Hundreds of public sector workers protest post-secondary layoffs

Shortly after the contentious Bill 22 passed final reading, hundreds of public sector workers gathered at the University of Calgary to protest job cuts, pension changes and what supporters called "vicious cuts" to post-secondary education.

Union leaders say strikes are possible pending next steps taken by government

Hundreds of people circled the grounds of University of Calgary on Thursday, protesting cuts made as part of the provincial budget. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Shortly after the contentious Bill 22 passed final reading on Thursday, hundreds of public sector workers gathered at the University of Calgary to protest job cuts, pension changes and what supporters called "vicious cuts" to post-secondary education.

"I say to you, be proud, be vigilant, be loud," said Justin Huseby, chair of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) Local 52, using a loudspeaker Thursday afternoon. "Your education, your research, your pensions, your bargaining rights, your human rights — they are all under siege at the moment."

The 2019 budget provided $5.1 billion for advanced education operations, a five-per-cent cut over the previous year. Those cuts led to the University of Calgary to slash 250 jobs, 150 of which will be layoffs.

"Our goal over the next four years is to adjust the way we deliver education in this province, to reduce the funding requirement of government," Finance Minister Travis Toews said last month.

The university has said there will be two rounds of layoffs, the first at the end of November, and the second early next year.

Though Thursday's protests specifically focused on job losses, many of those gathered voiced their concerns with a broader strategy employed by the provincial government.

Possible strike

AUPE president Guy Smith said the gathering should serve as a warning that public employees are prepared to go the distance if things don't change.

"We're here to tell Jason Kenney, 'hey, you lied to us, because you said you weren't going to touch front-line services,'" he said.

"Well, here we have an example where hundreds of front-line positions are being cut. So I don't know what else we can expect from this government. They've been arrogant, aggressive, and they've lied to us.

"I think all Albertans should start getting concerned by that."

AUPE president Guy Smith said the organization was preparing its members for rounds of collective bargaining at the University of Calgary next year, which could translate into strike action. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Smith called that move a "last resort" but said the union may have no choice.

"We expect more hits to be coming.… I can tell you, hearing from members across the province, they're angry, and they want to vent that anger," he said.

Though the picket signs were put away at the conclusion of Thursday's rally, it is one of many upcoming in the province for the public sector.

"I promise you, I will not stop fighting, but I cannot do it alone," Huseby said to the crowd. "AUPE can't do it alone, students can't do it alone. Other sectors, including health care … can't do it alone. We need to do it together."

With files from Terri Trembath


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