CUPE members joined hundreds of residents from Northeast Winnipeg on May 8th to protest the government’s plan to close the Concordia Hospital Emergency Room. The protest was organized by the Save the Concordia ER coalition of community members and the Manitoba Health Coalition.

The Pallister Conservative government announced in 2017 that it would be shutting down emergency rooms at four Winnipeg hospitals, including the Concordia and Seven Oaks Hospitals where CUPE Local 204 members work. After closing an emergency room at the Victoria Hospital and an urgent care centre at the Misericordia Health Centre, many Winnipeggers fear that the remaining three emergency rooms in Winnipeg will be overwhelmed, and that entire areas of the city will be left without access to critical health care services.

“CUPE health care workers across Manitoba have been taking action against this government’s plans to cut our health care system,” said Debbie Boissonneault, President of CUPE 204 representing 7,000 health care workers in both Winnipeg and in numerous rural facilities. “We stand in solidarity with the community members who are facing the loss of their Emergency Room, and who are quite rightly scared for their health”.

Since the election in 2016, the Pallister government has reduced health care spending, closed Emergency Rooms, and forced health care workers into months of deletions, layoffs, and bumping. The government has also passed The Public Services Sustainability Act (wage freeze legislation), and The Health Sector Bargaining Unit Review Act, which forces union representation votes in health care. 

“CUPE and our labour allies are fighting the wage freeze in court, but it’s up to us to fight against health care cuts in the streets,” said Boissonneault. “By protesting and fighting for our rights, we engage the public and, in turn, that puts pressure on the government.”

Since the government’s announcement, CUPE has organized rallies against the cuts at Concordia Hospital, Seven Oaks General Hospital, Grace Hospital, Health Sciences Centre, Middlechurch Home of Winnipeg, as well as in Flin Flon’s town square and at the Northern Lights Manor. CUPE has also joined solidarity rallies at the Victoria Hospital, Misericordia Health Centre, St. Boniface Hospital, Deer Lodge Centre and at the Legislature.

CUPE 204 launched the popular “Stop the Health Care Cuts” yard sign initiative. Two thousand Winnipeg homes received signs in Winnipeg. CUPE 500 has signs for Riverview Health Centre members; CUPE 4270 and CUPE 8600 have hundreds of signs in rural communities across Southern and Northern Manitoba.

“Our members are incredibly dedicated to their work and understand that health care cuts put patients at risk,” said Darrin Cook, President of CUPE 4270 representing health care workers in Southern Manitoba. “Health care cuts anywhere in our province hurt our communities, and we must continue to push back and stay united”.

“In the North, health care cuts are magnified by the government’s continued neglect of Northern communities,” said Christine Lussier, President of CUPE 8600 in The Pas and Flin Flon. “One layoff, one job loss, one patient waiting too long for health services because our team is working short-staffed affects the entire community. Service cuts force Northern families to travel long distances for the help they need.”

Additionally, CUPE Local 5362 representing workers at CancerCare Manitoba have been fighting against cuts, low morale, and incredibly high job turnover. “Families expect to have a strong service to help them through a very difficult time,” said Margaret Schroeder, President of CUPE 5362. “That we have to worry about cuts, job losses, and not enough staff to cover the workload, means we don’t have as much time to focus our care on the people we serve.”

In early May, under mounting public pressure, the provincial government launched a review of the consolidation plan to date. While many Manitobans are skeptical about their intentions (a snap provincial election is on the horizon), there is a glimmer of hope that continued pressure could save the remaining emergency rooms at Concordia and Seven Oaks Hospitals.

“The work of CUPE and other coalition partners to address health care cuts in the province has been phenomenal,” said Brianne Goertzen, Chair of the Manitoba Health Coalition. “We need to stay united, focused, and steadfast for public health care in our province—to save our emergency services, and all the health services on which Manitobans rely.”

CUPE submitted a letter to Dr. David Peachey emphasizing the impact the cuts have had on members and the community.