PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: Virtual Town Hall Follow Up Part Six

Well, this is our last update on the questions/answers we received from our virtual town hall meetings in September. I have to say that there were a lot of really thought-provoking questions that have guided some of the deliberations of the bargaining committee(these are continued from the Oct. 13, Oct. 17, Oct. 24, Oct. 30, and Nov. 21 posts).

23. If there’s a wage reduction of 3.5% what would they do with the money? – Shelagh, Saskatoon.

The government of Saskatchewan is looking to reduce their budget deficit and are looking in every place they can think of to make reductions. The problem with that strategy, is that they do not take into account the incredible recruitment and retention issues that we have in health care (or education or anywhere else in the public service). The health care system is very labour intensive, and so we need the skilled, qualified, professionals in house to do this work. The money would be used to reduce the provincial deficit and not remedy health care issues like workload or short staffing; this is the short answer to your question.

24. Can Family Illness leave get changed to 3 personal days that can be used for any purpose? –Nelson, Swift Current.

That hasn’t been an identified priority in our discussions with members, the bargaining surveys or the bargaining conference that SEIU-West conducted. While there are members who would like that, it would not be a top priority identified by the bargaining committee to take ‘illness’ out of the requirement for Family Illness Leave. The Union has had success in defending our current interpretation and application of the benefit to the benefit of our members.

25. Why doesn’t the health district hire back people who have retired? – Doreen, Saskatoon.

Well, in some cases they do – depending on the need and the recruitment issues the employer(s) are experiencing. But this is also a cost-saving measure on the part of the employer: if they wait the 120 days until after retirement, then the individual member will no longer be able to maintain seniority, sick leave credits, vacation rate, and certain benefits, for example extended health benefits, and has to start earning them all over again like a new employee.

26. The MLA’s should walk a 12 hour shift in the shoes of front line workers, maybe then negotiations will go more smoothly. – Connie, retired member.

That’s a brilliant idea! And we’ve been putting out invitations to Walk a Day in Our Shoes to the Minister of Health, assorted MLA’s, and even the CEO of Saskatoon Health Region was invited to do this. Incredibly, they don’t appear to have the time! We video these so that we can share them broadly with the public so that they get a bird’s eye view of the work our members do, as well as the person doing the shadowing.

We’ve done this once before in the Community Based Organization (CBO) sector and filmed it and put it on our website. But the health regions aren’t wild about us filming the experience in their facilities…even though SEIU-West would pay for it!

We’ve tried to do this in long term care, the labs, and acute care…but no luck.

We’ve offered to have me shadow a Medical Laboratory Technologist, but they aren’t taking us up on the offer. I was able to go on a tour – not a job shadow – for our tradesmen in Saskatoon and that was an incredible eye opener.
If decision-makers only knew the miles that health care workers put on in a day; if they only knew about the challenges in every interaction and pressures of short staffing…then maybe there would be an investment in the health care system’s staff who keep it running every day.

But we won’t stop, just because we’ve been turned down a few times…this is important and needs to be showcased for the public!

27. When the new health region takes place…will I have the ability to bid on jobs province wide? – Shanelle, Biggar.

That is the plan. What the health care provider unions are trying to finalize is how your seniority will be treated in non-SEIU-West jurisdictions.

We want to ensure that you keep your SEIU-West hours based seniority; and if you bid outside of our jurisdiction, there is a formula that we have used to change your hours based seniority into a date of hire seniority. We haven’t locked this down yet in our bargaining process or with the Transition Team for the new Health region; it’s a work in progress.

28. What does SAHO or the government say about more privatization of services? – Meredith, Saskatoon.

Lately they haven’t been saying too much.

In the past, the former Minister of Health, Dustin Duncan, indicated that the government believed health care was only about hands-on services. But then he never expanded on that idea and now he is no longer the Minister of Health.

There are no business cases moving forward right now to look at contracted out options because all focus is on getting the new Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) up and running on December 4.

There is a strong case to be made against further privatization of services: private services cost the health system, and government more money; there has been incredible concerns about the quality and consistency of the private service; private services do not reduce waitlists; and there is a question about whether or not private services fall within The Canada Public Health Act.

But I don’t think this strategy has hit the dust bin…it will rear its head again.

29. Is there some way they can tell us what the cost of labour is without including managerial staff? – Jacquelin, Saskatoon.

I believe those numbers are reflected in the annual reports, but only in really broad terms. If you are looking for a breakdown, SHR’s website has a budget breakdown that shows a graph with some really broad information about where their funding comes from; how it is spent; and the groups of staff that are attracting salary. There are likely the same annual reports available for each health region on their websites. But there are no specific breakdowns available publicly for what you are looking for as far as we know.

30. What are we doing about LPN’s being laid off and replaced with RN’s? – Jenna, Saskatoon.

Where LPN’s have been laid off and replaced with RN’s, we are following the layoff language and options under the collective agreement and making sure that our members have access to all their rights. (We also have situations where RNs have been laid off and replaced with LPNs.)

The challenge that we are faced with is that SALPN and SRNA have differing opinions on what skills and abilities that each classification are able to perform. They are the regulatory bodies for LPNs and RNs and have not necessarily come to agreement – nor have they been regularly consulted on what skills and advanced competencies LPNs are able to perform.

31. I would like a detailed breakdown of Employer’s currently outstanding bargaining proposals. –John, Saskatoon.

Please take a look at bargaining update no. 3 where we list the Employer’s bargaining proposals. These were presented on our first day of bargaining in May and there has been movement since then.
We don’t share our proposals publicly because such actions would inhibit negotiations, could be considered an Unfair Labour Practice (ULP) and bargaining in the public realm. All those things delay meaningful bargaining and make the process last a very long time.

32. Is the union proposing language to prohibit breaking full-time (FT) positions into part-time (PT) positions? How does this save money? – Holly, Saskatoon.

We already have language that talks about this: Letter of Intent #1 at page 202 of the current Collective Agreement talks about the employment of as many FT and PT positions as possible.

But where that letter of intent isn’t enough, we want our members to keep the Union informed by reaching out to the Member Resource Center and our Shop Stewards with their information. In addition to this, we have proposed language that would strengthen the workload reporting language to our OHS committees.

33. There are casuals who won’t pick up more shifts in a month. Would that help the understaffing situation? – Melissa, Watson.

There are any number of reasons that a casual won’t pick up more shifts: they might already have another job; they are pre-booked at another job; they might have a limit on the number of hours they can work; the workload might be so heavy they are afraid of getting hurt. The Collective Agreement has language to address what to do where a casual employee is consistently unavailable for call-in work.

We believe properly staffing the facilities in the first place to reduce the dependence on casual employees would improve the situation.

I remember when overtime (OT) in my facility was a rarity; I could count on one hand how many times OT was used in a year! But now, OT is relied on as a way to avoid recruiting new staff

Understaffing has become chronic in part because our health regions aren’t funded properly. We need legislation and leadership on safe staffing levels in order to not only get us back to providing the quality of care we know we can, but also to address the illness and injury levels in our health care system. Short staffing is a contributing factor to those issues.

34. Is there any back-pay expected to come to us as of March 31st? – Barb, Rosthern.

That really depends on what sort of monetary settlement that our members agree to. If there are 0%…then there would be no back-pay. If there is any sort of an increase, then we would absolutely bargain for retroactivity.

35. There were rumours that there was going to be a retirement buy-out. Is this true and if it is, how much would it be? – Linda, Shaunavon.

I haven’t heard those rumors nor have any of the employers approached SEIU-West about this. At this point, I would say that it isn’t true.

36. Is there any talk in negotiations to address notice of cancellation for overtime? – Tammy, Biggar.

This has become a constant issue in health care: members are called into work, the member identifies that its overtime, they agree to work and then the overtime is cancelled. We are currently dealing with a number of grievances on this issue and we are looking to advance a test case to arbitration.

37. Scheduling errors: call out procedures are too complicated; there are too many rules – can this be simplified? – Suzanne, Harris.

I once had the opportunity to spend a couple hours watching a scheduler go about the process of trying to fill shifts…it’s mind-boggling the number of hoops that managers set out for the process of calling in staff, let alone if it’s an overtime shift! My hat is off to all the schedulers out there.

In some health regions, there is an electronic call out process that goes to everyone’s mobile device. In other health regions, there is the traditional call process. But in all health regions, the rules set out have to follow the collective agreement. The opportunity is for first part-time then casual to accept offers of work.

We do recognize that call-in is challenging and we have committed to have a discussion with the employers and SAHO about how we can address those concerns and still give our members the right and opportunity to expand their hours.

38. Why is there a hiring freeze but they continue to hire management? –Pattie, Watrous.

I like this question, but I simply cannot tell you what is going on in the employers’ minds when they do this. I really wish I could!

The Employer says the hiring freeze is so that they can save some money on their budgets. We have been told that where there is a hard to recruit position, they will address the hiring of a staff member on a case-by-case basis. Employers are not obligated to consult with the Union when they decide to hire managers, but if you want to share the details with us, we can ask some questions and try to get you an answer.

Well, folks, that brings us to the end of our virtual town hall Q & A updates.

Your SEIU-West bargaining committee is going back to the table from November 23- 27.

As I have said before (and will say again!) your support, engagement and ideas help keep the bargaining committee going. We continue to ask you to contact your MLAs; to tell them how a 3.5 % reduction would affect you and your family how it would impact your ability to live and work in Saskatchewan. Tell your MLAs that this is a recruitment and retention issue and they need to stand up and support health care workers. And, when you send that message, copy the Minister of Health, Jim Reiter…I’m pretty sure he needs to hear from all of you!

This outreach is working, we are seeing movement at our bargaining table and we need to get everyone involved in talking with your MLA’s…this isn’t just about bargaining, this is about keeping Saskatchewan’s health system, along with the dedicated health care providers, alive and thriving!

Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact the Member Resource Center (MRC) at 1-888-999-7348 Ext 2298.

In Solidarity, on behalf of the SEIU-West bargaining committee,

Barbara Cape
President, SEIU-West

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