President’s Message: SAHO Bargaining and Telephone Town Hall Follow Up - No. 1

We are starting a week of bargaining with our coalition partners, SGEU and CUPE, and SAHO. We remain hopeful that we can see a breakthrough in this process and be able to present a fair collective agreement to you for consideration. There is still a lot of change and instability within our health system as they transition to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA); there is a provincial budget being delivered on April 10; and there are rumours of settlements within other areas of the public sector.

Our Provincial Contract Action Team (PROCAT) have been busy meeting in facilities across the province. Talking with members about the actions and activities they can do to build momentum during this round of bargaining. Sometimes bargaining feels like a ‘hurry up and wait’ situation, but there are a number of actions that our members can do to talk about bargaining in the workplace; share the issues within the community; write to the Minister of Health to talk about no cuts or rollbacks. If they haven’t been in your area yet, they will be planning to come out. If you want to set up a meeting, please contact Dennel Pickering at dennelp@yahoo.com.

On February 21 and 22, we held another set of telephone town halls with members from across the province. The turn-out was great, and the feedback was even better. The questions that you asked helped focus our work for this week. Today and in the coming updates, we’ll follow up on the remaining questions and answers for you.

Questions:

#1: Will there be a standardized seniority? (eg: CUPE uses date of hire and SEIU uses hours-based) – Patricia, location unknown.

Every member that I have talked to about seniority would rather keep our hours-based seniority system within SEIU-West. And quite likely, CUPE (date of hire) and SGEU (hours based) members would like to keep their systems. We believe there is a way to maintain the different seniority processes and still ensure that if a member moves to a different region, their seniority can be transferred with them. The issue of seniority is only one of many that we have to address in transitioning to the new SHA.

#2: Can you tell me why there are more jobs being reviewed by JJE when the process has not been completed yet through bargaining? – Jacqueline, Saskatoon.

The Joint Job Evaluation (JJE) plan is being reviewed in its entirety. The plan was established over 15 years ago and there hasn’t been a full review since. And while the plan is going to be reviewed, that doesn’t mean that their current work doesn’t continue. Actually conducting provincial job reviews will provide us with more information about where the plan needs to be improved.

Through bargaining, we have been able to negotiate a LOU that sets out, in the interim, that for jobs where the education factor change has reduced wages, the JJE plan will keep wages at their current rate; where the education factor change has increased wages, the JJE plan will implement those higher wages. In the meantime, the JJE Maintenance Committee will continue to review jobs, and the Committee of the Parties (COPs) will review all factors in the plan to make them more reflective of today’s job requirements.

#3: Wondering if pensions are going to be rolled back – wanting that to be a priority in terms of avoiding that and any wage rollbacks too – Wanda, Saskatoon.

There are no proposals around pension rollbacks. The Saskatchewan Healthcare Employee Pension Plan (SHEPP) is jointly trusteed by both employer and union representatives. Any changes to the pension plan would need to be agreed to by the Pension Trustees and the Pension Partners (also comprised of both employer and union representatives). Avoiding any reductions or rollbacks in both wages and pensions is a priority for your SEIU-West bargaining committee.

#4: We have not had a major wage increase in a long time. How can they even discuss taking things away from us? Tired of having to pay them to work – Elizabeth, location unknown.

The reason cuts and rollbacks are being contemplated by the government is because there is a deficit of $1.5 billion and rather than raising taxes or raising royalty rates, the government is trying to save money within the public sector by asking workers to cut their wages and compensation.

The Sask Party government thought health care workers would be so glad to keep on working they would accept all the cuts and rollbacks without any protest – boy, were they wrong! Members like you have been contacting their MLAs to tell them it’s not fair – it’s bad economic policy and raises a number of questions regarding free collective bargaining. And don’t think that it doesn’t matter – because when the MLA’s get pressure, they add pressure to the Minister of Health and the Premier about concerns from the public. We are asking our members to keep up the pressure and make this government understand how unfair their budget balancing plan is.

#5: How are we supposed to feed our families; educate ourselves to maintain our skills; and pay our bills in the midst of wage cuts?? – Helen, Humboldt.

That’s a brilliant question… and the short answer is I have no idea; these are the very same issues we have been raising at the bargaining table in the face of these cuts. My advice to you is that you need to call your MLA (find your MLA here) and ask him or her that very question. Regardless of whether they are SaskParty or NDP, our elected officials need to be listening to your concerns; they need to provide you with answers, and not some ‘spin’; and they need to take your concerns forward.

#6 Member feels that the government has a huge advantage with us chasing our tails discussing a 3.5% decrease instead of an increase. Any form of discussion on decreases is totally unacceptable, we should be talking about what size increase – Kari, Saskatoon.

We aren’t buying into this notion of the 3.5% reduction. Our members have said – and it’s become our mantra: “NO cuts, NO rollbacks, Treat Us With Respect and Pay Us What We’re Worth!” And we’ll stand by that message and stand by our members. With respect though, I disagree with the idea that government has a huge advantage, because they don’t have our members! Our members are stepping up to phone, email and visit their MLA to hold them accountable on the concessions in bargaining…they are helping to build pressure and momentum to change the mandate at the bargaining table.

#7: Is it possible to add to the bargaining to change family illness leave to family responsibility leave? Language like SUN – Debra, Beechy.

I would have to say that I don’t think that is likely at this point in the process. During our bargaining conference and through the bargaining surveys, this wasn’t identified as a priority for this round of bargaining. That being said, I know that many members keenly feel and see the difference in application of this language.

#8: What is happening with the 3.5% reduction in pay? – Zigerva, location unknown.

As far as we know, it may still be the mandate from the Government of Saskatchewan. But we have not accepted that health care workers should take cuts and rollbacks. Not when we are behind the cost of living. As I’ve mentioned before, our members have said ‘NO!’ to cuts, rollbacks and concessions. My challenge to you is to send a letter to your MLA through our campaign page.

Or, if you would prefer to call your MLA, you can find their contact information – listed by constituency – on the Legislative Assembly website (if you don’t know your constituency, you can look it up by entering your postal code on Elections Saskatchewan).

If you want to actually meet with your MLA, our Political Action & Education department is coordinating group meetings with MLAs. All you have to do is email actions@seiuwest.ca and we’ll work out a plan to get a meeting with your provincial representative.

Whichever way you choose to contact your MLA, be sure to let them know what you do as part of the health care team and how important your work as a health care providers is to your community. And after that, ask your partner/spouse; neighbours; friends and co-workers to do the same thing to provide us with the support and momentum to get their regressive mandate changed.

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