People of Vegreville, Alberta Stand with Workers at Century Park
More than 100 people took part in a militant picket at the Century Park supportive living home in Vegreville, Alberta on October 7 to demand that the private operator cease and desist from its attacks on the rights of workers and residents. Vegreville is a town of about 6,000 located about 100 km east of Edmonton.
The private operator Optima Living is contracting out the work of Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), health care aides (HCAs) and cooks to a second private BC company. The company noted in the layoff notices that this would give a “greater return to our shareholders.” The 53 workers at Century Park are represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). They were issued layoff notices in early September, while negotiations were taking place for a new collective agreement. AUPE will challenge the company’s action at the labour board as constituting an illegal layoff.
Funding for supportive living facilities comes from accommodation fees charged to seniors and public funding, the portion of the wealth created by working people which is claimed by governments. The current levels of funding and staffing for seniors’ care are a scandal and a great concern to Albertans as well as people across Canada. Cutting the level of care and the wages and working conditions of staff to serve private interests is a form of corruption and should be illegal. But the Alberta government has made it clear that they are all for it, saying the workers should find other jobs or “retrain for the trades.”
The workers and townspeople point out that the town worked hard to get a supportive living facility in Vegreville, and people are not going to stand by while the care standards, wages and working conditions are driven down to benefit private interests. They point out that Century Park used to be publicly owned, and was built in part by the Vegreville community. Since 2008 it has been passed through the hands of three private operators, a situation which AUPE points out is quite common in rural Alberta.
Through their resistance, the workers at Century Park and their community are putting forward a modern and humane vision of seniors’ care. Why are private operators increasingly put in charge of looking after our neighbours, friends and family across the province, AUPE asks.
The United Conservative government very arrogantly thinks it has rural Alberta in its pocket and can declare it has a mandate to do whatever it wishes. But people are not buying it. Renewal Update spoke to community members on the picket line who explained how care has deteriorated as private operators siphon off more and more of already inadequate funding. They say their community has a right to a say in how the seniors in their communities are cared for. Workers are affirming their right to the conditions needed to provide modern and humane care to those who worked hard all their lives and have a right to dignity in retirement. They are speaking up their own name and refusing to accept the mantra from government that there is no money, and no alternative to handing the care of seniors over to those whose only motive is to line their own pockets.