Cape's Corner Spring 2019

Written by President Barb Cape

Workplace safety has always been paramount within SEIU-West, regardless of whether you work in education, municipalities, retirement homes, community based organizations or health care. Coming home from work safe is one of the things that drives the work and the campaigns that we do as a union. But what if going home isn’t safe? What if the dangerous conditions aren’t at work,
but are present at home?

Domestic violence IS a union issue…because it doesn’t just stay at home. It follows you mentally, emotionally, physically, and everywhere. It’s not only the pain, exhaustion, or fear, but the abuser can also stalk, intimidate, and threaten the safety of the workplace. An abuser’s presence is a part of the personal and working life of our members who are experiencing domestic violence.

Let’s not kid ourselves, there is stigma attached to domestic violence. And that is simply wrong; we don’t know what others are experiencing or what their world is like, and we know domestic violence rates are high in Saskatchewan. So when we suspect domestic violence, our job as union members should be to support our co-worker; provide a safe person to talk to; and assist in finding help or resources. Our questions shouldn’t be ‘why didn’t they leave?' it should be ‘what can I do to help?’

Domestic violence has gained more awareness in recent years because we need to talk about this issue; there is no hiding from it. It is wrong, unacceptable, and we need to work together to put an end to it. Abusers rely on silence and stigma in order to keep control and continue their behavior; as a union, it is our duty to support our members at work, at home and in the community.

To that end, we provide a two-day Domestic Violence Workshop to ensure our members in the workplace have the knowledge and skills to be an ally and support to survivors; our Young Worker Committee has lobbied the provincial government to provide paid leave for survivors of Domestic Violence; and we have a suggested protocol for what happens when this is disclosed to the employer, including the development of a safety plan for the member, providing professional resources, and tools for the member to take control of the situation.

If you are looking for help or resources, please call the Member Resource Center Centre (MRC) 1-888-999-7348 ext. 2298 who will work to assist. Remember, we’re not only stronger together, but safer as well.

Cape's Corner: Winter 2018

Communication… it’s key to explaining yourself; being responsible for your actions; and working to do better for everyone. Whether you are a shop steward, the Premier of a province, or a union President, we all have a responsibility to communicate as effectively as possible. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with our members, shop stewards, staff, and even our Minister of Health and the message that keeps rising to the top is how we need to communicate better.

Our members have been earnest in their effort to communicate with their Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) about concerns with funding in the education sector; short staffing in the health care sector; a lack of accountability in the Community-Based Organization (CBO) sector… and always, bargaining! The public deserves quality services that their taxes pay for. And the people who provide those services deserve a decent wage… there’s nothing controversial about that.

But I don’t think that the politicians have been very forthright or honest in their responses. Recently, our Minister of Health said publicly – in the news – that funding in long-term care has been increased by 40%... since when?! Since the 1980’s? Let’s be frank, we haven’t felt a real increase in funding for public sector services for a very long time. It’s actually quite demoralizing that our Minister of Health makes this kind of public statement when those who provide hands-on care report unsafe staffing levels in long-term care on a chronic basis. Previously, our Minister of Finance has reported to media that the 3.5% cuts were off the bargaining table for all public sector workers… but who else did she tell?! Because there are plenty of bargaining tables where the cuts are
still a living proposal!

We have called for public audits in the CBO sector to ensure that the funding is actually reaching the front line for staff and clients… but the Minister of Social Services didn’t even respond… all we have heard are crickets! For a government that keeps talking about consulting, transparency, and accountability, it’s interesting that they have such a checkered record.

We should all be accountable – not just at election times. And we need to recognize that the key to building our workplace, our union, and our province is creating a space where more people can be heard; where we can answer questions with honesty, not political spin; and where we can make sure that we are actually lifting up the people of this province… not picking winners and losers.

Sometimes we’re moving so fast that we don’t take the time to communicate – to explain – to consult – to actively listen – effectively... and it’s frustrating! So maybe, the first step in changing our communications is to start telling the truth… we can do better.

President’s Message: December 13 SAHO Bargaining Telephone Town Hall Follow Up No.1

In this last week before Christmas, I wanted to take the time to provide an update on our virtual townhall meeting held last week regarding SAHO bargaining. Thanks to everyone who made the time to participate in our call…the response from our members was overwhelming in terms of numbers on the call and questions submitted.

Your SEIU-West SAHO bargaining committee wanted to reach out to provide an update to our members on the state of bargaining.  We wanted to get your direction on what is left at the table to negotiate…a general wage increase. 

During our townhall, myself and Russ Doell, Deputy Director of Contract Bargaining and Enforcement, provided a high level overview of how bargaining has evolved: from the beginning when the government of Sask set out their mandate of a 3.5% reduction which took the form of things like:

  • A 1% wage reduction and zero increases for the whole contract;
  • The creation of two lower pay bands;
  • Eliminating professional fees, the vehicle allowance and time in lieu banks;
  • Reducing shift and weekend premiums and overtime rates; and
  • An employer contribution holiday on our extended health plan & having employees co-pay for their benefits and a cap on funding the plan;

Our membership has provided the bargaining committee with a mandate: NO cuts/NO rollbacks/Treat Us With Respect/Pay Us What We’re Worth! And members have been extremely active in contacting MLA’s about how awful this proposal was; each of you talked about the great work you do in the health care system; how you contribute to your workplace, your family and community; you signed petitions and postcards; you shared the economic facts that the government proposals presented for you; you came to rallies and your support has moved the government off of their proposals. Our members have been active participants at the bargaining table by doing all this work.

Because of this support, we’ve been able to make some modest improvements at the table:

  • Stronger language to deal with workload issues;
  • JJE language to update and improve the pay equity plan;
  • We’re working on a LOU to deal with the transition issues with the creation of the Sask Health Authority;
  • We’ve negotiated recruitment and retention language to address the lack of staff in our workplaces;
  • We’ve got agreement to interpersonal violence leave language;
  • Improvements to the effective dates of professional fees – reflecting those fees established as of April 1, 2017;
  • We’ve protected the rates that the employer contributes to our extended health plan;
  • And we’ve finally reached an agreement to work on a joint trusteeship of our extended health plan & benefits.
    • This is new and was a huge point of dispute between the parties. We weren’t going to agree to our members paying for the increased costs to the plan. And we’re happy to share this update with all of you.
  • We have also been able to get the employer to withdraw concessions like:
    • Reduction in shift/weekend premiums and overtime rates;
    • The elimination of professional fees, vehicle allowance and time in lieu banks; and
    • The creation of the two lower pay bands.

Your bargaining committee is fully aware that the cost of living in this province continues to go up, and our wages don’t meet that demand. 

SAHO has proposed a similar wage increase that was offered to SGEU government employees – if you’ll recall, this was resoundingly turned down.  The coalition of health care unions (SEIU-West/CUPE/SGEU) has put forward a marginally higher proposal that includes a signing bonus.

During the virtual townhall, we asked three poll questions, poll question #1: outlined the employers wage proposal versus the unions wage proposal.

Results significantly favoured the union’s position.

Poll question #2: asked about preferred priority between the rising cost of living versus the provincial financial picture.

Results indicated that the bargaining committee should prioritize the rising costs of living over provincial finances.

Poll question #3: asked whether members would support a five year collective agreement with enhanced monetary proposal in the fifth year.

Results were that members would accept a five year deal but much less enthusiastic than the two previous poll questions.  

For our membership questions, we received over a large number of questions specific to this update and the SAHO collective agreement process.  Over this week, I will do my best to answer all of them. 

#1: Does everyone get the lump sum payment or is it prorated somehow? – Russ, unknown location.

In the proposal, as the coalition has put it forward, everyone would get the lump sum payment.

#2: Did SEIU consider dropping STD (short term disability) to free up some money? – Denise, Saskatoon.

No, we didn’t think about scaling back our STD benefit to increase the amount of money available. Partly because the STD benefit is utilized by a great number of members, but also, because we weren’t willing to give up a benefit that is already well established, in order to get a much needed wage increase.

#3: Regarding the signing bonus and the back pay, can that be on a separate cheque for tax reasons? – Cindylee, Saskatoon.

We would most definitely be requesting that. There is some question about whether or not there really are tax implications, but regardless, our members like seeing the hard numbers to confirm that they were paid correctly.

#4: Are there any improvements to benefits that would make me feel better about a minimal wage increase? – Julie, unknown location.

We have negotiated some modest improvements (as itemized above); but there is much in our collective agreement that would remain the same as it currently stands. In terms of extended health benefits, that is separate from this bargaining table, but we’ve been able to enhance a number of procedures and items covered under the extended health and enhanced dental plan over the last year.

#5: Has there been any view to enhance bereavement to include aunts and uncles? – Karen, Saskatoon.

That was in our initial proposal package, but our bargaining committee made the decision to withdraw this proposal and focus on getting rid of the wage rollbacks and the -3.5% as a priority from our membership.

#6: Will the 4 year contract start when we sign or from when the last contract ended? Madeline, Saskatoon.

Our contract would be effective April 1, 2017 – the day after our last contract expired.

#7: LPN’s want to know if there is anything for licensing fees being paid directly by the employer, like SUN gets? – Karen, Saskatoon.

No there isn’t, Karen. The employer has adamantly refused to agree to this although we’ve put forward this proposal before and we’ll continue to do so.

#8: What year are we in for not having a contract? – James, Saskatoon.

Our collective agreement expired on March 31, 2017. As of today, we are 1 ½ years without a contract.

#9: This proposal does nothing for people about to retire, what’s in it for us? – Kelly, Wilkie.

That’s a good question…and I guess it really depends on each individual’s perspective. On the general wage increase, the any years with a 0% increase will not have any positive affect on your pension.  Your SHEPP pension is based on your best 4 years of service. But, the other piece around bargaining that we need to remember is that it’s not just for the ‘right now’ improvements, but the gains that we make or the language that we protect – for the next round of bargaining and the members (staff) who come after us.

#10: You say they cleared the boards with the new SHA. I have not seen one job loss for out of scope in Swift Current, only a change of job titles. Have you noticed this? – Jenn, unknown location.

There are 2 different pieces here: the 12 health region boards were disbanded – there is only one health authority board in place now…and the government has indicated that this will save millions of dollars (stay tuned!).

With the creation of senior vice-presidents; executive directors and directors and out of scope admin positions, I see a lot of management staff simply changing their titles …but I don’t know how that is working in the out of scope realm and don’t think I should guess on that one!

#11: With the lump sum payment, are they even going to come up to inflation as it goes up…are there any more increases to benefits? – Sheila, Saskatoon.

This essentially is a status quo collective agreement; we focused our fight in bargaining this round on beating back the -3.5% cuts. If you are wondering about the improvements, they are set out at the beginning of this update, but you can also take a look at our bargaining updates since last year to see how things have evolved over the past 18 months.

We’ve seen extended health benefits increase over the last couple of years.

#12: Will we catch up with the cost of living with the proposal that the coalition has proposed? – Colette, Saskatoon.

The last numbers about the cost of living that I saw were 2.2%...so the short answer is no, what has been proposed wouldn’t meet the cost of living. The longer answer is more along the lines of what are we able to achieve in this current economic and political climate in the province?

I will post more questions and answers throughout the rest of this week.  Again, your union thanks you for your support and your engagement.  I said it repeatedly on the call, but bargaining isn’t a spectator sport…we are all in this together and we need you to talk to your MLA’s. Phone/email or better yet, visit them – even if you’ve done it already – we need them to feel the pressure of the message that healthcare workers will not accept cuts/rollbacks; we wanted to be treated with respect and paid what we’re worth!

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

Barbara Cape, President

For a PDF of this President's Message, click here.

President's Message: Labour Day 2018

For many, Labour Day is just the last long weekend of summer, enjoyed with little understanding of its origin or relevance. For activists within the labour movement, however, Labour Day is an important opportunity to educate the public about the many workplace protections and benefits they enjoy because of the good work of labour unions; like the 40 hour work week, maternity leave, worker’s compensation benefits, and workplace safety standards.

In my experience as the President of SEIU-West, I have enjoyed many face to face conversations with our members. Some have come to the workplace and inherited their union, while others have fought tirelessly to organize their union in their workplace. These conversations have taught me that our members are the experts. Whether they work in crisis support, health care, education support, community based organizations or addictions recovery, our members share – a constant desire to improve the services they provide in order to make their community better for everyone.

At SEIU-West, we share this perspective. We want to build partnerships to improve the many communities where our members work and live. We offer a network of opportunities to our members; pathways for them to learn, participate and engage. We know that enhancing the involvement of our members in our union enriches both workplace and community health. We do this work because we want the public to better understand the critical role unions play within our society. We have a shared interest in the protection of quality democracy. We believe in and will champion a fair society.

Politically, there has long been an agenda to weaken the role of unions. Driven by the self-interest of the rich and powerful, this ideology attempts to undermine unions’ work on behalf of our members; to under-value the efforts to address social justice issues and create balance in the power dynamic between workers and their bosses. Unions believe that by educating the public and dispelling the myths surrounding our organizations, we can build stronger and better alliances that benefit not just our members, but all working people.

As a consequence, we take a great deal of pride in the celebration of Labour Day and we share with our many members, an energetic interest in strengthening their participation and motivating their engagement whether it be at Labour Day events or the many other opportunities that will build a better and more equal society in our future.

SEIU-West Labour Day Message

In recognition of labour day, SEIU-West members Terrilyn St. Amour and Carmela Verwimp, alongside their union President, Barbara Cape, share their labour day messages of solidarity, strength and justice. These powerful messages are also published with the Star Phoenix and Leader Post:

President's Message: Cape's Corner - Summer 2018

Our Union’s broad membership sees many different challenges, including underfunding of public services, short-staffing, and threats of privatization. We continue to push back against these challenges so that our members can continue to provide quality services to the highest standards of professionalism. How do we push back? With broad-based campaigns that incorporate all of our members and our solidarity within the labour movement.

President’s Message: SAHO Bargaining and Telephone Town Hall Follow Up – No. 2

Virtual town halls are a really good tool! Your bargaining committee is able to reach as many members as possible in the most time (and cost) efficient way possible. As a quick note, over 1000 members joined our call in the evening of February 21 and over 700 joined our call during the afternoon of February 22. Some members joined us online; some members only joined for about 15 minutes (the length of time of a coffee break?).

Further to our virtual town hall questions, here is the next round of Q and A from our members (click to read the first SAHO Bargaining and Telephone Town Hall Follow Up in this series):

#9: If we don’t luck out with this contract would a rollback be retroactive and what about if someone retires in the meantime? – Terry, location unknown.

We do not agree with any wage rollback. And further to that, we would not allow a rollback to be retroactive. For us, for our members, this is more than a slogan, it’s a fundamental principle that we will defend. Cuts and rollbacks contribute nothing to a progressive society; they do not promote a healthy and safe workplace; and they stop any ability to recruit and retain all of our skilled and professional healthcare workers.

Retirement provisions are based on a member’s best four (4) years…that wouldn’t change.

#10: When talking about this rollback… my husband and I both work for the health regions and my son worked for STC and lost his job… Can the question be asked of our politicians if their family had a reduction in pay to their family income would they survive? – Katherine, Saskatoon.

First, I’m truly sorry your son lost his job with STC. In my opinion, this was a public service that supported rural and remote communities, seniors, and so many more who needed the lift. The parcel service assisted businesses to thrive and helped in the transfer of medicine and lab specimens. No, it wasn’t a money maker, but that isn’t what its purpose was – it was a welcome support to the province everything should not be about making money – sometimes being a public good is the purpose!

That being said, I think you should contact your own MLA, and the Minister of Health, Jim Reiter, and ask that very question. When we’ve talked to the Minister of Health, he states that MLAs, Ministers; the heads of the Crown Corp have all taken a 3.5% cut to their salary. But the base salary for a MLA is $96,000/year… a 3.5% cut brings them down to $93,000/year…I think they’ll be able to pay their power bill! However a 3.5% cut to an average wage of $25/hour is a more direct hit to the pocket book and it is simply not affordable.

#11: Expenses have gone up so much, how can we live with a 3.5% reduction in pay? Will we be getting a fair living wage adjustment? – Tusit, Saskatoon.

Well, the short answer is that we can’t live with that 3.5% reduction… its brutally simple. This 3.5% reduction is to total compensation, so it’s not just wage reductions that are being contemplated, but any initiative that can reduce costs for the employer – and by extension the Government of Saskatchewan.

We are already in an environment where vacant shifts are not replaced and short staffing protocols are used routinely in the workplace. As a result we are running to provide care and services. How can we continue to do that and take a cut of 3.5%? We cannot.

#12: Re: JJE plan review, will continuing education be taken into account? – Kimberley, Saskatoon

Currently, continuing education is not factored into the JJE rating system… but the WHOLE plan will be reviewed to bring it up to date. We will be proposing that continuing education be a consideration in the education factor as a whole when rating jobs.

#13: A question about rollbacks: SaskPower has refused the rollbacks but will take ‘days off’…this has not been settled. Where are we on this? – Kevin, location unknown.

I am not aware that the staff of SaskPower have agreed to take days off – this might have been a proposal at their table. I do know that SaskPower put forward a package that would reach the 3.5% reduction but the members of one of the IBEW locals rejected this soundly. I do not know if they are back at the bargaining table.

The ‘days off’ proposed notion is still a rollback in our perspective. But further to this, it raises a number of questions about how services would be provided.

There is already chronic short-staffing and processes that do not replace staff on short term vacancy. Presently, there is no Employer (SAHO) proposal for unpaid days off.

#14: Does staying casual preserve these benefits while waiting for the process? – Sabrina, on-line.

I’m not sure what process is being referred to, but I’m going to work on the assumption that the process being referred to is the transition to the new SHA and the question of being co-employed between former RHA’s and between multiple unions. Staying casual should preserve your benefits and seniority. However, if you are having difficulties with your employer, we would strongly recommend that you call the MRC and arrange for a Leave of Absence (LOA) in order to formally preserve your benefits while this process is sorted out.

#15: is there an option to combine Family Illness Leave and Medical Care Leave into one bank so that the benefit is available for those who do not have a family to utilize Family Illness Leave for? – Shanna, on-line.

Family Illness Leave is provided for the following people: parent, spouse, brother, sister, child, common-law spouse, former guardian, fiancé, grandchild or someone with whom you have had a similar relationship. Also a host of in-laws, nieces, nephews and grandparents…check out article 15.08. It is distinct from medical care leave which is for the employee and it can be combined with sick leave for additional paid time off. If adequacy of medical care leave paid time off is an issue, please put this forward for the next round of bargaining.

#16: I would like to know, when will seniority transfer be provincial in nature? – Adrienne, Regina

We are currently working on this as part of our discussions around transition issues with the new SHA. We do not know exactly when this will be finalized. We are currently telling members that if they want to move to a different union jurisdiction, take a LOA from the position they are leaving in order to preserve benefits and seniority while this is dealt with.

We’ll have more updates in the next few days as well as an update on how bargaining has gone this week. Thanks for staying in touch and don’t forget to contact your MLA and the Minister of Health and the Minister of finance to add pressure to change this regressive mandate from 3.5% rollbacks.

If you have any questions about your workplace or collective agreement, don’t hesitate to contact the Member Resource Center at 1-888-999-7348 ext. 2298.

In solidarity,

Your SEIU-West Bargaining Committee.

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