Decisions made at this week’s UNA AGM will have a big impact, Heather Smith tells 1,000 delegates

United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith opens the 2018 UNA annual general meeting.

With the reminder that decisions made over the next three days will have impacts far beyond the next year, United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith welcomed more than 1,000 delegates, member observers, and others to the union’s 41th Annual General Meeting this morning in Edmonton. 

“There will be a provincial election next spring and a federal election next fall,” she began. “So a question … Will we be bystanders or active advocates?”

Summarizing “some, certainly not all, of the things that matter,” Smith noted the push-back in 2018 by the union’s members “in the face of overcapacity and inadequate resources” at their health care worksites.

She gave a shout-out to members of UNA Local 2 at Red Deer Regional Hospital and their Professional Responsibility Concern Committee “who have forced Alberta Health Services to be held accountable for the jeopardy they have created to patient safety.”

Across Alberta, Smith added, UNA has worked to ensure employers and managers respect and use the PRC process that is part of the Provincial Collective Agreement, and that they recognize it “as a valuable element of patient safety.”

She acknowledged the commitment of Covenant Health to the PRC process, and the real movement toward a similar commitment by AHS.

“I am not naive, and I know that saying management will respect and encourage nurses to identify Professional Responsibility Concerns is not an end, it is a beginning,” Smith said.  “Actually having ‘just culture’ in our workplaces, where speaking-up and Professional Responsibility is valued, will not happen overnight. But it will never happen unless we hold management accountable for the commitments they have made.”

Smith also spoke of UNA’s commitment to the momentum for a national phramacare program – supported by a coalition of more than 70 national organizations that includes UNA and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union.

And she praised Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan for his work to ensure the promise made 28 years ago by a previous government to members of the Local Authorities Pension Plan, a group that includes most UNA members, to move the LAPP to independent employee-employer joint trusteeship, a key step toward protecting and preserving quality pensions for UNA members.

Smith also acknowledged the personal contribution of UNA’s hundreds of member-advocates. “I know very well that for some of those advocates the personal toll on their health and well-being is much more than any resolution will ever compensate for,” she said. “It is an unacceptable price for doing what we must do – advocating for healthy workplaces and safe patient care.”

Our willingness to be advocates in our workplaces does matter,” she concluded. “From the care provided today to our patients, residents and clients, to the environment, and the challenges of climate change. … Advocacy matters!”