Calgary

Union workers ready for 'winter of resistance' against Alberta government

Roughly 200 public sector workers braved freezing weather Wednesday to rally in front of City Hall for a second straight day of protest in Calgary against provincial government budget cuts.

2nd straight day of Calgary rallies is just the beginning, say nurses and city workers

Public sector workers rallied for a second straight day of protest in Calgary on Wednesday. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Roughly 200 public sector workers braved freezing weather Wednesday to rally in front of City Hall for a second straight day of protest in Calgary against provincial government budget cuts.

Rory Gill, president of CUPE Alberta, said he and the union's more than 36,000 members are gearing up for what he described as a "winter of resistance."

"The budget that was tabled on Oct. 24 was the most destructive we've seen, I believe, in Alberta history," Gill said.

"It attacks the very core of public services and the relationship of the citizenry with their government."

Gill said the government has broken two major promises: to protect front-line services and respect city charters.

In September, Premier Jason Kenney said the scope of cuts in the budget would be "limited" and would not impact front-line services like health and education.

The budget called for wage rollbacks for public employees and declared pension funds for teachers and nurses will now be managed by a Crown corporation. 

The UCP platform also pledged to maintain promised funding for municipalities and continue the multi-year agreement in the city charters for Edmonton and Calgary. Instead, the municipal sustainability initiative is being reduced by $94 million in 2020-21, and the city charters will be repealed.

The province has said budget decisions are about reducing spending and deficits and balancing Alberta's books.

Grace MacLean, a nurse at Rockyview General Hospital, said she's worried how the province's decisions will directly impact the level of care she's able to provide — and her ability to provide for her own family.

This is my first rally I've been to and it won't be the last.- Tanna Seaward, nurse

"I'm here to advocate for my patients that are going to be impacted by these cuts," she said. "How am I supposed to take care of my own family when I feel I can't take care of the patients?"

Another registered nurse, Tanna Seaward, said there's talk of staff and wages being cut back, just as their scope of practice is set to increase.

"This is my first rally I've been to and it won't be the last … I think I'm going to go back to work tonight and spread the word."

Grace MacLean, a nurse and vice-president of Rockyview Hospital Local 121, says the government's decisions will impact the level of care she's able to provide. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Kim Jaedicke, vice-president of CUPE Local 38, which represents indoor workers at the City of Calgary, said she's set to retire in a couple of months and now fears her pension is at risk.

"It appears that we have to keep fighting our government to give us what we've earned."

On Tuesday, unions staged an information picket outside the South Calgary Health Campus, promoted the launch of a new website encouraging workers to fight back and held an evening town hall.

Gill said he hasn't seen this level of solidarity since the 1990s, when then premier Ralph Klein made such massive cuts to the public sector that impacts are still being felt in the province today.

"It's not about balancing the books, it's about transforming our society … it's the first salvo in what I think — and I don't use the word lightly — a war on the idea of what it is to be a Canadian, to be an Albertan, and we are standing up and saying no, we want to resist this," he said.

With files from Dave Gilson

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