AHS threat to reduce nursing positions won’t help retain and recruit nurses in Alberta

“Nurses want respect from their employer,” said UNA President Heather Smith. “There was no respect in this letter from AHS.”

For immediate release: Tuesday, December 5, 2023

United Nurses of Alberta is deeply concerned about the job security of frontline nurses after receiving a letter from Alberta Health Services warning the union about potential “reductions of positions” in 2024.

A letter sent to UNA Director of Labour Relations, David Harrigan, from AHS Executive Director of Labour Relations Lee McEwen on December 1, 2023 warns of “reductions in positions within UNA’s AHS bargaining unit flowing from the movement of functions outside the organization.”

The AHS letter and a letter from Covenant Health Senior Director of Labour Relations Monica Williams warn that organizational changes could include “changes to staff mix and service redesign, contracting out, changes or repurposing of sites or relocating, reducing or ceasing the provision of services.” This appears to contradict what Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange told UNA representatives in face-to-face meetings.

This mirrors a statement made in a letter sent by AHS to UNA ahead of the last round of provincial contract negotiations in November 2019. That letter laid out an AHS plan to eliminate an “estimated” 500 full-time equivalent Registered Nurse jobs over the following three years.

“This kind of mixed messaging only makes it more difficult to retain the nurses already working in dangerously understaffed workplaces and makes it even harder to recruit new nurses to work in Alberta,” said UNA President Heather Smith. “This is the opposite kind of signal that AHS should be sending to nurses and health care workers right now.”

Alberta is facing a province-wide shortage of nurses. According to the AHS website, there are more than 20 hospitals and health care centres currently reporting temporary service disruptions due to staff shortages, including the Fort Macleod Health Centre emergency department, which was temporarily closed on December 4 due to a shortage of nurses.

“Sabre rattling and threats by the employers ahead of the next round of bargaining will make it more difficult to convince Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses to work in Alberta,” said Smith. “More staff shortages will only lead to more service disruptions for patients who need care.”

“Nurses want respect from their employer,” said Smith. “There was no respect in this letter from AHS.”

See attached letters from AHS and Covenant Health.

United Nurses of Alberta is the union for more than 35,000 Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses and allied workers in Alberta.