One day after nurses rejected a government offer to delay contract negotiations, a union representing 41,000 health-care workers and support staff followed suit.
On Friday, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees nixed a proposal from Alberta Health Services to postpone labour talks until June 30. The union represents nursing workers and support staff, including licensed practical nurses, health care aides, security guards, cleaning staff, food service and laundry workers.
The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) rejected a similar offer to postpone bargaining a day earlier.
On Saturday, Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews said the delay would have allowed health officials to concentrate on managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In order to ensure all resources were focused on the pandemic response, AHS offered an additional bargaining extension, which would have provided continued job security, isolation pay, additional paid leave and other benefits for its health care employees,” Toews said in a statement.
“It’s disappointing to see that AUPE has turned down the COVID supports and protections for its members and is instead wanting AHS to shift its focus away from the pandemic and to their labour demands.”
AUPE President Guy Smith fired back, accusing Toews of suggesting COVID-19 protections and supports are “contingent on what he would like to see happen at the bargaining table.”
“Minister Toews and his government should do the right thing and protect the workers who are helping Albertans get through this pandemic, instead of holding COVID protections and supports hostage as a bargaining chip,” Smith said in a news release.
The negotiations affect more than 41,000 AHS employees represented by ten AUPE locals. They include 26,900 AUPE members working in AHS general support services and 14,800 in nursing care.
Both groups’ contracts expired at the end of March 2020. During the early days of the pandemic, AHS and AUPE agreed to delay talks for 12 months.
Heather Smith, president of the UNA, suggested on Friday public officials might have suggested a delay because they “have more rollbacks that they want to bring to the table and they don’t want that out there during the pandemic.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all adult Albertans will be offered at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June.
Toews said Friday that he hoped other unions would not follow the UNA’s lead and reject bargaining extensions. He thanked the workers for their efforts and said the government remains focused on the rollout of the vaccination program.
—with files from Lisa Johnson