After more than a year and a half of bargaining, members of United Nurses of Alberta Local 417 employed by the Devonshire Care Centre in South Edmonton gave legal notice to commence strike action at 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31. The 15 Registered Nurses employed by the private, for-profit care centre gave an overwhelming mandate for a strike in a vote supervised by the Alberta Labour Relations Board on Dec. 14, but waited until after Christmas as a good faith gesture for the benefit of residents and their families. In return for not giving strike notice until after Boxing Day, the nurses hoped their employer, B.C.-based Park Place Seniors Living, would make a similar gesture and return to the bargaining table early in the New Year with an amended offer in line with industry standards, said UNA President Heather Smith. The union was also prepared to submit the dispute to voluntary interest arbitration to reach a first collective agreement for the nurses, something the employer has so far refused to consider.
The employer’s bargaining position, unchanged from day 1, was that the RNs at Devonshire Care should accept compensation of as much as $9 per hour less than other public and private sector nurses in Alberta – including those at other facilities run by the same company. From the start of negotiations, Smith said, the employer appeared not to be interested in a settlement but in provoking a strike and a situation in which it could take advantage of Alberta’s weak labour laws – specifically the lack of a first-contract compulsory arbitration provision.
“Unlike seven of 10 Canadian provinces, Alberta does not have provisions that prevent employers from circumventing labour law by stalling refusing to allow a fair collective agreement to be reached [. . .] If Alberta had first-agreement binding arbitration, this employer most certainly would have signed an acceptable first agreement by now.”Heather Smith, President
Smith noted that the government has intervened in similar situations in the past and imposed compulsory arbitration when it appeared a strike would create political problems for the government. “These decisions should be made on the basis of sound labour relations practice and respect for working people, not merely political considerations,” she said, noting that the Devonshire Care Centre is located in the riding of the cabinet member responsible for labour relations in Alberta, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock.
Taking the difficult decision to strike illustrates the determination of the nurses at the private, for-profit care long-term care centre on Rabbit Hill Road to be treated in a way that recognizes their qualifications and professionalism, said Smith. Smith noted that Devonshire’s owners sent a threatening message to residents and their families implying that if these nurses were paid a fair salary, care for the residents would have to be cut back. Smith said, “This is quite simply not true.”
“This corporation is paid a subsidy by the taxpayers of Alberta to hire Registered Nurses, who are legally required on each shift in this type of facility. [. . .] It’s wrong for Park Place Seniors Living continues to resist paying the market rate for nursing professionals.”Heather Smith, President
Members of United Nurses of Alberta Local 417 employed by the Devonshire Care Centre in South Edmonton walked off the job at 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, to continue their long and difficult effort to be treated fairly by their employer. The 15 Registered Nurses – members of United Nurses of Alberta Local 417 – set up picket lines at the private, for-profit care centre located at 1808 Rabbit Hill Rd. in Edmonton. UNA President Heather Smith was at the picket line that afternoon, along with First Vice-President Bev Dick, Second VP Jane Sustrik and members of other unions including Alberta Union of Provincial Employees President Guy Smith.
After more than a year and a half of bargaining, and after waiting through Christmas as a good faith gesture for the benefit of residents and their families, the Local 417 members gave legal strike notice to their employer on Dec. 27. In return for not giving strike notice until after Boxing Day, the nurses hoped their employer would make a similar gesture and return to the bargaining table with an amended offer in line with industry standards, but the employer bargaining position remained unchanged, proposing the RNs at Devonshire Care should accept compensation of as much as $9 per hour less than other public and private sector nurses in Alberta – including those at other facilities run by the same company.
United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith explains why nurses at the Devonshire Care Centre in south Edmonton have chosen to strike. This video was recorded on January 4, 2013, while UNA held an information picket in front of Alberta Health Services headquarters in downtown Edmonton.