth #ableg https://t.co/mNtAQ6OgPr pic.twitter.com/2xHpX79hjL

— AUPE (@_AUPE_) October 26, 2020

In Lethbridge, workers were joined by supporters to fight for their jobs and call out not only the decision, but the timing given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“These workers go in every day, day in and day out, and give it their all during this pandemic to do what they can for Albertans,” AUPE south region vice president Karen Weiers said. “Then the Minister of Health comes out and he announces job losses for 11,000 people during a pandemic.”

Around 100 people gathered outside of Chinook Regional Hospital at the peak of the demonstration, with supporters saying on top of job cuts they’re fighting against privatization of the healthcare system as well.

Weiers says that up to 40 sites saw walkouts and protests in the province Monday.

Workers say this may not be a one day walkout either, as they are committed to continue fighting to get the province to reverse course.

Locally, they believe the show of support from the community backs them up.

“As you can tell from people driving by the support that we have seen has been incredible from the people of Lethbridge here. So, we want to thank the people in the community because this isn’t just about the workers. It’s about their livelihoods, their families and the communities in which they live.”

'This is a wildcat strike'

In a written statement, Finance Minister Travis Toews referenced the record increases in health spending and said he expects unions to respect the bargaining process.

“Government’s primary concern is ensuring the health and wellbeing of patients, which has been put at risk this morning,” Toews said. “Those involved in this illegal action will be held accountable.”

AHS made an emergency application to the labour relations board Monday morning.

“Let’s be clear. This isn’t a strike action,” Alberta’s Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer said at a separate government announcement on Monday. “This is a wildcat strike and an unlawful step.”

AUPE has received messages of support from the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the United Nurses of Alberta, the Alberta Federation of Labour and Friends of Medicare.

On Oct. 13, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced a plan to cut as many as 11,000 jobs. Along with contracting out laundry and lab services, the changes are expected to save the province $600 million annually.

“Some of the most important people in the hospital is our cleaning staff,” said Suzanne White, working leader of Environmental Services at Calgary’s South Health Campus. “And [the government is] doing this when there’s a pandemic. It’s wrong.”

With files from CTV Edmonton