Alberta nurses reject AHS proposal to delay negotiations during COVID-19

“Right now, Alberta’s government is focused on what matters most – the rollout of our vaccination program and continued response to the pandemic.”

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Alberta’s largest nurses union has rejected a proposal from the provincial health authority to delay bargaining until June.

Heather Smith, United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) president, said Friday the union’s more than 30,000 members want to know where they stand on a new provincial collective agreement, and that Alberta Health Services (AHS) is capable of returning to the virtual bargaining table.

“They want to continue to put off bargaining, using the reasoning of COVID-19, but the reality is that lots of negotiations have gone on and Zoom is a very effective way of meeting and talking,” said Smith. Alberta doctors announced a tentative deal with the government over compensation in late February, pending a vote from Alberta Medical Association members.

“Maybe it’s because they do have more rollbacks that they want to bring to the table and they don’t want that out there during the pandemic,” said Smith, who added that understaffing is an urgent concern.

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Finance Minister Travis Toews issued a statement Thursday evening saying he hoped the refusal did not encourage other unions representing health care workers to follow suit.

“Right now, Alberta’s government is focused on what matters most – the rollout of our vaccination program and continued response to the pandemic. We’re starting to make headway in this battle with COVID-19 and I’m hopeful that other unions at AHS do not follow the lead of UNA and will agree to delay negotiations that puts the health of Albertans first,” said Toews.

Toews thanked front-line health care workers for their service throughout the pandemic but said he was disappointed in the UNA’s refusal to delay talks.

In a Thursday statement posted on its website, the UNA said its negotiations committee has asked AHS to propose some dates in April and May for negotiations.

“UNA looks forward to resuming discussions with the employer in order to achieve labour peace, stabilize the Alberta workforce, and focus on responding to the pandemic,” the UNA statement said.

The rejection comes after both parties agreed in January to delay negotiations over the agreement until March 31. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said the government expects every adult Albertan to have been offered their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June.

In October and in November, the UNA similarly rejected AHS proposals to delay contract negotiations, saying the government would not agree to cease rollbacks nor commit to cutting any positions through attrition during COVID-19. Toews said at the time that the UNA was asking for a seven per cent pay increase.

The latest proposal from AHS included a four-year wage freeze, reductions in overtime rates and decreases to night hour premiums, according to the UNA.

…More to come

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