Short walkout still affects Calgary patients

After a day of wildcat striking by hospital support staff, an agreement has been made between Alberta Health Services and the workers’ union. The two groups have agreed to binding arbitration to begin next week, and the employees will be back to work within a number of hours, said Chris Mazurkewich, chief operating officer with the AHS during a teleconference held late this afternoon.

The strike, which affected approximately 20 Alberta hospitals, began at around 12 p.m. on Feb. 16 when many support workers walked out of numerous hospitals, including Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Centre and the Rockyview General Hospital in a wildcat strike protesting Alberta Health Services’ proposed contract to the workers.

The striking workers, members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, are responsible for general but vital tasks in the hospital such as managing records, cooking meals, cleaning instruments and rooms, and patient care, along with many other jobs.Support workers demonstrate outside of the Rockyview General Hospital.
Photo by: Steve Waldner

However, while the dispute was between Alberta Health Services and the union, the patients in the Alberta hospitals were the ones caught in the middle. Throughout Alberta, numerous surgeries and diagnostic procedures were cancelled Thursday due to the strike, Mazurkewich said. He said the Edmonton region was most affected; however, Calgarians still found themselves impacted.

Keri Coffey brought her mother in to the Rockyview General Hospital for a day surgery to repair a compression fracture in her spine, and said the strike directly affected her visit to the hospital.

“It’s a little upsetting,” Coffey said. “She had a long wait in the hallway waiting for a porter because everyone’s out on the street.

“Most people come into this line of work because they want to help, but to walk out on all those people they are trying to help is a contradiction in itself.”Ashley Dianocky (left), and Ashley Petersen, two striking workers, said they want more respect from the AHS.
Photo by: Steve Waldner

Lisa Oness, a graduate nurse who works at the Rockyview, said the missing support staff would have an immense effect, both on the hospital staff as well as the patients.

“It’s impossible to function without these people,” she said. “We rely on them for everything. If, as nurses, we aren’t overstaffed to meet these needs, it will definitely affect patient care.”

Dave Bellingham, one of the striking workers at the Rockyview, said the AHS doesn’t see how important the services support workers provide are. Bellingham, who has worked on the hospital’s transfer team for eight years, said the AHS needs to see just how vital the support staff in the hospital are, and to treat them differently than they do now.

“We have to be treated fairly,” Bellingham said. “Frozen wages and cutback wages? No. The employer can’t realize the value we give them.”

While the patients were the ones most directly affected, Bellingham said the strike was a necessary evil to evoke the change employees want to see. “I feel bad for the patients because I like helping them, but you’ve got to look after yourself sometimes,” he said.

“Patients would understand if they had the right information, not what (the AHS) is telling them. They can make up their own minds.”

swaldner@cjournal.ca