Letters to Politicians: Frontline Workers Deserve Respect

Letter to the Premier - Valerie Francais, CCA (April, 2020)

To the Honorable Premier of Saskatchewan:

Premier Moe, please allow me to tell you a little about myself.  I was born and raised here in Saskatchewan.  My Great-Grandfather settled in this province back in 1904, and I am the 4th of 6 generations living here on the Prairies.  For nearly 20 years, I have worked as a Continuing Care Assistant, with the past 2 of them being at one of the three hospitals in Saskatoon. 

It is a profession that has given me the ability to care for people from different walks of life with compassion, empathy and without judgement.  I give everything I have to help improve the quality of life for so many individuals, sometimes as a thankless job, but also as one that I find to be very rewarding.  COVID -19 has turned everything upside down.

I love my job.  Its challenges, the people I meet…   The people I work with… let me tell you, they are absolutely the best.  We support each other.  We care about one another.  And let me tell you how heartbreaking it was for me, that I could not hug any of them after returning from a bereavement leave, to attend my mother’s funeral back in March.

I have never had the time to properly grieve her passing.  I think about those who I work with that are on compassionate leave and wonder how they are coping, not being able to work so that they can be with their ailing parents.  I loved the idea of coming to work, knowing that today was not going to be the same as yesterday.  I welcomed the challenge to face each new day and what it had to throw my way.  COVID-19 changed all that.

Now, not knowing what is in store when I walk through the screening process is like walking into a lion’s den.  But I am there to work as a team player, working alongside my nurses, manager and educators to implement and plan new strategies, procedures and practices that will ensure the health and safety of all those patients who are vulnerable, as well as ensuring that the staffs are protected to the best of our ability. 

At times I feel like a specimen under a microscope as support staff watch and scrutinize as I donn and doff PPE.  But I know they are there to make sure we as staff are following the procedures necessary to optimize infection control measures.  Sometimes I wonder if the pain I feel in my chest is just my allergies flaring up, or if it is a symptom of the virus.  So off I go to check my temp, as self-monitoring is drilled into my head constantly. 

No other symptoms present, so I chalk it all up to the level of stress and anxiety that I feel when individuals affected with COVID-19 come for their scheduled treatments. 

At the end of my 12-hour shift, and I remove my mandatory face mask for the final time, after changing it several times throughout the day, it is like a cool breeze hitting my skin.  I change my clothes before leaving and climb into my vehicle to go straight home.  No stopping at the store, no stopping for a bite to eat… straight home. Through the door and straight for the bathroom where I strip and climb into the shower. 

No amount of water can wash the grime, the violation that COVID-19 leaves on my skin.  No amount of soap makes me feel clean.  No hello to my husband.  My dog sits outside the bathroom door and whines because he wants me to play with him.  But safety comes first.  I forgot what it feels like to sleep in the same bed as my husband, because social distancing has taken on a more heightened level because of where I work.  

I miss hugging my grandson, and the last time I had to spend with him was just before the schools closed down.  That happened immediately following my mother’s funeral.  I can’t help but wonder over the past few weeks if he has been keeping up with his school work online.  I miss seeing him, talking to him face to face, and seeing how much he has grown. 

I guess what I am trying to get at is that there have been countless sacrifices I, along with so many healthcare workers have made in order to help flatten the curve and stop the spread of  COVID-19.  And while you go forth to re-open this province through the various phases outlined, there will be a countless number of healthcare employees who will be making the sacrifices of keeping our hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities operational under the strictest of infection control practices.

Our hands will continue to be chapped, cracked and raw from the heightened task of thorough handwashing measures. 

We will continue to practice an increased sense of social distancing out of fear of bringing our families and friends in contact with this virus.  We will continue to show up for work under increased levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. 

We will continue our fight and commitment to help flatten the curve.  We will continue to feel the affects of COVID-19 long after all the restrictions of Phase 5 of your “Let’s reopen Saskatchewan” plan has been lifted.  We will continue to make Saskatchewan one of the greatest places on Earth to live and work. 

With all due respect, Mr. Premier, as you lay your head to pillow tonight, alongside your wife, please think of us, your driving force in stopping COVID-19. We are the employees represented under the SEIU-West Union, who have worked without a contract for the past 3 years. 

As my husband now returns to work after his temporary lay off, please remember that I, along with my union brothers and sisters, have not received a pay increase in the past 4 years. 

Your bargaining committee proposed for us to take a 3.5% roll back on top of things. Please note the added stress of having my husband home for an indefinite period of time, and having us put into a situation where we were forced to make budget cuts and reduction in spending. 

Eating Mac and Cheese for supper became a staple in our home. Please think of those who have put themselves up in a hotel room, instead of going home to their families.  So I implore you to please encourage your bargaining committee to consider returning to the bargaining table to negotiate for a fair and just collective agreement. 

We  put our lives on hold for so many others.  We are what makes this province great.  Treat us fairly for all that we do in the name of humanity, in the name of compassion.

Sincerely, an employee of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, a member of SEIU-West, a resident in the Province of Saskatchewan, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother,

 

Valerie Francais

Letter to the Premier - Lisa Zunti, LPN (April, 2020)

Dear Premier Moe,

I am a LPN health care provider at an urban hospital – I would like to hear from you whether you truly recognize the valued efforts of health care workers. It appears in other provinces members of the health care team are receiving shows of appreciation through added premiums, bonuses or wage increases.

My last wage increase was April 1, 2016. I know that you and other MLAs have received approximately 4% salary increases in the last 2 years so as to keep up with inflation. Did you know that health care workers have to manage inflation on stagnant rates of pay?

I understand (from my union) that we have been unable to get any reasonable offer from SAHO in the last year. So what is your government prepared to do to retain health care workers in the middle of a pandemic when we so badly need front line workers?

Thanks for your reply.

Lisa Zunti

Letter to the Premier - Dennel Pickering, CCA (April, 2020)

Dear Mr Premier,

I'm one of all the others you reference, after you list doctors and nurses specifically. I work front line in healthcare, as a continuing care assistant. I'm in a less controlled environment than long term care; I work in homecare. The unease of going to work, not sure if you're a carrier about to infect your clients has been stressful, at best. While I struggle to breathe through masks now, I'm so very grateful that our union has pushed for masks and gowns (PPE) and the employer has finally provided them.

I've been more interested in our bargaining process than watching the president of the United States, which, like a bad horror movie, you just can't not watch. I saw you offer us a wage reduction in the sweetest way. You told us that we get to pick what we want to give up to balance your books. Kind of like asking which finger you wanted us to chop off. We were adamant that we didn't want to give back anything that we bargained for over decades of contracts, but rather, we wanted a wage increase that would allow us to pay our bills. I'm sure you know the cost of living keeps increasing, and that's why you tied MLA wage increases to cost of living increases.

I'm used to not being the favorite child. So, I wasn't expecting you to all of a sudden give us giant wage increases that you gave the RNs just as soon as you got into power. Don't get me wrong, they work hard and deserved the wage increases. But, Mr Premier, you've acknowledged that we work hard too. So I ask you why it's been 4 years without a raise? And please don't answer with a response like, the other unions got their raise but you voted against it. You bet I did. 0 0 1 2 2 is barely a raise, especially when you think about our low wages to begin with. If you offered me 2 percent of your wage, I'd gladly take it. 2 percent of my wage after 20 years in the job is 46.34 cents.

I don't even want us to get danger pay/hazard pay. That implies you are paying for us to work unsafely and risk lives. I want doctors and nurses and "all the others in healthcare" to work safely to provide the best possible care for our seniors and our most vulnerable in society. I want to provide skilled care safely for them and safely for us. I also want to be paid reasonable wages permanently. I want to be valued by my government, the one that says we are doing a great job in this global pandemic to come to work every day and walk into the unknown.
Why, Mr Premier, do you keep telling us you value us but won't put money where your mouth is?
We are scared. Every damned day. But we show up. We provide care. We comfort those around us that are scared. We are here asking you to value us the way our patients, residents, and clients and their families do.

Respectfully,

Dennel Pickering

Letter to the Premier - Martin Been, Health Care Provider (April, 2020)

Let me start by saying that I am proud to call myself a member of the health care team. I wear my pride on my shirt as a reminder that I do this for the public which I serve.

At the same time, I am ashamed to call myself a health care worker, based strictly on how we’ve been devalued by your government.

Historically the mere mention of someone working in health care, brought responses of interest on how to acquire various professions in the field. One could earn a fair living with a decent wage then. There was a sense of respect for all that we did.

Now the mention of working in health care doesn’t draw the attraction it once did. The decent wage has fallen victim to affordability.

I watched, with interest how your Party suggested health care workers should take a 3.5% wage cut, citing that if MLA’s could do so, why couldn’t healthcare workers? I point out to you, Mr. Premier that the 3.5% wage cut your government took for one year, kept all of you in the $100,000/year club. Never was it posed that the 3.5% cut put to health care workers would have an expiry date of one year, plus such a 3.5% cut would throw me into a lower tax bracket which if I may point out hardly seems fair.

Health care workers have been without a contract since April of 2017. The latest offer which starts with not one, but two years of 0 increase, is beyond comprehension.

The Covid 19 pandemic has brought out both the best and worst. Long fought for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) was finally granted as the best tool to use in keeping frontline workers safe. To accomplish this, however, the downgrading of previous conditions health care workers had normally safeguarded against through use of PPE occurred.

You Mr. Premier, have repeatedly stated throughout this pandemic that health care workers are essential...unfortunately, the sense of pride and acknowledgment that goes along with this designation, does not pay the bills. I am hoping you can find a way to demonstrate to health care workers that we are truly valued.

Thank you for your earliest reply,

Martin Been

Letter to the Premier - Brenda Berry, CCA (April, 2020)

To Premier Moe,

I watched the news on April 22, 2020 at 6:00pm and was disappointed in your address to the province. 

As Premier, you are always thanking the doctors and registered nurses, but as a Continuing Care Assistant who works in a hospital and a long term care home, I provide hands on care to our patients, residents, and clients. I am responsible for dressing, feeding, bathing, medications, lifting, repositioning, and reporting. As a part of the health care team, I know we are a very caring and compassionate group of people. During this pandemic we are the only people our residents see and we try to be as positive and uplifting as we can, but they are often lonely and unable to comprehend why their loved ones have stopped coming to see them. We are their connection to the outside world.

The Environmental Service Workers do amazing work performing enhanced cleaning to ensure our facilities do not harbour or transmit any viruses but in a health care setting, it is very difficult going to work each day, always unsure whether I’ll contract COVID-19 or take it home to my family. 

I am disappointed that I have not had a pay increase since April 1, 2016. Meanwhile, my government legislates pay increases for themselves regularly, and at a level that is more than what you offered to us.  You asked us to take a 3.5% rollback, and now we’re being offered two years of zeroes and 1%, 2%, and 2% over 5 years.  That's 5% over five years, but MLAs have always received larger increases (not to mention your much higher salary).

I continue to go to work and provide quality care to our patients, residents and clients in this uncertain time.  I would really appreciate the government providing the finances required for SAHO to get back to the bargaining table and bring a decent proposal that myself and fellow health care providers can accept.  After all, we are the backbone of the frontline in healthcare.

Sincerely,

Brenda Berry

Letter to the Health Minister - Cheryl Wilker, CCA (April, 2020)

Dear Health Minister,

Now do you agree that front line works are a very important to Health Care and to this province? Without us, you would not be able to flatten the curve for COVID-19.

The government has been offering funding to many sectors to keep the economy going, but are you going to fund a wage increase to the frontline health care workers? We are risking our lives while also stressing over the chance of bringing the virus home to our families and risking their health as well.

I’m not a RN or a Doctor - I am Continuing Care Assistant and my wellbeing and my family’s is just as important as any healthcare employee that is providing care during COVID-19. I’m working in a high risk environment and wear protective gear so I don’t get infected with COVID-19 as well.

We receive a thank you from news media, the people in our community, and from the families of our clients for keeping their loved ones safe. The one person who should be acknowledging us is basically saying “no we are not important” and our wellbeing is less important.

When you express a thank you to frontlines health care workers to the press, it’s very upsetting that you are not expressing a thank you to all front line workers.

I feel we all should be treated the same. All employees that are providing care during this pandemic should be treated the same as we are all deemed essential services. I hope to hear a response.

Thank you,

Cheryl Wilker

Letter to the Premier - Marte Olsen, Health Care Provider (April, 2020)

Premier Scott Moe,

I am not a Nurse or Doctor, I am an essential SHA employee in LTC.

At this time during this Pandemic, the curtain has been pulled back across Canada for the World to see how badly LTC has been under funded, under staffed and ignored during years of our cries for help!

Billboards, media, letters sent, word of mouth, contacting our MLAs; we exhausted all avenues to get the attention of Provincial and Federal Government across Canada for someone to pay attention. No one gave LTC/Home Care Frontline workers the time of day about any of our concerns!

As of today, April 22, 2020, the Province of Saskatchewan has minimal cases of COVID-19 in a LTC Facility, Home Care or Private Care homes in Saskatoon.

We could be in the same situation as our Eastern Provinces in Ontario and Quebec! LTC was ignored there as well. And it now is obvious to all Canadian Citizens and all families just how much we were ignored.

Premier Scott Moe, Frontline Workers in LTC/Home Care make our Saskatchewan Government Officials look good at a time like this. We deserve to be thanked, compensated, recognized and respected for putting our lives on the line everyday and working tiredly for our Seniors and Disabled in our Province during this pandemic. We have worked tiredly to keep our Seniors and Disabled healthy and safe to ease the burden of overloading our Acute Care.

WE are all the SHA employees that have been denied a pay raise for 4 years and ignored by our Government. WE make our Government look good by the number of COVID-19 cases Saskatchewan has.

I consistently read comments of praises and thanks the citizens of Saskatchewan send you.

I agree with the comments of praises and thanks sent your way, for the most part. However; I feel those praises and showing of gratitude are because your Saskatchewan Healthcare employees have done their part for our Province, especially working with very very limited PPE at our disposal. As tired and afraid as we all were, we did not quit caring for our citizens.

Please, do not ignore us next time we want to talk!

 

Respectfully

Marte Olsen

Letter to the Premier - Barb Cape, President (April, 2020)

Good afternoon Mr. Premier,

I hope you are doing well during the COVID-19 pandemic as we all navigate these new and unprecedented times.

I  would like to identify who the “others”, as you refer to them in previous media events, are who are  working in healthcare beyond the doctors and nurses.   I would respectfully request that you consider their incredible contributions and sacrifices to bending/flattening the curve of the cases of COVID-19 in this pandemic.  There is an incredibly diverse group of people who are keeping health care running and ensuring that we are not overwhelmed by the pandemic.

  • Medical and Diagnostic Technologists and assistants complete tests that identify not only COVID-19 but other diseases and pathogens that are still affecting our population: cancer, HIV, MRI, CT, and seasonal flu are among their tests. 
  • Licensed Practical Nurses provide dressing changes, dispense medications, work in operating rooms and emergency rooms, long-term care and home care to provide compassionate hands-on skilled care to our patients, clients and residents. 
  • Continuing Care Assistants work in acute care, long term care and home care providing hands on services like dressing, bathing, medications, lifting and repositioning with care and compassion. 
  • Security, maintenance and tradespeople continue to keep our facilities running efficiently, to set up COVID units in hospitals across the province and keeping staff and patients safe. 
  • Food services prepare and provide nutritious meals to patients, long-term care residents and homecare recipients. 
  • Environmental services staff perform enhanced cleaning  to ensure that our facilities  do not harbor and are not a vector for transmission of any virus. 
  • Administration staff keep every part of the health system connected and communicating – this includes acute care, long-term care, home care, community care and other primary care ward and department support, payroll, finance, and schedulers who ensure that our facilities are staffed & paid properly to provide the skilled professional care that is key to all health care services.  
  • Of particular note are those working in supply chain, materials management, and sterile processing who ensure that we have the health care materials and resources, such as PPE equipment and supplies, necessary to keep us all safe and to provide quality healthcare  that Saskatchewan residents have come to expect.

This is only a representative sample of the  ‘other’ that you refer to…there are many more particular jobs that cover tens of thousands of health care  provider workers.  We are proud to acknowledge that there are over 35,000 frontline staff who are part of the ‘health care team’…across various unions.

SEIU-West is very proud of the work that members perform every day and I believe we are heroes not only during this pandemic, but every day of the year. 

On behalf of these professionals, I ask that you take a moment to acknowledge the varied work that is being performed under some incredibly tense and stressful circumstances. They go into work every day, not sure if they will come into contact with COVID-19 or if they will take it home with them to their families. They are the people your government asked to take a 3.5% cut in compensation, and a large number of them are working without a collective agreement. 

Yes, their last pay increase was April 1, 2016, yet, they continue to show up and lead our health care system. They do this for their patients, clients and residents. We should all appreciate their efforts and do our best to keep them safe.   I think their efforts are worthy of our praise and acknowledgement, don’t you?

 

Respectfully,

Barbara Cape
President
SEIU-West
#200-747 46th St. W
Saskatoon, Sask
S7L 6A1
MRC Toll Free: 1.888.999.SEIU (7348) ext. 2298 | URL: www.seiuwest.ca

Letter to the Premier - Janine Lazaro, Health Care Provider (May, 2020)

Dear Premier Scott Moe,

 I belong to the hard-working Filipino Community of Saskatoon. Every corner of the world a lot of Filipinos are directly taking care of COVID-19 patients and risking their lives and their families. For 18 years I have worked as a Continuing Care Assistant.

I cherish my job and appreciate the opportunity given to me to be in this line of work. This is work full of compassion, heart and empathy. I love my job knowing I can make a difference in people's lives.

I had the opportunity to personally asked you 8 months ago after 800 days without a contract, how would you address the difficulty in reaching a fair contract for all us. As expected, you told me that you tried but we voted against it. I respectfully disagreed and told you that I was clearly in need of a fair contract.

I don't think 0 for the first two years is fair knowing the cost of living keeps increasing. Then, I asked you if you have any plans to address the chronic understaffing in health care most especially in long term care, a question that was left unanswered.

Now more than ever, we felt the urgency and hardship in terms of critical low staffing. We are called all over the province for shifts in Prince Albert, La Loche, Lloydminster and Saskatoon. I don't want to say our union leaders told you so but I will say it anyway...

You're $400 temporary wage supplement is a good start but I feel like you never consider that all of us regardless of income, all are working under the same stressful circumstances. Every human being matters, every person deserves respect and spotlight.

Every day of this pandemic we are called essential workers or new heroes of this crisis. But it becomes clear that we are still left behind. Your government's offer to rollback wages and then offer zeroes - it's a slap in the face but we still continue to come to work, to care for our patients. With little to no recognition and compensation for going above and beyond for what we all do to save people's lives.

We all deserve far better because we have always been essential workers to this province even before this global pandemic. Your refusal to bargain fairly and negotiate is extremely disrespectful to all of us who have been out risking our own health. This shows a lack of empathy and understanding of the reality of our work and our lives. You're government has never given us the spotlight and recognition we deserve.

It took a global pandemic and fear of death for you to acknowledge that workers like us who are working at 2016 rates of pay, that we are the reason why this great province is the safest province to live in during this crisis. We put ourselves at risk to saves lives and we also put our family in danger. We will continue to face it as we start the first phase of the Reopening Saskatchewan plan.

As we start to reopen our province I would like to remind you and the entire ministry that we, the frontline health care workers need more than thank you. We need a decent wage increase to support our family. We have been here for the people of Saskatchewan and we will continue to do so to the aid and rescue of those who need us during the highest or lowest moment of their life.

This is not the first time we are in front of tragedy and won't be the last. We still show up to work regardless. We are asking you to think about us as we risk our own life to serve the people of Saskatchewan.

 

Respectfully,

Janine Lazaro

Letter to the Premier - Brett Berger, CCA (May, 2020)

Dear Honourable Premier Moe,

I am unsure if you are aware that CCAs in long term care, in many facilities, are working everyday with staff shortages, some are planned and some are unplanned.  CCAs play an important role in providing quality of life to our seniors who are residents.  

We provide personal care (this includes getting people up, bathing residents, personal hygiene needs, feeding assists & so many other care tasks) and most of the time we are rushed to do so, not because we want to get it done quickly, but because our help is continuously needed by others in wait.  

In some circumstances, we are unable to attend to all of our residents.  Did you know that we have CCAs who are required to work alone (for portions of a shift) to provide care in some instances?  This is unsafe when it comes to Transfer, Lift and Reposition of residents. We also work alone on our night shifts.  This is unacceptable!  For some reason, the SHA has approved this.  

How come we are alone while having the responsibility to take care of others?  What if something happens to us, who helps us? Who helps those people if no one knows something happened to us? What if we can’t call for help in some kind of emergency situation?  Unpredictability is always an ongoing concern in our line of work; some residents become agitated and can become violent.  This is not a “Zero tolerance” workplace for hazards that have the potential to occur.  Where is the OH and S priority and why is there no oversight to ensure that safe care is the priority?

You should also know that we now have cooking and cleaning added to our job duties.  This is not because we have spare time to do these extra duties.  And we have never received a pay grade upgrade for the added duties.  This is simply so that the employer can eliminate the jobs that previously provided support in the care environment...and it was done to save money.  

The health facility planning involved our positions providing personal care, and we are expected to cook the food ”restaurant style” with multiple different kinds of meals for people if they do not wish to eat the meal selected for us to cook and serve to the whole house.  We also are responsible to take into account the different diets and textures; as well we are expected to provide at a temperature regulated rate. This is beyond stressful and not always realistic but that's just how that goes.

We need higher wages and we need more staff.  We need to make sure transfers & lifts are always involving two persons.  You need to fund long term care like you care about our seniors who are residents and bring more staff on the floor to improve their quality of life.  We also need our support staff positions returned so that we have cooks, food service workers and environmental services workers. We are over-worked and underpaid; our residents need more time spent with them, not less.  We need you to fix our underfunding crisis.

Finally, we have had no contract for 4 years - it's time to use your authority to ensure that we receive a fair offer from SAHO so that we can get an increase from our 2016 rates of pay.
Make this a priority.  Our residents and my co-workers cannot wait any longer.


Respectfully,

Brett Berger

Letter to the Premier - Frontline Health Care Provider, May 2020

Dear Premier,

As a support worker with Sask Health Authority I would like to thank you for donating your annual pay raise to charity.

I thought that was a really nice gesture, for about 2 seconds.

I then realized that I did not get an annual pay raise.

After this Pandemic is over I hope the outstanding contract negotiations are different.

I hope the province remembers the support workers.

We are coming to work every day. We are following all the rules.

We are keeping your mothers, uncles, cousins alive in the long term care homes.

We are lining up to do whatever job needs to be done so they will be healthy.

We are caring people who do our jobs proudly even though we are just the janitors and cooks and caregivers.

We are the last line of defense for the people in long term care.

We are doing our best.

I do not receive an annual pay raise, let alone one that will keep up with the cost of living.

If I did get a raise I will just waste it on bills and food.

Thank you for donating your annual pay raise to charity.

SEIU-West Member