This Op-Ed was written by SEIU-West President Barbara Cape and submitted to various papers in Saskatchewan on October 20, 2020.
For union members and leaders, there’s an often asked question about Labour Day: ‘What does Labour Day even mean anymore? Surely employers will provide fairness and recognition?’ Well, no that’s not necessarily how it works for working people – whether they’re in a union or not.
Dealing with emerging issues these past few months has been like drinking from a firehose.
Issues like different direction and protocols from our employers or government; safety protocols that create incredible pressure and heat exhaustion; apprehensions about reopening the province while we are still in the midst of a pandemic; questions about member safety across all sectors; concerns about layoffs in the different sectors we represent; worries about our families and isolation from friends and our communities as well as the regular business of the union.
It is freaking exhausting!
Every single member we represent has been lauded as a front line hero: from education members who’ve continued to reach out and support students; to municipal and industrial members who’ve continued to keep our communities thriving; to health care providers in retirement and group homes who’ve provided activities and support to their residents/clients; and our health care sector members who have been under intense scrutiny and expectations for reducing/eliminating the spread of COVID-19 while providing quality and compassionate care to those patients, clients, and residents who are isolated from their families. The expectations have been exceeded, despite the incredible frustration voiced by our health sector members who are pissed off and angry about being without a collective agreement for over three years!
The pressure is intense and the member expectations are extremely high.
I can tell you that SEIU-West is doing everything in our power to bring the fight for better personal protective equipment (PPE) right to the door of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and our government.
We are done waiting for conversations about safety and instead are blowing the whistle on bad actors and demanding action.
Everyone is ready to go when it comes to job action and we have written the Premier, the Minister of Health, and elected politicians to warn them that the public is onside with our members’ demands.
We have also written to the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety to call for a special mediator to address the lack of willingness on the part of SAHO to return to the bargaining table.
We are preparing our essential service information and opinion to be able to negotiate from a position of strength.
Several things seem clear.
One, this pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot. The way that we interact in the world is fundamentally changed.
Two, the challenges we have in front of us to get a fair tentative agreement that our members can vote on, well they’re not over by a long shot either.
The Saskatchewan Employment Act (SEA) requires us, by law, to go through a process of bargaining to impasse (aka: there’s absolutely no progress at the table; the parties are deadlocked).
Then we need to complete mandatory conciliation and negotiate an essential services agreement before we can take job action! Failing to complete these requirements means that we as a union, and our members, can face significant fines.
This is a rigged system against members being able to take job action to support collective bargaining. It was put in place by this government to frustrate your right to achieve a fair collective agreement.
We need to not listen to those who would have us stop supporting each other because of the stress or pressure of the pandemic or because of the frustrations of bargaining.
We need to focus our collective efforts into listening, understanding, and supporting each other and the work that the union is doing to get us all a fair deal and reasonable agreement that we can accept.