Saturday, March 13, 2010

There was once a bumper sticker current in Alberta that read (more or less) 'Oh Lord Grant Us another Boom And We Promise Not To Bugger It Away Again'. Well...this sticker was current before the most recent boom, and, of course, it was buggered away once again. In a last ditch effort the Alberta government tried to apply higher royalty rates on the oil industry just as the financial crisis was breaking. To say the least this didn't lead to increased government revenue, though how much was because of royalty rates and how much was because of the economic downturn may be a matter of eternal dispute. The hike in rates didn't work, and now Alberta has gone from flush to bust, and they have to live with the deficits that other provinces in Canada have had to endure for decades. In an attempt to recover financial probity the Conservative government of Alberta resorts to the usual mechanism of all conservative governments ie "make the working class pay". One recent victim of this strategy is the nurses of Alberta. Here's a story from the Edmonton Sun about what the Alberta government wants and what the nurses of Alberta think of it.
Nurses reeling from proposed rollbacks
Alberta nurses say morale has flat-lined after a tough opening salvo in contract negotiations with the province’s health board.

United Nurses Association president Heather Smith said while union negotiators had anticipated some rollbacks as talks began Monday, there was no way to anticipate the magnitude of proposed cuts that she said marks the most significant contract surgery she has seen in 25 years.

“This is an out of the blue punch in the gut,” she said Tuesday. “For whatever reason, Alberta Health Services wanted to be provocative and some would say insulting.”

The union, which represents 24,000 registered nurses, will see its contract expire at the end of March.

Smith said AHS has proposed rollbacks in all but 10 of 44 negotiating areas including: reducing time off between shifts from 15.5 to 10 hours, elimination of the requirement to have a nurse in charge of every unit, allowing casual workers to be terminated without cause, as well as trimming RRSPS, vision care, and long-term service retention payments.

Smith said it’s too early to consider the possibility of strike action with a second round of talks scheduled to begin March 17, but she noted miffed nurses will be mulling their options.

“If Alberta Health Services isn’t prepared to negotiate an agreement, the membership will have to decide what it’s prepared to do,” she said.

Ken Hughes, chairman of the Alberta Health Services board, refused to comment on the negotiations but told an Edmonton Chamber of Commerce luncheon that AHS will follow a number of “guiding principles” in talks. ( The dog speaks to its master- Molly )

The UNA has asked for a two-year deal with a 4% raise in each year while AHS’s four-year proposal calls for two years of no pay increases followed by two more cost of living raises.

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