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Alberta's front-line health-care workers shouldn't have to rely on the grace of their employers to make ends meet

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Image: Senior Guidance/Flickr

In the midst of Alberta's continuing-care crisis, which has put immense pressures on front-line health-care staff and led to the majority of COVID deaths in the province, a small handful of private-care operators are stepping up to the plate -- kind of.

They're the exception: employers going above the wage top-ups Premier Jason Kenney has promised to the essential workers holding the province together by a thread during this unprecedented public health emergency. 

Granted, by providing only bare minimum assistance -- the $2 per hour health-care aide bump -- the UCP hasn't set the bar high. But hey, if millionaires and well established private organizations can't afford to pay their dues, who can?

Included in the list of sites where Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) members work are:

  • Millrise Place, owned by Retirement Concepts:  Signed a letter of understanding (LOU) with a $4.50 per hour top-up for all staff retroactive to April 15. For HCAs this includes the provincial $2 hour top-up.

  • Grace Manor, owned by the Salvation Army: Signed a letter of understanding (LOU) with a $3 per hour top-up for all regular, non-overtime hours worked by all staff between April 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020 with the potential for extension. 

  • Seasons sites: Signed a "thank you bonus" letter of agreement with a bi-weekly compensation top-up equivalent to 20 per cent of staff's regular bi-weekly wages.

The most noteworthy thing about these charitable responses to the pandemic is that they recognize all staff, compensating the whole team -- health-care aides (HCA), LPNs, cooks, recreational aides, housekeepers and more -- for the extra (and riskier!) work they're taking on at this time. 

What these offers sadly mask is that the charity is the culprit -- the cause of its beneficiary's misfortunes.

For many of these staff, specifically those working at the for-profit sites listed above, these bonuses their bosses are coughing up aren't really bonuses. They're the wages staff were already owed. They're the rates they would need to bring their current salaries in-line with the public sector:





Housekeeping/enironmental services

Alberta Health Services (public rate)















(These represent the top rates on the wage grids, or the maximum hourly earnings a senior employee would make.)

The thing about goodwill is it's always welcome, but it's unreliable. And employees aren't donation drop boxes. They're employees.

Working Albertans shouldn't have to wait for a global crisis, and the consequent grace of their employers, to makes ends meet.

Four dollars and 50 cents, or two dollars, or a 20 per cent wage bump: These mean the world to a health-care employee who's earning minimum, and may have even lost a second, crucial job to the provincial government's single-site order or another pandemic-related shutdown.

For companies like Retirement Concepts, which is owned by a giant holding firm with a history of throwing down millions on assets, four dollars fifty cents, two dollars, a 20 per cent wage bump for staff: these are a drop in the bucket.

It's no coincidence Retirement Concepts was the same company that failed to contain a COVID outbreak at the Millrise supportive living centre that got so out of hand another employer had to step in and take the reins.

When it comes to private for-profit health-care, the richest of the rich can afford to make mistakes, because they can always buy their way out of a liability. However, if they were blocked from making that money off the backs of low-paid workers and vulnerable Albertans in the first place, there would be fewer "mistakes."

There would be more robust staffing. Better supplies of personal protective equipment. More space for proper isolation during outbreaks. There would be more flexibility in sick leave. There would be lower turnover rates.

And there would be no need for charity.

Bonnie Gostola is a health-care aide (HCA) and vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). She joined the union when it merged with the Canadian Health Care Guild in 1999. Shortly after, Gostola walked her first picket line. Ever since she's been proudly championing worker-led direct action, standing with her fellow members to fight workplace injustices in all sectors and building solidarity across the province.

Image: Senior Guidance/Flickr

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