The union representing 29,000 provincial health-care professionals has failed its members after just $5,000 was awarded to some employees placed on unpaid leave for months over the Covid-19 vaccine, says prominent Alberta lawyers.

A binding arbitration agreement between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Health Science Association of Alberta agreed to the one-time, non-pensionable payment to employees who were placed on unpaid leave for up to a year. 

Alberta litigator Leighton Grey of Grey Wowk Spencer LLP said the union failed to protect members’ rights amid the vaccine mandate, and now, to secure adequate compensation. 

“It’s not a great deal, actually. It’s kind of a pittance compared to what was done to these people,” Grey told True North. “When I talk to these workers…they feel betrayed by the employer.”

He also said employees can’t sue Alberta Health Services because, legally, the union is their representative.

Unvaccinated healthcare workers were placed on unpaid leave in December 2021. They were allowed to return to work in January 2022 on the condition that they pay for regular testing at their own expense. Vaccinated employees were supplied with testing kits. 

One former family counsellor told True North her request for a religious exemption from the COVID vaccine was ignored. When she went to the Health Science Association of Alberta with others asking for help, the union recommended that concerned employees simply get the shot. 

The union was “not helpful, whatsoever,” she said, adding, “After 16 years of service, I was deemed unfit to work overnight.”  

The source’s name is being withheld because her complaint that the union failed to protect her is before the Alberta Labour Relations Board. 

To add to matters, the former employee was deemed ineligible to collect the $5,000 compensation because she used her remaining sick days before going on unpaid leave for a year. She’s since made the decision not to return to an “abusive employer.”

“The fact of the matter is, I was discriminated against on a religious basis.”

A Health Sciences Association of Alberta representative told True North a response was forthcoming, but later recalled the email.

Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

Calgary lawyer Jeffrey Rath said the damages to the employees are easily calculated and far exceed the token $5,000. 

“All of those people should have gotten complete backpay,” he said, adding that unions, with the blessings of the Alberta NDP and leader Rachel Notley, did nothing to protect their members. 

Grey said unions, especially in the context of COVID-19 and vaccine mandates, are very much “in bed” with the employers. Now that Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is “dismantling” AHS, it appears the organization is cleaning up its many grievances and human rights complaints, he said.

“It’s a mop up job for what happened as a result of the vaccine mandates that were imposed on these health care workers,” he said. 

It’s caused a huge brain drain — one that he’s not sure can be remedied, Grey said. 

“We’ve lost a lot of tremendous people because of this.” 


  • Rachel Emmanuel

    Rachel is a seasoned political reporter who’s covered government institutions from a variety of levels. A Carleton University journalism graduate, she was a multimedia reporter for three local Niagara newspapers. Her work has been published in the Toronto Star. Rachel was the inaugural recipient of the Political Matters internship, placing her at The Globe and Mail’s parliamentary bureau. She spent three years covering the federal government for iPolitics. Rachel is the Alberta correspondent for True North based in Edmonton.