Kenney government axes Northern Living Allowance

Letter to Keyano College staff confirms government isn’t coughing up

WOOD BUFFALO – Keyano College is proceeding with cuts to the Northern Living Allowance to employees after failing to receive confirmation that the Alberta government will fund it beyond June 2020.

A letter from the college to employees confirms that the monthly allowance of $1,040 per person will be taken off the pay packages of employees in July.  Keyano employees are the second group after childcare workers to lose the monthly benefit since the Kenney government was elected.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill said he was worried other Fort McMurray residents would soon lose the benefit.

“First it was childcare workers, then Keyano employees, I’m worried municipal workers, healthcare workers, firefighters and others will lose it next,” said Gill.

“Jason Kenney promised to support oil and gas communities,” said Gill. “By defunding the allowance, after everything Fort McMurray has been through, is a slap in the face to a city that is still struggling.”

Started during boom times, the allowance assisted Wood Buffalo residents with the high cost of living. Gill said that the allowance now serves a different purpose.

“With the fire, the economic downturn, the crash in oil prices, and the COVID-19 crisis, Fort McMurray residents need help more than ever,” said Gill.

“The living allowance is a lifeline. Don’t cut it.


Pension update

There is a lot of concern among CUPE members who belong to the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP) regarding news stories about losses in Alberta public sector pension plans.

CUPE Alberta will have more to say in the coming days about this story, but for now here is the official response from the LAPP itself.

Many laid off education staff won’t be back in September

Union calls on Kenney government to restore services to students

EDMONTON – As school districts across Alberta begin letting go of support staff, their union says that because of cutbacks by the Kenney government, many staff will not return in the fall.

“When students return to school in September, there will be fewer staff dealing with more kids,” said CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill. “Special needs kids will have to make do with less support as they re-adjust to in class learning.”

Gill said promises to bring back laid off workers after the pandemic “are false and misleading.” Gill noted that because of cuts in the March budget, most districts are not going to be able to bring back staff.

“Today, Edmonton Public Schools will lay off over 2,100 support staff,” said Gill. “But we know that district has to cut $90 million from its funding in September. “Depending on a few variables, between 600-800 support staff will not return.”

“When Jason Kenney and Adriana LaGrange say the layoffs are temporary and due to COVID, they are lying. Again.”

Gill said that over 7,500 school support staff have been given notice of layoff with many districts still to announce their numbers. Most layoffs will happen on May 1st. Another 6,000 substitute teachers will also be dismissed.

“The damage this is doing to the current generation of students cannot be calculated,” said Gill. “One year ago, Jason Kenney promised he wouldn’t cut education. But instead he’s picking on the youngest and most vulnerable of our population to pay for his $4.7 billion tax cut to profitable corporations.”



Kenney government cuts northern living allowance

FORT MCMURRAY – Provincial funding cuts are forcing Keyano College to cancel the northern living allowance of over $1,000 per month to its staff.

At a meeting this evening, Keyano College board members reported that the Alberta government has still not funded the Northern Allowance for 2019-20, nor have they committed to funding it for the fiscal year that started on April 1, 2020. Because of the lack of commitment from the Kenney government, the board cannot offer the allowance to employees. Board members discussed but did not approve actions to address the cut.

Similar cuts were made last month to childcare workers in the city.

About 140 Keyano College employees belong to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill called on the Alberta government to reverse the decision.

“Jason Kenney promised to support oil and gas communities,” said Gill. “By defunding the allowance, after everything Fort McMurray has been through, it is clear Kenney’s commitment was a lie.”

Started during boom times, the allowance assisted Wood Buffalo residents with the high cost of living. Gill said that the allowance now serves a different purpose.

“With the fire, the economic downturn, the crash in oil prices, and the COVID crisis, Fort McMurray residents need help more than ever,” said Gill.

Gill says he expects other city residents will soon lose their access to the allowance.

“The living allowance is a lifeline. Don’t cut it.”

CUPE calls for more COVID-19 protection at nursing homes

CALGARY – One fifth of the staff at McKenzie Town Care Centre have tested positive for COVID-19, a situation that has their union calling for big changes to the way the province handles staffing in the long-term care sector.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill wrote to Health Minister Tyler Shandro suggesting detailed measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Gill’s letter said current rules allowing workers to move from facility to facility, while still leaving most seniors’ facilities dangerously short staffed, were not sufficient.

“The absence of a fifth of the employees is life-threatening for residents,” wrote Gill.  “Normal guidelines concerning nutrition, hygiene, and recreation cannot be implemented if there is no staff to do it, let alone COVID-specific protocols for isolation and deep-cleaning.”

Gill called on the Kenney government to implement a province wide staffing strategy for nursing facilities. Among the most needed reforms is an end to the practice of staff working at more than one facility at a time.

“According to preliminary survey data, 37% of long-term care workers work in more than one site,” said Gill. “This mobility is creating a very dangerous situation.”

“Your government should create the conditions for a quick and coordinated response that ensures that workers are not penalized,” wrote Gill.

Gill said some individual facilities are preventing staff from working elsewhere, but that without provincial co-ordination, the efforts will likely fall short or fail completely. And unless wages are increased, short staffing will continue to be a problem during the crisis.

“We are in this mess because of low wages and poor working conditions,” said Gill. “A successful strategy to get out of it requires a wage subsidy to increase and level wages across the sector.”

CUPE wants changes similar to those enacted in British Columbia, requiring a re-structuration of staffing practices and a rapid reorganization of the workforce. “These goals need to be accomplished without punishing health-care workers in the front-lines.”

Health care centers need single employer rules

In the wake of the COVID 19 crisis, a union representing auxiliary nursing and support staff is calling for staffing changes.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill says Alberta should impose ‘single site staffing’, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

CUPE represents 150 employees at Mackenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary. There have been 36 cases of COVID-19 among residents, and another 6 cases among staff. Two of those cases have led to death.

Gill says that up to 40% of the CUPE members in long term care work in multiple health care facilities and risk passing COVID-19 around. Yesterday, the chief Medical Officer has issued an order preventing Mackenzie employees from working elsewhere, but Gill says that order is too limited and comes too late in the process.

“Long term care is a wage ghetto with low pay and limited access to full time hours. Workers take second and third jobs to make ends meet,” said Gill. “Employees go from one facility to another, and the virus spreads. In short, poor working conditions are accelerating a health crisis.”

The Kenney government decided yesterday against enforcement of single site staffing rules. Gill said that decision was “irresponsible and unethical.”

“Alberta needs to stop the flow of workers between health care facilities. Patients and health care workers are getting sick.”

“We tell people to stay at home, but then say it’s okay for health care workers to move from center to center? There is no rational or medical reason for this.”

Gill released a letter from one manager indicating AHS direction was to ask employees to only work at one site per day. “As if going home for the night is somehow going to rid workers of a virus.”

CUPE is calling on the Alberta government to do the following:

  • Prevent the movement of workers from one health facility to another during the crisis.
  • Protect the hours and employment of workers who choose one facility over another.
  • Protect the benefits, wages and pension payments of workers.
  • Improve wages, at least temporarily, among staff to recruit enough workers to allow proper social distancing among workers and patients.

Similar measures have been enacted in British Columbia. See details here.

“Giving workers full time employment will saves lives and improve care,” said Gill. “It’s a win-win.”



Kenney government fires school employees, CUPE warns of brain drain

EDMONTON – The union representing most K-12 educational staff in Alberta schools called the Kenney government heartless and thoughtless for laying off thousands of school workers for the last two months of the school year.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced today that the Kenney government was withdrawing funding to school districts for staffing during the last two months of the 2019-20 school year.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill said funding to schools’ base operational grant was being reduced by 14%.  Gill believes up to 20,000 employees could lose their employment.

“With a surprise announcement, lacking in detail, on a Saturday afternoon, the Kenney government has just fired thousands of people who look after and educate our kids,” said Gill.

The minister has just passed the buck to the federal government and told education workers, ‘good luck out there, there are programs you can access.’

Gill said CUPE will examine the various collective agreements with school districts to assess the legality of the move but warned that “treating employees so callously would harm the education system.”

“You can’t just fire thousands of Educational Assistants and expect them to all run back to the system in the fall,” said Gill. “This is a recipe for a massive brain drain.”

“Educational assistants can still help students, custodial workers can still be of use, the short-sightedness of this move is breathtaking.”

“We should be helping people keep their jobs during the crisis, not putting front line workers out on the street.”

A message from CUPE Alberta President

Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers,

I first want to thank you all for the incredible work you are all doing on behalf of your members and the public. The COVID-19 crisis is testing us all in ways few could have imagined and CUPE members throughout Alberta have demonstrated the very best values of public service and the Labour Movement. I want to reassure you all that while we are having to work in new ways, CUPE Alberta Division is focusing all its resources on the current situation and is available and ready to support our affiliates and members. I encourage all Affiliates and members to regularly check the CUPE Alberta website for updates and how CUPE is responding to this unprecedented situation.

In keeping with the need to make sure that we do all we can to ensure the safety of members and the public, the CUPE Alberta Division Executive made the very difficult decision on March 18, 2020 to cancel all scheduled Division meetings up to July 1, 2020. While we are very aware that a democratic organization requires the full participation of its members, the very best public health advice is to limit face to face interactions as much as possible for the coming weeks and months so the Division Executive decided to follow this recommendation. We are committed to finding ways for our members to work with each other and communicate in safe and responsible ways using technology and are working hard to make these available as soon as possible.

To begin the process of finding new ways to work the Division will be hosting a video conference for CUPE Alberta Local Presidents next week. This will be an opportunity for the Division to directly update the Local Presidents on the current situation including, the discussion the Division has had with the provincial government. The video conference is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at 6:30 pm. Full details including the Agenda and Login Information will be sent to all Locals on Monday, March 23, 2020.

These are the toughest of times but our members represent the very best in all our sectors and I know we will come through this crisis stronger than we have ever been. Keep safe, take care of each other and thank you again for all you are doing to keep Albertans safe.

Best and in Solidarity,