November 17th, 2019

Guest Column: Walk a mile in the shoes of front-line workers

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on August 3, 2019.

How much is it worth to have someone tackle a gunman to keep you safe? Or to care for your loved ones when they’re sick or dying?

If someone offered you $20 to take down a man brandishing a weapon, would you do it? How about if they offered you $10 to clean and care for a frightened dementia patient who has soiled her diapers?

Some in the media and political circles like to spread the myth that all public sector workers are overpaid. That’s easy to say while sitting in the comfort of a newsroom or in the legislature. It’s a harder to say that to the faces of the people doing difficult and often dangerous work for modest pay.

A community peace officer in Calgary recently tackled a man who was brandishing what appeared to be a large gun. He took that risk to protect members of the public. He did his job. He’s paid about $35 per hour, at the top end of his pay scale.

Would those who demean public servants tackle a gunman for a few bucks?

Meanwhile, front-line health-care aides – who love and care for our sick and vulnerable mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – start at just under $20 per hour. That may rise to $24 per hour after several years.

This is hard work. If you’ve ever had a loved one in care, you’d know that. The risk of injury among health-care workers is three to four times that of the general workforce.

Would you do that job for less than $20 per hour?

However, the narrative among some is that “public sector pay is out of whack,” as a recent opinion piece headline in the Medicine Hat News claimed.

That editorial cited the size of pension given to a senior federal bureaucrat, mentioned Alberta’s sunshine list of those on the public payroll paid more than $125,000 per year – and then misleadingly tied in the average $32.05 an hour paid to Alberta Health Services (AHS) workers.

That comparison is an obvious case of apples and oranges. It’s like saying the Telus guy who installs your cable box is paid too much because the CEO earned nearly $13 million last year, or that a welder is overpaid because the head of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. got nearly $12 million.

They whine about “generous” and “luxurious” benefits and pensions in the public sector, but choose to ignore facts, such as that the average annual pension paid by Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP) into which many Alberta public servants pay is $18,000.

Anyone who thinks that will bring you a life of luxury is clearly suffering from a disconnection with reality.

So, here’s a challenge to any politician or journalist who wants to lecture others about public servants being overpaid. Come to one of our union meetings and say that to our faces. Come and work a day in our tough, front-line and important jobs. Walk a mile in our shoes.

If you’re not willing to do that, then we’d politely suggest you keep your uninformed and insulting opinions to yourselves.

Susan Slade is a Licensed Practical Nurse and is vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, representing the south of the province. AUPE represents 95,000 Albertans who work very hard to make your lives better – and deserve everything they get paid and more.

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