The union that represents about 2,600 health-care workers in Manitoba held a rally at Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital Thursday to voice concerns about the potential for looming job cuts.
Along with several other unions, dozens of health-care aides, administration staff and other health-care workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers gathered in front of the main entrance of the hospital over the noon hour.
"These are the people that look after patients, and our big concern and why we're here rallying today is not just to protect our members, but because those members are the ones who provide patient care," said Jeff Traeger, president of UFCW local 832.
The union is concerned about the potential for job cuts and a reduction of its members' hours as part of efforts by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to reduce spending, following a directive from the Progressive Conservative government to trim costs.
The health authority has been told by the Manitoba government to cut spending by $83 million this year.
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The WRHA has said it plans to group patients of similar care needs together and will then staff those areas accordingly.
The authority said patient grouping will result in new staffing ratios, as well as changes to current staffing rotations and the location of work in various care units across the region.
"We continue to work through these changes with unions and would advise unions, and our staff, of these changes per our collective agreement prior to making any decisions public," said Karlee Blatz, WRHA's regional director of labour relations, in an email.
She said more details will be shared once staffing details are finalized.
'People didn't vote for this'
UFCW represents health workers at both St. Boniface and Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, as well as several workers throughout the northern part of the province.
The union said it has not been told what positions may be at risk or how many jobs could be affected, something Traeger said is causing a lot of stress for workers.
"I think the general feeling that's happening now amongst our members is that they're angry. They're angry that they're not getting answers from the government, they're not getting answers from their employer," said Traeger.
He said his members work in various roles throughout the health-care system, from administration at front desks to feeding patients.
"These are people that feed your family member when they can't feed themselves, these are people that clean them when they need to be cleaned, these are people that provide them with a bath when they can't do those kind of things themselves," said Traeger.
Traeger sees any possible cuts to these types of jobs as a direct cut to front-line services, something he says Premier Brian Pallister's government promised to protect.
"People didn't vote for this. The people that voted for the Pallister government, they were told that there wasn't going to be cuts to front-line services, and now every time we open the paper or we open our online mailbox, there's another cut," he said.
'Step in our shoes': hospital worker challenges Pallister
Nellie Minville, who works as a staff scheduling clerk at St. Boniface Hospital, says cutting jobs and hours from people who work directly with patients would ultimately affect patient care.
"I think that there can be other ways to save money. I don't think we necessarily have to do it [by] cutting staff and care for patients," said Minville.
"There may be some duplications of services but I think doing it this fast and without really putting thought into it is not the answer," she said.
Minville said not knowing if jobs will be lost, or hours and positions changed, has been stressful on workers.
"I'd like [Brian Pallister] to come step in our shoes for a day and see what it's like ... or be a patient here and see how he feels these cuts are going to affect him as a patient."