Barrhead—About 25 to 30 healthcare workers and educators held up signs and chanted slogans in support of public health care and education in front of the Barrhead Healthcare Centre on Jan. 22.
The demonstration took place just as many people were heading home from work, prompting many passing vehicles to honk their horns in solidarity (or perhaps in opposition).
The protest was attended by members of three local unions belonging to the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), along with friends and family members.
Nancy Arlinghaus, president of the local Health Sciences Union, said it was an information rally intended to inform the public about three main issues.
First off, the demonstrators wanted to stress to the public that they support public health care and public education.
Secondly, they are in opposition to the United Conservative Party’s plan to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and take control of public sector employees’ pension plans.
Third, they wanted to stress to the public that they oppose the privatization of emergency medical services (EMS), laundry services or other aspects of the public health care/education sectors.
Arlinghuas noted that the HSAA — which represents thousands of paramedics, lab technicians, X-ray technicians and medical records — is in the midst of negotiating with the province, as their contract includes a wage re-opener provision in the third year.
Notably, the UCP delayed wage reopener arbitration hearings until after Oct. 31 through the passage Bill 9, the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act.
The province said the purpose of Bill 9 was to give the government more time to fully understand Alberta’s economic situation and consider advice from the “Blue Ribbon” Panel. However, public unions and the NDP claimed the province was using Bill 9 to breach collective agreements.
“(Premier Jason Kenney) broke the law by postponing negotiations for the third year of the contract. He postponed it all to October until after the budget, so that he could go to the arbitrators and say ‘Look at our economy, look at how we’re doing,’” she said.
Even when they finish negotiating the wage re-opener, new contract talks will occur after their contract expires on April 1, said Arlinghaus.
However, this isn’t about money, despite what many older (and some younger) folks in Barrhead might think.
Karen Taylor, another HSAA member who was protesting alongside Arlinghaus, also stressed this demonstration was about fighting the privatization of the public health care system.
“People don’t understand that right now they can get everything they need by just walking into a doctor’s office. That’s going to change dramatically (with privatization),” Taylor said.
She noted that private-for-profit health care providers can open clinics wherever they want, but they can also shut them down where they want, and they leech workers off the public health care system.
“Once they have eroded public health care to the place where it’s no longer viable, we become dependent on private-for-profit to do as they will,” she said. “Joe Q. Public doesn’t get that.”
She noted she had been in this situation before when the Progressive Conservatives examined privatizing lab services.
Cuts in funding and dismantling of service are alarming, but if Albertans lose public health care, those fights mean nothing, she said.
As mentioned earlier, the demonstration also involved local educators. One of the protestors was Michelle Savoie, president of Pembina Hills Local 22, which is part of the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA).
Savoie said educators have very similar issues as health care workers, and they want to encourage the government to make good decisions for public education.
One issue she mentioned was the province’s decision to suspend reporting on the Class Size Initiative, which was aimed at keeping class sizes within targets identified by the Alberta Commission on Learning (ACOL).
“It makes me wonder how we’re going to keep monitor that, unless districts step up on their own,” she said.